The Shedd Family

Three generations devoted to marine research, conservation, enhancement and recreational fishing access.

By Bill Varney

It’s not often that three generations of the same family wage tireless campaigns for what is right. Conservation is essential for a healthy, growing aquatic environment and that is what the Shedd family has been dedicated to accomplishing since 1963.

For more than 60 years, Milton, Bill, Casey, Christie and Cody Shedd have spearheaded dozens of projects to improve sport fishing, marine habitat and fishery management in California and across the globe. Their conservation efforts began with the establishment of Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute in 1963 and continue today with projects including beach, bay, shore and lake cleanups, conservation grants, youth education, innovative marine hatchery management and so much more. AFTCO (American Fishing Tackle Company), the Shedd’s family business, has made a pledge to donate 10 percent of its annual profits to conservation efforts designed to protect our oceans, waterways, fish populations, and ensure access to sportfishing for future generations.

Milton Shedd was only four years old the first time he walked on to the Santa Monica Pier, looked across the open water and saw the fish beneath him. This early experience sparked in him a determination to make the ocean a part of his life. After serving in the U.S. Army in the Pacific during World War II, the highly decorated Milt Shedd moved back to Los Angeles where he pursued his education at UCLA.

Striking out on their own, Milton Shedd and a group of investors in 1963 created a foundation dedicated to marine research and conservation. The Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) was first known as the Mission Bay Research Foundation and was founded by Milt and Peggie Shedd in 1963, a full year prior to his co-founding SeaWorld, which opened in 1964. HSWRI initially worked to study the effects on marine animals in captivity, how to produce the food and how to feed the animals, and how to prepare their surroundings to provide a safe environment while allowing millions of visitors each year to enjoy the aquarium and learn about the sea.

The Institute’s mission is “to return to the sea some measure of the benefits derived from it.” While the sister company SeaWorld was sold to the Busch Entertainment Corporation in 1989, the Institute continued, under the direction of board chairman Milton Shedd. Today, HSWRI is a leader not only in aquaculture, but also in how marine animals use sound to communicate, ocean health, marine wildlife populations, and marine education and outreach.

What is so unusual about HSWRI’s creation was that this was 1963, not only a full year before SeaWorld opened, but prior to even the thought of concepts such as “cause marketing,” “going green,” or even simply giving back to the community. Milt Shedd truly was a visionary and his passion for the ocean and the creatures that live there drove that vision. He understood what the future marine world needed most was for people to better understand its many mysteries.

Milt Shedd knew that he could accomplish this through science and education, so in addition to the Institute, he also played a key role in helping to create the UCLA Marine Science Center in 1996 to better educate students and teachers on conserving and managing the marine resource. As chairman of the board for HSWRI, Milt Shedd spent his life working on understanding and improving the marine environment. As his children grew, they also took on this responsibility and in 2007 his son Bill was appointed chairman of the board at HSWRI with a new vision of aquatic conservation for the future.

After college at the University of Oregon, Bill Shedd continued to hone his skills as both an angler and leader at his father’s company. In 1974, Bill become the sales manager of AFTCO but his underlying motivation was his desire to promote ocean conservation. Besides the ongoing innovations that are required to keep his business afloat, Bill also concentrated on conservation efforts that led him to be recognized by various organizations for his outstanding dedication and work to improve the marine environment.

As the years passed, Bill Shedd’s name became synonymous with fisheries conservation in the United States and is part of a continued legacy passed down by his father. Bill has volunteered more than 15,000 hours to conservation projects, spending four to five hundred hours every year for more than 35 years on marine conservation and recreational fishing industry issues. Today, Bill is chairman and CEO of AFTCO and oversees the firm’s fishing tackle and clothing divisions. He currently serves as chairman of the state board of CCA California and HSWRI, and also serves on the board of directors for The Center for Sportfishing Policy, as well as the California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program, and the HSWRI white seabass hatchery program.

Bill co-founded United Anglers of Southern California (UASC), where he led that group’s efforts to develop white seabass hatchery facilities, and also played a key role in UASC’s effort to eliminate set gillnets in California state ocean waters. He has been the recipient of many top conservation accolades, and has been honored by the American Sportfishing Association, The Center for Sportfishing Policy and the International Game Fish Association, among others. Most notably, Bill considers one of his greatest achievements is seeing a third generation of Shedd family members successfully lead the AFTCO team — not only as a for-profit business but also as one that gives back to the sportfishing community and helps to ensure future healthy fish populations.

Since 1963 the Shedd family and AFTCO have donated financial resources and company products to support scientific research and projects to enhance marine conservation. In 2022 alone, AFTCO donated $426,465 in cash and more than $400,000 in product contributions. Each year the company and the Shedd family contribute at least 10 percent of company profits toward fishing conservation advocacy, saltwater habitat, freshwater habitat, fish hatcheries, protecting public fishing access, youth fishing engagement and education, clean water, scientific research, and fish tagging research. This is the AFTCO Conservation Pledge.

Today, Casey, Christie and Cody Shedd are leading AFTCO and not only are they inventing new and improved products for outdoor recreation, but they are also on the cutting edge of marine and aquatic conservation. Christie and Cody have been instrumental in championing AFTCO’s involvement in disaster relief for fishing communities and partnerships like those in Mexico where AFTCO has donated more than 100,000 units to communities in need. Casey has continued to take on the mantle of conservation created by Milt and Bill. The next generation knows that advances in science and technology are essential for promoting sustainable oceans in the future.

Over the last few years, the Shedd family has been instrumental in the financing and placement of satellite tags in bluefin tuna in collaboration with Dr. Barbara Block of Stanford University where she directs bluefin tuna research as a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. This groundbreaking study has led to the collection of data that helps marine scientists assemble information about spawning, feeding, life cycle and populations across the Earth’s oceans.

The Shedd family, which was instrumental in the development and implementation of the white seabass hatchery program, has also taken that scientific effort to the next level. By instituting a DNA testing program for recently recaptured hatchery seabass, it has allowed scientists to accurately confirm the origin of each fish and then apply collected information to manage their biomass. Since 1986, this program has hatched and released more than 2.5 million seabass throughout Southern California.

Many new advances in marine science are expected in the next decade and each of the Shedd family members are ready to embrace it. We are very lucky as Californians to have such pristine waters to enjoy as observers, anglers, divers and recreationalists. The future will hold new conservation methods and practices to keep our oceans clean and thriving. We are blessed to have a family that has spent enormous amounts of time, energy and resources to protect it.

In recognition of his life-time commitment to conservation, Bill Shedd was presented with the esteemed Anthony Hsieh Conservation Award in August 2023 by CCA California.