Actions and Dialog to Change Perceptions and Increase Engagement of Underrepresented Minorities in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences: Report to Membership from a Special Session in Portland

Christine M. Moffitt | U.S. Geological Survey, Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Idaho, Moscow ID, 83844-1141. E-mail: [email protected]

The economic and political success of natural resource agencies, professional societies, and other institutions is linked to having informed constituent groups and employees that represent the diversity of our population. The 2015 Annual Meeting provided a venue for an intense and short special session designed to bring together a variety of leaders with relevant experience understanding diversity and leading change. In previous annual meetings, special symposia had been conducted regarding the importance of cultural and ethnic diversity, but the goal of this brief 90-minute conversation with diverse participants was to come away with specific actions that could be effective in moving us to a more diverse professional society. Among key action items resulting from discussions was the need for increased and highly visible programs within AFS leadership and meeting organizers to increase the sensitivity and awareness of the importance of diversity. Mamie Parker, a former assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, served as a moderator and kept the conversations moving with her contagious energy.

Background for discussions was contained in the comprehensive Green 2.0 report (Taylor 2014). This report summarized the results of a comprehensive study of 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies, and 28 environmental grant-making foundations. A significant finding of the Green 2.0 report was that the racial diversity in organizations lags behind gender diversity progress. The Green 2.0 report provided documentation that only 12.4% of the paid staff of governmental environmental agencies was from ethnic minorities, and a similar proportion was recorded for staff of conservation and preservation organizations. The report documented that leadership in environmental organizations and agencies was dominated by white males, and significant progress in gender diversity over the past decades was mostly accomplished with increased proportions of white women. The growth in numbers of women was in lower ranking positions, as current presidents and chairs of the boards of conservation preservation organizations and agencies were more than 70% male. The report also noted that within organizations, few programs and activities were directed to engage with cross racial and diverse communities, and many recruitment programs showed an unconscious bias in where and how recruiting was accomplished. The dominant culture of many organizations was largely ignoring ethnic minorities, the economically disadvantaged, and the LGBTQ community.

The U.S. Census projections show that by 2018, U.S. youth under 18 years of age will no longer be majority white, and these statistics have a strong regional component (Figure 1). Moreover, lack of income equality and low head-of-household net worth in many communities affects the capacity of underrepresented minorities to engage and afford educational opportunities. Conservation organizations, agencies, and professional societies need to recognize and make changes in their structure to remain relevant.


How can we engage in relevant local and regional issues and consider the international setting—all of which have disproportional political and economic conditions? Our panel and audience participants concluded that opportunities for increasing environmental awareness are successful when they are partnered with expanding educational opportunities for relevant internships, mentoring, and community action. Panelist Running-Grass, regional environmental justice coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), highlighted some of the workshops available for improving cultural appreciation and community engagement through his experiences advancing environmental justice goals of federal agency collaborators. The USEPA draft-planning document for environmental justice addresses the responsibility to improve quality of life and expand economic opportunity in low-income, minority, and tribal populations (USEPA 2015).



All panelists indicated our professional society efforts should include partnerships with other organizations, including Hispanic, African-American and Tribal professional societies such as the National Hispanic Environmental Council (NHEC), the African American Environmentalist Association (AAEA), and the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society. Panelist and AFS member Zach Penney of the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, highlighted his plans to re-kindle the Native People’s Section in AFS. Panelist and marine scientist Kiki Jenkins noted the importance of community engagement in all research programs to make studies relevant through outreach and conversations. Several in the audience mentioned the successful SEEDS program in the Ecological Society of America as a good model to highlight mentoring at annual meetings. All agreed that the AFS Hutton Program has been successful in bringing under-represented high school students into summer experiences, but there is a strong need for continued engagement and mentoring beyond the summer experience. Diversity is a process that needs continuous engagement by all parties.


In summary, we ask AFS leadership and members to place the process of diversity and engagement within sight of all activities. Moreover, we suggest that environmental justice be included in planning projects and collaborations in the future. Highlighting urban and subsistence fisheries and engaging in fish advisories can serve as a good starting place for visible efforts.



Taylor, D. E. 2014. The state of diversity in environmental organizations. Green 2.0 working group. Available: about-us. (December 2015).

USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). 2015. Action agenda framework fiscal years 2016 – 2018. Draft document. US Environmental Protection Agency Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, Washington, D.C.

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