December 20, 2014 / 6:23 PM / 3 years ago

Guy Harvey, marine artist and environmentalist, fishes for growth

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - Guy Harvey stared at a mural of his marine paintings - images that are reproduced on 2 million T-shirts a year - and frowned at a butterfly fish. The Pacific species didn’t belong among the Florida wildlife depicted at a beach resort restaurant bearing his name.

U.S. artist and conservationist Guy Harvey (C) leads a group of volunteers along the San Juan estuary system for the second "mega cleanup" of garbage from the waterway, in San Juan, in this October 26, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/Files

“That one escaped me,” said the 59-year-old artist and environmentalist, who said it can be difficult to control a brand in which he licenses his name and artwork.

Harvey’s colorful, meticulously detailed renditions of popular game fish are embedded in U.S. boating culture from the Carolinas to Texas. A champion of “catch and release” ethics for sustainable fishing, he has channeled his commercial success into support for marine conservation and research.

Harvey, who was raised in Jamaica, has a doctorate in fisheries science from the University of the West Indies and studied marine biology in Scotland. He began developing his artistic style as a student and later stumbled into T-shirt sales.

For three decades he has licensed his paintings for T-shirt sales. Now, he is aiming to create a national brand with ventures that include Guy Harvey-named resorts and a line of high-end watches. Meanwhile, he is working on another brand-building project: painting the hull of a Norwegian Cruise Line megaship that is scheduled to launch next fall in Miami.

Harvey’s brand may not be as big or well known as Tommy Bahama - the fictional character used to market upscale, casual clothing and other products inspired by coastal living - but his environmental activism can help distinguish him from competitors, said Miami-based brand consultant Bruce Turkel.

“There is a Guy Harvey,” Turkel said. “He will be able to sell this lifestyle to all the people who are in Ohio and South Dakota and Minnesota who are freezing and looking for something to make them smile.”

Currently, Harvey licenses his images on products from flip-flops to beach bags, drink tumblers to koozies, as well as collegiate apparel and a just-launched line of branded rums.

He also is marketing “Guy Harvey Outpost” resorts in the Florida Keys and St. Pete Beach, offering family-friendly vacations with access to fishing and water sports.

U.S. artist and conservationist Guy Harvey (R) leads a group of volunteers along the San Juan estuary system for the second "mega cleanup" of garbage from the waterway, in San Juan, in this October 26, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/Files

A third resort is scheduled to open next year in St. Augustine Beach in northern Florida.

Not all of Harvey’s ventures have been successful. A previous chain of restaurants was largely shuttered in 2011 after the owner, operating under a license, made poor decisions that included not paying fees, Harvey said.

Now his name appears on two restaurants, including one on Grand Cayman, where he has a gallery and has lived since 1999.

U.S. artist and conservationist Guy Harvey (R) leads a group of volunteers along the San Juan estuary system for the second "mega cleanup" of garbage from the waterway, in San Juan, in this October 26, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/Files

Last year, Harvey donated about $1 million, mostly for marine research and scholarships. That represented more than 10 percent of gross revenue for his privately held company, which does not disclose sales, officials said.

“I could have taken all that money and blown it on a big sports fishing boat,” he said. “We choose to invest it into knowledge and generating more knowledge.”

He acknowledges that his commercial ventures may get a boost from his non-profit activities.

Recently, fans waited for two hours at Harvey’s new St. Pete Beach restaurant, the Guy Harvey RumFish Grill, to meet the artist. Many had T-shirts they had purchased for $24.99.

“He is an amazing role model,” said Robin Dollman, 45, who drove an hour from Tampa with her young daughters to meet Harvey at the signing event on St. Pete Beach.

“He’s not just out here to make money,” she said. “He’s telling the world how to take care of the oceans.”

Editing by David Adams, Colleen Jenkins and Douglas Royalty

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