He was the voice for Alabama Gulf Coast fishermen and the voice for the fish. That voice went silent on January 24 when Dr. Bob Shipp died at 81.

Just five years ago, the state's red snapper fishermen could fish only three days a year due to federal regulations. Can you imagine investing in a boat, tackle and gear to use three days a year? It did not make common sense.

The work of Dr.  Robert L. Shipp was largely responsible for getting the red snapper fishing season back to normalcy.

Shipp will be remembered by the thousands who fish Alabama waters yearly during red snapper season.

He will be remembered by the thousands of anglers and observers who come for the annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, the largest in the world.

He will be remembered by hundreds of former students who went through his classes and laboratories at the University of South Alabama in Mobile and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

He will be remembered by innumerable readers of his book and research.

Shipp was a University of South Alabama instructor and researcher, but his influence went outside the classroom and into the Gulf of Mexico. Shipp and his research may have been the strongest influence in reforming the management of Alabama fisheries.

Shipp, born in New Orleans, joined the Department of Biology at the University of South Alabama in 1972 after earning a Ph.D. in biology at Florida State University. He spent 40 years at the University, retiring in 2013 as chair of the Department of Marine Sciences, which he had helped found.

"Dr. Bob literally wrote the book on introducing the importance of marine and environmental science to the people who are fortunate enough to call the Gulf Coast their home," said University President Jo Bonner. "He was highly respected as a scholarly man who could explain his work to members of Congress, the media and the general public in a way that made everyone feel like he was talking to them, not lecturing at them.

"He also commanded universal respect from his students and colleagues, as well as scientists and peers throughout the country and worldwide. He certainly put the University of South Alabama on the map in this important field of study."

Shipp was Chair of USA's Department of Marine Sciences for 20 years. He was an active researcher and teacher at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and served as its Director in 1977-78.

Shipp served for 30 years as an official judge at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. He retired from the fishing judgeship in 2018.

He loved fishing but also monitored the rodeo catch as a scientist, using it as a snapshot of the Gulf of Mexico's fish population.

Shipp served as editor of "Systematic Zoology," the professional journal for identifying and classifying species.

He worked to make Alabama the artificial reef capital of the world. The Alabama reef program is recognized worldwide for its size and impact on marine resource management.

Dr. Shipp wrote many articles. His book, "Dr. Bob Shipp's Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico," is now in its second printing.

He was the longest-serving member of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council at 27 years.

Shipp also served on Alabama's Conservation Advisory Board and with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, established to lead the first research effort following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Instructor. Researcher. Identifier. Classifier. Adviser. Environmentalist. Writer. Judge.

Perhaps Dr. Robert Shipp's best-loved role was that of a fisherman.

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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