Maybe It's Not Just About the Fish

by Tom Bigford, Policy Director C10_fig_10.1-aquatic-science-texas Most of my previous columns focused on fish, fish habitat, fishing, fish agencies, fish communications, etc. Anything fishy was fair game. But my supposedly wide net may well have been naïve. The last month has been eye-opening, and incredibly exciting. With better hindsight than foresight, I now see what I missed for decades. I knew that our fish work overlaps with others and pride myself by applying my training as an ecologist to think about connections . . . but my best intentions didn’t prompt me to work routinely with groups or on issues that might hold great promise for our favored fish. These opportunities relate to policy (so I can safely write about them in this column!) but they also span science, management, education, and everything else we do. Just think of the possibilities. AFS business routinely intersects in time or space (or research or management) with partners we don’t often acknowledge – bird work by Ducks Unlimited, livestock range work of the Dairy Farmers of America, wild game interests in the Wildlife Management Institute, socio-economic implications studied by Resources for the Future, wetland and barrier protection work tracked by the Association of State Floodplain Managers, aquatic education priorities at the National Wildlife Federation, and many more. The same also applies to our partners at all levels of government. Your American Fisheries Society has a 144-year history but we have only occasionally engaged with some promising partners. All indications are that our few place-based partnerships of the past will shepherd us toward robust cooperative efforts in our near future. And while ecological connections are likely to be the basis for initial introductions, strong administrative and financial incentives will address the business challenges confronting successful interactions among so many non-profit societies and associations. This evolution is already underway. The “Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting” assembled the Society for Freshwater Science, Phycological Society of America, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and Society of Wetland Scientists for a “historic joint meeting of four of the leading aquatic scientific societies” ( in May 2014). Their theme of “Bridging Genes to Ecosystems: Aquatic Science at a Time of Rapid Change” belies the trend I’m attempting to understand. Those four societies sought to build a bridge across disciplines with aquatic science as one common thread. That Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting, convened while this column was in press, promises to be larger than the typical gathering of each of the four partners. That’s by design, but will the grander event convey its aquatic messages to the intended audiences and will it generate sufficient revenue to support operations for four groups? Portland will also provide insights on how meeting size translates into success for the societies, their members, and the aquatic sciences. Will a larger conference yield stronger messages, perhaps direct action from Congress, more media coverage, or longer-term collaborations with agencies or sectors? Is a “summit” of like-minded groups a logical expansion of the comfortable conferences and annual meetings? A second partnership is the Restore America’s Estuaries – The Coastal Society joint “Summit 2014: Inspiring Action, Creating Resilience” ( in November). RAE and TCS have established “a new collaboration to present the first ever National Summit that will bring together the restoration and coastal management communities for an integrated discussion to explore issues, solutions and lessons learned.” As stated by the RAE and TCS presidents on the Summit website, “The integration of our communities is long overdue. The collaboration provides an opportunity to address many of the issues we have in common in a more holistic way and offers a more cost-effective way to convene discussion. Through this joint Summit the interdisciplinary group of presenters and audience will be able to expand networks, develop relationships, and leverage opportunities to find solutions for common problems.” That quote captures both the flavor of the changes we’re witnessing and the post-event scrutiny we’ll need as we determine whether bigger and broader is better than before. AFS is an active player in this shifting landscape. AFS attended the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting in May with an eye toward joining the effort for a second joint meeting in 2015. We also will have a presence at the RAE-TCS Summit in November, both at the primary meeting and at an adjunct gathering of the National Fish Habitat Partnership’s (NFHP) Board of Directors meeting (see NFHP link in literature cited). Another opportunity associated with that Summit could raise expectations another order of magnitude. The fall meeting of the NFHP Board at the Summit will also serve as the annual gathering of the 19 regional fish habitat partnerships that lead efforts to protect and restore fish habitat on a large geographic scale. Reflecting the enthusiasm surrounding these opportunities, conversations may expand participation to a much greater swath of aquatic and natural resource interests. Consider these groups as potential partners – the 22 individual Landscape Conservation Cooperatives in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Strategic Habitat Conservation vision (see LCC link in literature cited), the 11 regional member organizations of Restore America’s Estuaries Board of Directors (see RAE link in literature cited), the ocean partnerships and planning bodies representing the 9 regions in the National Ocean Policy (see ROP link in literature cited), and the 18 joint ventures focusing on migratory bird corridors (see JV link in literature cited). There are other incentives for collaboration beyond joint conferences. The Joint Aquatic Science Meeting and RAE-TCS Summits are based on shared interests in aquatic science or our coasts. Besides the financial aspects that accrue from administrative efficiency, there is another more individual or personal benefit – broadening our networks by connecting with people from similar disciplines but different groups. For example, The Wildlife Society and AFS both have units at the state level and sections or working groups organized around fields of interest like disease or education. Another suite of approaches is more ad hoc – joint effort to arrange a briefing for decision makers at any level; a partnership to develop a webinar on field research techniques or professional development; articles for publications normally read by our new colleagues; mentoring programs to alert young professionals to career opportunities; or an integrated intern program such as The Coastal Society working with AFS to identify an aspiring member who wishes to work on a coastal fish topic. Still another example of these new partnerships is just rising over the horizon. As this column was being written AFS was deep in discussions with The Wildlife Society about a potential, joint meeting of the two societies, perhaps as early as 2017 in Tampa. Details are still being negotiated but it seems likely that the first joint meeting will occur in 2017 or shortly thereafter. And there are related discussions about interim steps to bring our societies together before the joint meeting. These changes are exciting. Several years ago it became apparent that the usual approach to annual meetings and member services was not working for all societies. Some associations restructured to reduce costs; some time-honored events like the biennial coastal conferences disappeared from our schedules; and the idea of joint events gained traction. While I hope new approaches provide financial surety, I hope even more that new partnerships will help us do more for the fish . . . and dairy farms, waterfowl, mines, estuaries, timber, and other shared interests we’re uncovering.

Web Links Cited

Joint Ventures – see, accessed April 3, 2014 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives –, accessed April 3, 2014 Regional Fish Habitat Partnerships —, accessed April 3, 2014 Regional Ocean Partnerships –, accessed April 3, 2014 Restore America’s Estuaries –, accessed April 3, 2014 Photo: