IGFA History: Francesca LaMonte

Francesca LaMonte

A prolific author, LaMonte contributed and collaborated on a number of articles on game fish during her tenure with the IGFA. Many of her writings are now kept in the E. K. Harry Library of Fishes at the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum. Among them are these early papers from the Ichthyological Contributions of the IGFA Series:

"Differences in Marlins"
(Vol 1 No 1)

"Swordfish, Sailfish, Marlin, and Spearfish"
(Vol 1 No 2)

"Yellowfin, Allison's and Related Tunas"
(Vol 1 No 3)

An accomplished and reserved 1916 Wellesley College graduate, Francesca LaMonte was internationally recognized as one of only five female ichthyologists in the world and as a major contributor to the International Game Fish Association.

Francesca had a 37-year affiliation with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where she was Associate Curator in the Department of Ichthyology.  When Michael Lerner approached the AMNH with a donation of a blue marlin mount in 1935, a strong bond of mutual respect was forged between the two.  

LaMonte was present at the first meeting of the IGFA on June 7, 1939, served as Secretary for 40 years, and in 1973 was the first woman elected to the Board of Trustees.  She handled all day-to-day responsibilities, and it appears she was the one to suggest the name “International Game Fish Association” in a July 3, 1939 letter to Lerner.  

As a member of Lerner’s scientific expeditions (1936-1941) Francesca was in her element.  In the introduction to “In Quest of Broadbill and Marlin: Science Joins with Sport in Expeditions to Cape Breton and Bimini …,” New York Zoological Society Bulletin (November-December 1937) she wrote:

Last year the coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, saw the beginning of pursuit by the American Museum of Natural History of those giants of the deep, the broadbill, or swordfish, and the marlin.  And another beginning too – expeditions combining science and big game fishing ….  The plan is to follow the two creatures around the world, and try to map out accurately the life history of those individuals that appear off our coasts …this must be studied on their own grounds.           

Specimens taken by Michael and Helen Lerner on rod and reel were brought in whole, enabling scientists to take measurements; count scales; examine teeth, gills,  soft organs and parasites, which helped determine migrations, growth rates, etc.

Problems with species identification were common. A 1935 article announced the existence of a “Tahitian Black or Silver Marlin.” In 1954, a 1,000+ pound billfish caught in Hawaii was identified locally as a blue marlin, but when the record claim arrived at the IGFA it was identified as a black, for ichthyologists (including LaMonte) thought there were no blues in the Pacific.   After a lengthy re-examination of billfish classifications, aided by now-available first-hand observations and inspections of fresh specimens, Pacific blue marlin first appeared in the record book in 1960.  And in 1964 silver marlin disappeared as a record category (nine years after Francesca acknowledged that silver and black marlin might be same fish).

LaMonte was a highly respected author and editor. She kept up an astounding number of professional affiliations, regularly attended international congresses, and served on the Advisory Committee for the Fisheries Exhibition at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  

Yet she remained modest and unassuming.  Francesca’s invaluable contributions to the technical knowledge of fish were acknowledged by many, including Philip Wylie, who explained “the identification of fishes is both her business and her recreation.” 

LaMonte was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame in 1998. Learn more and view her biographical video here.