Reaching Outside AFS to Heighten Our Impact

AFS Policy Director, Tom Bigford

AFS Policy Director, Tom Bigford

Serving as your dutiful correspondent and policy wonk, I wrote this column from the AFS Southern Division Annual Meeting in Savannah, Georgia (late January), a gorgeous coastal city that also hosted the mid-year meeting of the AFS Governing Board (early February). The hugely successful Southern Division event reminded me how much AFS members offer to the allied aquatic professions. I’m proud of our ecological footprint and hope the power of our presence will inspire you as 2015 marches on and we look toward 2016. It is the future that is foremost in my mind. As I wrote this column, I found myself wondering how well our successes are positioning AFS for our immediate future. Do we have the expertise, structure, and vision to tackle the pressing issues that will demand our attention in 2016? My pride reaches back to 2014 and is morphing into great opportunities in 2015. In the conference/meeting arena, AFS leaders participated in a first-ever Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting in May 2014. That group has since become the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (CASS), with AFS a proud member. As noted below, our new CASS partnerships are already bearing fruit via science and policy forays with wetlands societies and a joint effort to address Clean Water Act issues. Also in 2014, our Annual Meeting in Québec City exceeded all expectations. Nearly 40 symposia showcased the power of science to influence management decisions related to dam removal, hook-and-release strategies, sustainable ecosystem services, fire management, and much more. Shortly after the AFS 2014 Annual Meeting, we joined the Chesapeake Conservancy to host he sold-out National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation to showcase conservation innovation at the landscape scale. In the advocacy arena, AFS joined more than 200 non-profits across the conservation, sport, and science communities to sign a letter coordinated by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The letter was sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) urging them to persevere in the political battle over proposed Clean Water Act regulations governing wetlands and waterways. That debate is based on interpretations of two Supreme Court decisions, connects to every fish and every watershed across the United States, and may well cycle back to the courts for clarity. Befitting the new year, early 2015 started with fireworks. The Clean Water Act remained in the policy spotlight when Congress convened a rare joint House and Senate hearing in February. The AFS remained engaged by sending its own letter to USEPA and USACE on their joint “Waters of the United States” rule, building on the broad 2014 letter with more facts focused on fish. In a related effort, AFS is working with The Coastal Society (TCS), the Environmental Law Institute, and our colleagues in the CASS to organize a Capitol Hill briefing on May 21 related to the Clean Water Act. In addition to CASS, AFS ventured into several other note-worthy partnerships. Shortly after what promises to be a great AFS Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon (August 16-20), AFS will be back in the Rose City as a partner with the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) for its 2015 conference. Working with TCS, we will convene a technical session on the power of fish to integrate ecosystem health across watersheds. Those talks will bring a fish, food chain, and watershed focus to a society renowned for its long-term emphasis on estuaries. At the regional level, AFS, TCS, and CERF considered several options for a joint meeting at the AFS division/CERF affiliate/TCS chapter level. Our first effort will be a joint meeting of TCS and CERF’s New England Estuarine Research Society in Bristol, Rhode Island, on April 16-18, again with a coastal watershed theme. Next year could bring a similar effort with an AFS division or chapter and perhaps a CERF regional affiliate. Those TCS, CERF, and AFS partnerships are natural for me as I’ve been a member of all three societies for decades. I have been an AFS member on and off since 1973 (mostly “on” since the 1990s), served for years as the AFS liaison to TCS, and last year added CERF to my liaison portfolio. My connections are especially deep with TCS as I just started my term as president of the oldest society in the world committed to coastal issues (founded in 1976). Like our new partners in CASS, these societies are natural allies. At the other end of the geographic scale, AFS continues to be very active on the international front. We were deeply involved in the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Conference on Inland Fisheries in Rome in January 2015 that focused on freshwater fish, subsistence fisheries, and seafood security. Those discussions built on earlier efforts by several World Fisheries Congresses, an effort now led by Doug Austen (Secretary General of the World Council of Fisheries Societies) and aiming toward its 7th Congress in Busan, South Korea, in May 2016. Watch the AFS publications website for proceedings of earlier World Fisheries Congresses and the FAO conference. So many great efforts, each with follow-up opportunities! Finally, I can say with great optimism that another success will be the effort led by AFS President Donna Parrish to clarify our Society’s role across the full realm of communications–by leaders, in Society publications, as advocates, in the media, and in many other venues. By virtue of our long history, our esteemed journals, this highly regarded Fisheries magazine, websites for each Unit and the Society, and the personal achievements of our members, AFS can speak with authority on specific projects, national legislation, policy matters, science budgets, and the myriad of topics that arise through our sections and divisions. We can all look forward with comfort knowing that the AFS Governing Board, augmented by the messaging gurus at Potomac Communications Group hired by AFS to share their insights on non-profits, has charted a course that will strengthen us and benefit fisheries. By the time we convene in Portland, AFS should have a communications plan with a more coherent vision of our messages and actions and a clear path toward implementation. Many of the topics mentioned in these columns will be touched by our new communications strategy—policy, advocacy, partnerships, science and management, and more. These are exciting times! In the next issue, look for the top 10 fisheries issues demanding our attention in the science/management/policy/education milieu. Policy Column Tom Bigford, Policy Director, [email protected]