December 2015: The Big AFS Tent


AFS President Ron Essig

Variety in membership is what keeps AFS strong and vibrant and provides many opportunities for engagement in Society business on a voluntary basis at a number of different levels. The volunteer nature of AFS means that it must be flexible and forgiving as an organization to meet a variety of member needs.

The AFS current membership (~7,600) consists of a wide range of fisheries professionals, students, and retirees engaged in many different disciplines. Recent information from the membership database is that there are 1,718 students and 351 retirees. Of the remaining members who have employment information in the database, the percentages by employment type are: state/provincial government (27%), federal government (23%), college/university faculty (21%), private sector (16%), tribal government (3%), and other (10%). It is important to note that 35% of AFS members have not indicated their employment status, so there could be inaccuracy from non-response bias in these data. Please consider taking a few minutes to make sure that the information in your AFS member profile is up-to-date (

At the Society level, there are 22 standing committees, 14 standing subcommittees, 5 special committees, and 16 liaisons to other professional societies. AFS also has a large number of Units including 4 Divisions, 44 Chapters, 47 Student Subunits, and 21 Sections. Each of these Units typically has several associated committees, so there are many opportunities for an AFS member to get involved with a particular activity. With limited volunteer time available, the key is to pick a task that is meaningful to you and for which you feel that your involvement can make a difference. There are many assignments that might fit the bill, and Society members should find that niche where they can contribute. New members shouldn’t feel like they have to earn their stripes before jumping in, as their energy and enthusiasm can far overshadow their lack of experience. For example, in my current home Chapter, a graduate student recently served as its president. That year was an outstanding one for the Chapter and a great leadership experience for the student.

Sometimes members don’t step up because they feel that they can’t devote enough time to do a good enough job. However, experts say that people who step up to leadership positions are often the ones who are the busiest. Members might feel that there are several others who could do a better job than they could, so they don’t volunteer. If that was the case, then chances are that those individuals have already been asked and have declined for one reason or the other. So it is better to try than to not have tried. The beauty of the voluntary nature of the Society is that you can beg forgiveness if the results of your efforts are not as timely or ideal as you had envisioned. Having said that, I’ve seen some examples of members volunteering for a task and then never following through. So it is important to be honest in assessing your limitations.

My experience is that the Society is very good at providing forgiving environments. If you are a committee member who can’t finish a task because of a competing demand on your time from your work or home life, then chances are that another member can pitch in to help get it done. If you are uncomfortable with Robert’s Rules of Order, as many members are, then others at the meeting can help get you through. I have found that even scientific meeting audiences are forgiving, in that they typically show respect and offer constructive criticism to less polished presenters. As a graduate student giving my first AFS meeting presentation on my master’s thesis river herring work, I fielded questions from a leading diadromous fish expert. While stressful at the time, I later appreciated his respectful manner and genuine interest in leading me to a better scientific place.

So please consider becoming more active in AFS at whatever level you are comfortable. Maybe this just means a personal commitment to attend more of your local Chapter meetings. Maybe it is volunteering to serve on a Society or Unit committee. Maybe it is helping to organize a portion of an annual Unit meeting. You will likely find that these small steps are quite fulfilling. The personal satisfaction from contributing to a successful result might even encourage you to get a little bit out of your comfort zone in your next AFS venture. This type of progression in service is what makes AFS great and helps advance the fisheries profession.

Members click below for the December 2015 Fisheries magazine’s complete issue. Non-members, join here.

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