AFS Shifts to New Approach in Policy

By Thomas E. Bigford, Policy Director.

AFS Policy Director, Tom Bigford

The Society’s interests in policy and advocacy date back to the organization’s early years in the 1870s. Over the decades, our interests have expanded as have the organization’s policy efforts. We are now better positioned more than ever to make best use of the knowledge embedded in AFS and its members. Our tra- ditional approach dates back to the 63rd AFS Annual Meeting in 1933, when a committee was appointed to draft an American game fish policy. After ve years of effort, the North American Fish Policy ( policy-statement-1) was presented at the 68th Annual Meeting, adopted by the membership, and published in the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society (AFS 1939). Since those early ef- forts, the AFS Policy Program has evolved. Resulting from a suc- cessful push to advocate for sound science and management, AFS President Carlos Fetterolf’s work in the early 1990s set the stage for the AFS “Advocacy Guidelines” in place today ( policy-media/advocacy-guidelines). Around the same time, AFS created a Resource Policy Committee to help the Society evaluate, develop, and maintain resource policies on priority concerns of the membership; advise the AFS president and executive di- rector about aquatic resource issues; produce and/or coordinate draft resource policy statements for Society approval; and review approved policies to ensure continued usefulness. During more recent decades, our Society has become more active in writing letters to in uence decisions related to fisheries and aquatic resources. Several times each year since 2007, we have submitted technical comments via our own policy letters, or ones signed by multiple groups ( such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (a consortium of more than 100 fishing and hunting groups) and the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (six professional societies), who have proven to be our most effective allies in letter-writing campaigns. With that history, we now nd ourselves at another critical juncture as we seek a stronger role in the natural resource and fisheries arenas.

The concerted efforts of the entire AFS Policy Program dur- ing the past 30-plus years have not been accompanied by a clear strategy to apply those policies to fisheries decisions. Simply stated, our successful efforts to review the literature and develop policy recommendations was routinely followed by no directed effort to share our toils with affected industries, agencies, or legislatures. We often missed opportunities to take advantage of our reputation as the largest, oldest, and most influential fisheries society in the Americas, perhaps the world. That disconnect left our Society on the fringes of important decisions, a lapse that became more evident since 2014 as AFS sharpened its policy focus and sought to become more in uential in aquatic science arenas. AFS, the experts on fisheries since 1870 and a minor player in the eyes of most decision makers, is now on the verge of a major role in the science, management, and policy continuum.

The Society readily accepted that challenge during the past year. At the suggestion of Executive Director Doug Austen and with the full support of the AFS Policy Team, these concerns were aired in late 2015 and placed on the agenda for our 2016 mid-year Governing Board meeting. The discussion was enlightening to many Governing Board members and led to consensus around an immediate charge—the Policy Team would review its collec- tive efforts to make best use of fisheries knowledge in aquatic resource decisions, including an analysis of options ranging from improvements to the status quo to major adjustments. Simultane- ously, to clarify the status of all existing policy statements, all out-of-date policies (those not reviewed in the past ve years) have been moved to an archive list on our website ( The website will be revisited as we determine our next steps, as our bylaws affect the status of other policies, and we determine our next steps toward strength- ening the AFS Policy Program.

The AFS Policy Team hopes to revise select policy documents into much more concise and useful summaries and policy statements. The intent is to reduce effort in writing and updating the documents while also increasing the prospects of decision makers reading our products. Similarly, since policy statements and related literature reviews require so much effort, and our process is not nimble enough to allow timely action on current issues, the Policy Team will also shift our attention away from policy docu- ments and to other tools to share fisheries knowledge and in u- ence decisions. We will create a priority list of issues to address and will be reaching out to the aforementioned partners to share the effort. Fortunately, AFS has some history in this arena, so the shift should not be too abrupt. We will also ensure that this effort builds off of the Future of the Nation’s Fisheries and Aquatic Re- sources effort published in late 2016 ( future-of-the-nations-aquatic-resources). Each policy item (letter, meeting, etc.) will build off of the 12 primary issues featured in that document.

If you have any questions about the direction of the AFS Policy Program, please contact me, Tom Bigford at [email protected] You may also call our of ce at 301-897-8616. We look forward to working with all of our members on this process, to continue to make AFS the premier organization on fisheries science, management, and policy.

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