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The Hustle

Name: Neill Holland (Ocean Aid 360)

Neill Holland is a captain at Ocean Aid 360, a nonprofit dedicated to saving marine life through the use of community-level interventions and evidence-based assessments. For example, Ocean Aid works to preserve schooling redfish, salt marshes and bay scallops, in addition to ensuring a sustainable relationship between coastal residents and marine resources. To do so, Neill Holland works with a diverse staff made up of environmental advocates, community organizers, conflict mitigation experts, anglers, environmental and biological scientists, and a federal grant manager.

Years in St. Pete

Born and raised, so 34, minus a decade for college and career.

Hustle (job)

Litter-wrangling fishing guide who moonlights at United Nations

What do you do?  

About as much as I can handle! - I lead a St.Pete-based marine conservation nonprofit called Ocean Aid 360, which is the 2018-2019 recipient of NOAA's federal Marine Debris Removal grant award focused on Tampa Bay. NOAA awarded our "Ghost Trap Rodeo Event Series" project design, which envisages six semi-competitive fishing tournaments around Tampa Bay ... only instead of weighing in fish, we're mobilizing experienced local anglers to "catch" and remove abandoned fishing gear (said to be Ghost Fishing) and man-made litter from the Tampa Bay estuary - with $25K in industry sponsored fishing prizes. I also run a full-service sportfishing charter company called GoFishTampaBay.com, and work as a globally-available project design specialist at the United Nations.

Why do you do it?

Subconsciously, I probably do it because my grandmother taught me that, as a guest in a new place, you ought to leave it better than you found it. Way I see it, we're all guests in Mother Nature's house (and we'd sure like to be invited back!). Beyond that, I really dig a challenge and don't give up easily.

What was your Catalyst? (How did you get started?)

This guy, Tony L. He doesn't even know he's my catalyst. I was a couple years out of school at Columbia University, still living in New York, trying to get on as a staff writer at GQ Magazine when the recession hit. The mastheads were cut in half overnight, and while I'd worked freelance for National Geographic and the New York Times, there were no staff jobs for unproven journalists. Heck, there were very few for masters of the craft during those years. So I was working in a bait and tackle store under the Chelsea Hotel (yes, that existed) in Manhattan, living off Ramen in an abandoned apartment a friend put me on to; when one day at the bait shop a regular customer - this old man, Tony L. - casually mentioned, "Hey, you're a writer, no? Think you could write a grant proposal?" Long story short, his wife worked in Peru's office at the UN and they had a colleague with a well-established humanitarian nonprofit that needed a writer. Over eight years with that outfit, I worked my way up from grant writer to overseas project manager, to Deputy Director for all overseas programming managed by the nonprofit and funded by the US government or UN. I worked primarily for child survivors of violent conflict (refugee populations) in Pakistan, Lebanon, Turkey, Swaziland, East Timor, Egypt, Haiti, Cambodia, Colombia and more; before meeting the love of my life and deciding to adjust course toward a slightly safer and more rooted lifestyle. Thanks to good relationships and a solid track record at work, I was able to return home to sunny St. Pete as a telecommuter and gradually transition into local nonprofit Directorship (OceanAid360.org) and charter fishing, with some international work still in the mix. - Thanks Tony L.!

What’s a common misconception or unknown aspect of what you do?

At Ocean Aid 360 - That being environmentally impact-conscious is somehow at odds with my work as a fishing captain. When in fact it's the basis. At Humanitarian Programming - That Joe Blow can "look at Haiti - or another developing country - and see we've failed to move the needle in 30 years of sending our tax dollars down there," when the truth is that US taxpayers have dramatically improved life for poor kids and families in acute crises - while also securing better trade relations and increased national security as a result of these strategic investments. It's a "soft power" strategy, it benefits ALL of us, and some folks just don't get that. At GoFishTampaBay.com - That charter fishing is the easiest of my jobs, when it's probably the hardest. You've got to be hyper-alert and intuitive, deal with lots of variables, maintain safety, and try to show every customer the best day they can remember. The work starts well before the customer shows up, and I'm often cleaning up hours after they're gone. But it connects me to nature and to the long history of fisherfolk who have made a living from the waters of Tampa Bay, and I love it. I see life out there, in the middle of a weekday, that weekend-only boaters could not imagine. We've got a rich history of top-notch guides here in Tampa Bay.

What’s the most challenging part of your Hustle?

Feeling so compelled to help my two teenage brothers become successful (by a metric they determine), without extinguishing any of the struggle toward maturity that I think is necessary to the development of a rooted and resilient adult. We're best friends and I cherish being around them.

What’s the most valuable piece of business advice/insight that’s helped you?

Prepare for success. Stay hungry. Stay humble. During those times when you feel like you're stuck and no one is answering your online job applications, and you're questioning the foundations of modern society (or whatever); you have to keep it up and do what you can to remain engaged and continually educated. You never know when your Tony L. is going to walk in the door!

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