Sparking Interest in Fisheries


AFS President Ron Essig

We all have our stories as to how we got on a path to this profession. I’m sure that many members like me first got the bug as a child while fishing with a parent, relative, or friend. Those experiences of trying to figure out where fish are located based on their behaviors in a diversity of aquatic habitats can spark a curiosity that can last a lifetime for many of us. In the United States, there were an estimated 33.1 million recreational anglers in 2011 (USDOI et al. 2012) and an estimated 1.27 million people involved in the commercial fishing industry in 2012 (NMFS 2014). These numbers do not even consider the millions of others worldwide. So, why aren’t there more fisheries science professionals?

There are only so many jobs in fisheries to go around, so only the most competitive applicants are successful. These individuals have followed rigorous science and mathematics curricula, typically at least through a master’s degree. Perseverance and hard work are key, but what often leads
to success is a passion for fish and aquatic environments. Exposure to the fisheries field at a relatively young age could serve to spark that passion. Between junior and senior years of high school, I was fortunate to participate in a National Science Foundation summer study program in marine biology, oceanography, and mathematics at Humboldt State College (now University). Although I had a strong belief that fisheries was the field for me, that fantastic experience sealed the deal.

AFS provides the Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program ( for high school students, which is similar except for its focus on a mentored work experience versus academic learning. The majority of the Hutton Scholars have been from underrepresented groups in the sheries profession, as they are targeted in this unique program. There have been 572 students in the program since its creation in 2001, including 309 minority and 334 female scholars. A survey of Hutton alumni from 2001 to 2011 showed that 12% were working in sheries and 64% were in biological or environmental science professions or elds of study. Even if they don’t make sheries a career, Hutton Scholars develop an appreciation of sheries conservation and management and the importance of healthy aquatic habitats.

Many AFS Chapters and Student Subunits sponsor activities that provide information about sheries resources to children. The Idaho Chapter participates in several programs including Trout in the Classroom, the Bookmark Project, Following the Fishes, and Stream of Dreams, where members engage with classrooms and funds are provided for aquatic resources education purposes ( Members of the Michigan State University Student Subunit visit local elementary and high schools to teach students about the natural world around them ( The Tennessee Chapter provided $1,500 for eight kids’ shing events in 2015 that served 1,900 people ( Many Student Subunits organize or assist with similar youth shing events to help get kids hooked on shing. Activities like these could eventually help motivate interest in a sheries career.

A recent initiative within AFS is the work of the Special Committee on Educational Requirements. Products of this committee so far are a list of colleges and universities with fisheries-related degrees ( links/2015-revised-and-updated-master-list-of-fisheries- programs) and results of a survey of employer needs (McMullan and DiCenzo, in press). The committee is crosswalking employer expectations with coursework requirements of fisheries programs with the goal of offering recommendations for alignment. Educational requirements for professional certification and federal employment in fisheries are also being examined.

There are several titles within the AFS Book Program that are specifically intended to facilitate successful fisheries careers. Future of Fisheries: Perspectives for Emerging Professionals (Taylor et al. 2014) offers mentoring vignettes intended to inspire and empower the next generation of fisheries professionals. The AFS Education Section developed The AFS Guide to Fisheries Employment Second Edition (Hewitt et al. 2006) that offers how-to information for entry into the profession.


Hewitt, D. A., W. E. Pine, III, and A. V. Zale, editors. 2006. The AFS guide to fisheries employment, second edition. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

McMullin, S. L., and V. DiCenzo. In press. Are we preparing the next generation of fisheries professionals to succeed in their careers? A survey of AFS members. Fisheries.

NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service). 2014. Fisheries economics of the United States 2012. U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-137, Silver Spring, Maryland.

Taylor, W. W, A. J. Lynch, and N. J. Leonard, editors. 2014. Future of fisheries: perspectives for emerging professionals. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

USDOI (U.S. Department of the Interior), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. 2011 National survey of fishing, hunting and wildlife- associated recreation.

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