Q&A with the Candidates: AFS Second Vice President: Scott Bonar

Scott Bonar

Scott Bonar

AFS is comprised of a diverse array of Chapters, Divisions, and Sections. Please describe actions or initiatives that you think AFS should pursue to enhance cohesion across these units and strengthen the Society.

I believe AFS is strong because of its diversity, and the contact between some Sections may never be that close. However, no matter how different the Units, we have several overall interests. We wish to conserve aquatic resources for future generations. We wish to make clear to policy makers and the public the importance of heathy fisheries and associated aquatic ecosystems, regardless if they are marine, riverine, or lacustrine. We wish to develop means for fisheries professionals to employ the best available science and to compare data and procedures where appropriate. We wish to maintain attendance at our hugely successful Society, regional, and local meetings where biologists from widely different backgrounds can interact, and share techniques and information.  I believe AFS is doing most of these things right, thanks to a vast number of talented individuals who have lent their skills to the organization over the decades. Otherwise, we currently wouldn’t be the oldest and largest fisheries organization in the world! However, I will suggest a few additions for the future to encourage pursuit of joint interests and enhance cohesion.

  • If you work for a federal, state or local agency, it is often too difficult to get permission to attend AFS meetings, no matter what the source of travel funds. Therefore, I believe AFS should prioritize work with state and federal agencies to demonstrate to managers the continued benefits of AFS membership for their staff and to improve the approval process for agency biologists to attend AFS meetings and participate in other AFS activities.
  • Biological information is important for fisheries scientists, but so is information on how to work effectively with the public and policy makers. Social science methods to most effectively work with the media, policy makers, and the public should be readily available to the membership, perhaps through the website or by encouraging publications in these areas.
  • Comparing data across state, federal, and local boundaries and among agencies and organizations is becoming increasingly important. I believe the Society should continue to promote standard data collection and analysis procedures to enhance cohesion among biologists from different Chapters and Divisions who might like to share data for larger scale projects.

AFS has many partners at a variety of levels, including federal agencies, other conservation and science organizations, and even with industry. What additional groups or organizations would you propose that AFS build partnerships with and why?

The strong connections AFS has built over the years with a variety of organizations is also a testament to the fine membership and staff of the Society. Supporting the partnerships with North American aquatic resources agencies, universities, and other organizations devoted to aquatic resources should remain a focused priority. Collaboration with policy makers across the continent to conserve North America’s fish communities and aquatic habitats should also remain a priority. However, I do see potential for more involvement with science teacher organizations. Healthy freshwater resources are critical for everyone, and they are becoming increasingly scarce. Developing an interest in these resources in children early in life and nurturing the values to use them sustainably are in part dependent on the skills and interest of our K-12 science teachers. Educators teach units on DNA analysis, forensics, and a variety of other topics. We need to ensure conservation of our wonderful aquatic natural resources also receives strong attention.

When I see the rate at which freshwater resources across the globe are declining and results from the latest Gallup polls that show only 1-3% of the U.S. population believes that environmental issues are among our most important concerns, I believe we have a problem. We scientists have the data and the research on these topics. The teachers have the skills and opportunities to communicate this information to large numbers of young people. Professional organizations such as ours should do what we can to encourage the work of teachers who can inform upcoming generations of the value of aquatic resources to students—no matter if they will be fisheries professionals, or just good citizens. Project WET, the Hutton Program, and other excellent programs exist, and we should maintain and increase our support for them, and add to these programs.  I believe working with the Education Section to sponsor some of the leaders of K-12 education to attend our meetings to identify areas of joint interest, similar to how we sponsor fisheries scientists from other countries, would be an important step forward.  Furthermore, healthy freshwater is not only important for strictly aquatic species, but also terrestrial ones. For example, in the state of Arizona, estimates are that 80-90% of all vertebrates use riparian areas sometime in their life cycles, even though these areas only make up 0.5% of the surface area of the state. Therefore, to effectively work with teachers’ organizations, we need to maintain our strong partnerships with other organizations, such as The Wildlife Society, whose main focus might be outside the aquatic arena, because healthy aquatic ecosystems are important for everyone.

AFS in an international society, but we often seem to be seen as primarily oriented towards U.S. and Canadian issues. What should the Society be doing to better engage and involve members throughout the world?

Technology is getting more advanced, our world is getting smaller, and I feel strongly we have an increasing need to communicate and collaborate with fisheries scientists and others outside of North America. I have been fortunate to speak at many international symposia and interact with many international organizations. These have included meetings at the United Nations, NATO Environmental Security Council, European Standards Committee for Fish/Water Quality Sampling, and a variety of others.  At last year’s Annual Meeting in Portland, I led an international symposium (successful—at least that’s what they told me!), sponsored by the AFS Fisheries Management and the International Fisheries sections, on fish sampling standardization that involved scientists from five different continents who shared freshwater fish sampling techniques and community diagnosis methods from far flung regions of the globe, followed by a structured decision-making discussion session about how we might better communicate. From these international experiences, I found that fish management techniques being used effectively in other countries can be entirely unknown to us, and conversely, what we do here can be unknown to them. We need opportunities to share this joint information to most effectively manage our aquatic resources—especially resources shared by multiple nations such as marine fisheries, or those which form the borders between nations. How would I see doing this? Here again, AFS meeting participation is critical. I believe we should further encourage Sections to sponsor international symposia at Society meetings to bring biologists from all areas of the world together. Formal meetings over Skype and such are good, yet I would argue the value of the face-to-face social opportunities to exchange information informally equals and often surpasses the information exchange obtained during the formal discussions or short meetings one can have on long-distance computer or telephone lines. Using the “bully pulpit” of the Society to encourage outside groups to sponsor AFS travel to such exchanges and sponsor international scientists to our meetings would further improve collaboration.

In regard to our own continent, I live one hour from the U.S./Mexico border and have travelled extensively in Mexico, both for work and pleasure. I have coauthored several articles with Mexican scientists, and I have published in Mexican journals. Mexico is a spectacular land of freshwater and marine resources, containing huge rivers, lakes, cenotes, and beautiful coastlines with many talented scientists. Travel funding available to Mexican scientists can often be more elusive than that available to U.S. and Canadian Scientists. I support prioritizing scholarships and travel funds for scientists from Mexico and other countries in Mesoamerica to attend Society meetings north of the border so we can learn from these scientists. The AFS Western Division held a successful meeting at Mazatlán, Mexico, and I would encourage meeting opportunities south of the border where and when possible.   Furthermore, we should engage Mexican members when possible by continuing to translate selected information on the website and journal articles into Spanish, and provide Spanish information on the AFS website on particular projects.

What do you see as a major scientific and management challenge facing fisheries over the next 10 years and how should AFS be engaged in addressing that issue?

I tell my students that we live in one of the most important times in history to be a part of the natural resource profession, be it fisheries, wildlife, or another discipline.  At no previous time have we faced the combination of challenges that are now being manifested in increased human population size and natural resources use across the globe. Fisheries scientists, and the upcoming generation will have a major role to play in helping the public learn to live sustainably with our resources. To be blunt—too many aquatic resource users exist, there are not enough aquatic resources, and there is a lack of public understanding and interest in living sustainably with our natural resources. We all know we need to live within our financial means (I know—this is difficult for me as well!), but it is even more important that we live within the carrying capacity of our ecosystems. This dilemma concerns all fisheries professionals, from the fisheries manager who needs to provide sportfishing opportunities to anglers at an Indiana lake, to a scientist trying to understand declines of native trout in Ontario streams, to a charter boat operator worrying about the declining health of coral reefs off the Florida Keys. As I mentioned before, recent Gallup Polls show only 1-3% of the U.S. public believe environmental issues are among our most pressing. In upcoming years, I believe our major challenges are to make a larger percentage of people outside the scientific community aware of the increasing dilemma faced by our aquatic resources, and get them interested in taking action to do something about it. This can be in part helped by our willingness to provide aquatic managers and scientists with the tools and information to not only better work with fish populations, but also information on communication techniques and public relations to better convince the public that they are best served by healthy fish and wildlife populations. I further believe we should continue to collaborate with policy makers about how healthy aquatic systems can help them best meet their interests and satisfy their constituency.  Also, AFS should continue to encourage means to disseminate information among our members about how to diagnose fish communities in critical states of decline, and share practical treatment methods—much like triage physicians do.

AFS has about 8,000 members but, at best, it includes only one out of every four or five working fisheries professionals; less optimistic estimates put the figure at only one out of ten. What are two or three key actions that AFS should be taking to engage more professionals in the Society in the next 2-3 years?

I know I was told to limit my list of key actions to three—however, I’m a university professor!  I’m expected to talk too much!  Four actions I would encourage AFS to recruit new members are:

  • Further advertise how fisheries professionals benefit by being AFS members and participating in activities;
  • Further show supervisors of organizations, agencies, and academic units how they benefit when their employees are part of AFS;
  • Increase member benefits; and
  • Continue work with university educators, students, and others to show benefits to students of AFS membership.

AFS has been critically important for my fisheries biologist career. However, I believe most of us did not realize this until we became members and started participating in Society activities. When I was a state agency biologist, engagement in AFS activities was allowed but not particularly rewarded. I believe we need to further target agency administrators as well as fisheries biologists, perhaps enlisting Fisheries Administration Section advice, to show administrators specifically how AFS membership of their staff benefits their agency and constituents. This would be a two-way exchange, where we also learn from administrators how AFS can best help them meet their goals.

We also need to explore other member benefits. The excellent AFS books, publications, and annual meetings should continue to be vigorously advertised and we should explore new ways to market these areas. Continuing education opportunities benefit Society members, and I would look for ways to enhance these programs. I believe AFS’s move towards the standardization of data collection and comparison procedures enhances the ability to compare data across wide geographic areas and organizations and is a strong benefit to members. AFS work in this endeavor has been unencumbered by the various roadblocks experienced by most single agencies or organizations, and has been especially effective. This is because, unlike most single entities, AFS consists of wide array of state, local, federal, and academic organizations across all of North America that can help arrive at broad-based procedures. Standard procedures and data comparison methods are available from other professional organizations such as the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Water Works Association, and the American Society of Testing and Materials, just to name a few. Our profession is as advanced as other fields and we deserve to have recommended standard procedures available to our members. AFS should continue, and even increase, their leadership in offering these services.

As a university professor, I realize students who participate in AFS activities greatly benefit. I have encouraged (strongly!) my students to present their work at Chapter, Division, and Society meetings. I am a strong supporter of AFS Education Section activities and believe we should continually focus on student support within AFS. Additional awards from AFS should be made available not only to talented students, but to those who go out of their way to increase student involvement in AFS.

Thank you for allowing me to share some of my opinions with you about potential future activities and direction of the Society.  I hope I can get your vote of support for Second Vice President.

Scott Bonar’s biographical information may be seen in the February issue of Fisheries and is also available here: Candidate Statements.

Click here to get to know the other candidate – Gary Whelan.