Growing up in Michigan, there were plenty of opportunities to indulge my lifelong fascination with all things aquatic. However, living on the boundary between urban and rural, I also saw firsthand the profound influences that people can exert on the integrity of aquatic systems. I came to fisheries science late in my educational career, having completed a traditional B.S. in biology at the University of Detroit (1975) and an M.S. in bionucleonics (radiation biology, but with an emphasis on aquatic contaminants) at Purdue University (1977). My interest in aquatics led me to Virginia Tech (Ph.D. in fisheries science, 1981), where I worked to develop early genetic markers for fisheries management applications.
After teaching/research stints at Texas Tech University (1980–1985) and Texas A&M University (1985–1994), I returned to Virginia Tech as professor of fisheries to serve first as department head and now as teaching/research faculty. At last count, I have taught 22 different courses about various aspects of natural resource conservation and management, but the consistent thread through 38 years of teaching has been fisheries management. One of my primary goals is to help students develop as effective professionals, so I focus my teaching on challenging them to develop the critical professional skills of complex thinking, problem solving, and communications in a context of contemporary fisheries challenges. In the past decade, I have dedicated increasing effort to broad higher-education issues in natural resources, including work with international institutions to help improve curricula and instruction (with service as a Fulbright Teaching Scholar in Mexico, and leading higher education workshops in China). I now also teach a new course at Virginia Tech, “Pedagogy for the Sciences.”
My research career has focused on applied problems in fisheries assessment and management, including everything from traditional freshwater fisheries management issues, to development and refinement of population assessment indices, to conflicts between economic development and fisheries sustainability in places as widely separated as Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America, and China. Working with dedicated students and collaborators has led me to publish more than 140 journal articles, and I have edited or authored two books for AFS: Fisheries Techniques, 2nd Edition and Case Studies in Fisheries Conservation and Management: Applied Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. In my spare time, my passions are birdwatching, photography, fishing (Muskellunge Esox masquinongy!), beekeeping, and developing wildlife habitat and diversity on our small farm in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.
How important do I consider AFS? Perhaps one measure is that the Tampa meeting this August will be my 40th AFS Annual Meeting and my 38th consecutive! As I tell my students, I am an AFS Life Member and a Certified Fisheries Professional because nothing has benefitted my career more than my association with the committed professionals and boundless resources of AFS. From presenting my very first scientific paper as a master’s student at the Dearborn meeting in 1976, to using Education Section textbooks in the courses that I teach and then helping to produce new books, to participating in AFS governance at almost every level, the contacts that I have made and the resources that supported my professional efforts in almost every aspect of my career have been invaluable. The Education Section helped me develop as the reflective teacher that I am today, while the Fisheries Management Section led me to an appreciation of the practical side of our field that was new to a basic biology major. Travel for AFS and exposure through AFS, have led me to fascinating people and places around the world that have enriched both my professional and personal life immensely.
I have been a member of five different Chapters and five Sections. In addition to serving on numerous committees at all levels (including the Board of Professional Certification and the Board of Appeals; and chairing the Publication Oversight Committee), I have served as president of the Virginia Tech Chapter, the Texas Chapter, the Education Section, and the Southern Division of AFS, and for multiple related terms on the Governing Board and Management Committee. I have found involvement in AFS governance to be both humbling and personally rewarding, and it is a chance to give back to the profession that has helped me so much. AFS is full of smart and dedicated people, and I have learned much from AFS contacts. Similarly, I have been both honored and humbled to be named an inaugural Fellow of AFS, to have received the Society’s Excellence in Education Award, to have received the Fisheries Management Section’s Award of Excellence, and to be recognized by the Virginia Chapter with the Eugene W. Surber Award (for lifetime achievement). I have served as faculty advisor for Chapters at two universities, and my service at all levels of AFS has included a frequent emphasis on creating opportunities for students and young professionals.
As we enter 2017, many AFS members express concern over what the near-term future may hold for professionals in the various environmental sciences and the natural resources that we have dedicated our energies to conserving and managing. The seemingly growing disregard of, or even disdain for, the sound science on which we feel decisions should be based can be discouraging to all of us, but particularly to young professionals and to students getting ready to enter our profession. What can we do about the anti-science attitude that seems to be proliferating and threatening the advances in environmental conservation that were so hard-won over the past century?
First, we must not be discouraged from doing what we think is important, guided by our principles and reaching to the very limits of our personal abilities and power. How can AFS help? We should redouble efforts to maintain strong connections and communication between all members through all available channels. How can we offer support to members as they face challenges in their positions? What types of continuing education opportunities will help them most in this new climate? How can we offer more mentoring opportunities for young professionals and students in these challenging times? AFS has a strong Chapter, Section, and Division structure. We should be taking advantage of opportunities to help members at all levels of AFS.
Second, we must recognize the role that we ourselves play in ever-evolving cultural views and make sure that our efforts help steer productive change. Have we effectively communicated the importance of sound natural resource policy, not just to our peers but also to the public and our governmental representatives? Can we improve our communications efforts in ways that do not harden the current divide? Can we do a better job to effectively persuade people that environment is not a four-letter word but rather where we all live and the source of all social prosperity? Can we more effectively utilize popular channels to broadly disseminate critical messages in compelling language that is engaging to nonscientists?
Finally, we must band together with like-minded colleagues in other sciences to communicate our critical messages. There is strength in numbers and in collaborative thinking and shared ideas. AFS has many very creative and persuasive members and effective communicators. Let us find ways to tap their talents and join with others in cooperative efforts to be agents of positive change.
I have asked more questions here than provided answers, but these are critical issues that we face now. I would welcome the chance to play a role in helping AFS develop strategies to ensure that we are supporting our members in every way possible, and that the societal relevance of what we do as professionals is effectively and widely communicated to multiple audiences.