AFS Second Vice President Candidate Statement: Gary Whelan


Gary Whelan

My remarkable journey into fisheries science is based on a passion for fish and fishing that comes from growing up in northeast New Jersey. Salt was put into my veins, never to really leave, by older family members who found me to be the perfect excuse to take everyone fishing in the waters around southern New Jersey barrier islands, and I spent much of my youth in the salt marshes and surf around Long Beach Island. My choice of profession pre-ordained, I was introduced to fisheries science and AFS at the University of Wyoming, completing my B.S. there and spending a summer/fall after graduation working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. My next stop was the University of Missouri, where I completed my M.S. in fisheries management under Charles Rabeni and started my professional journey in earnest. I then moved north to spend nearly five years at Michigan State University as a soft money research biologist, where I worked with William Taylor, who is still a close colleague and mentor.

With the 1985 expansion of the Sport Fish Restoration Program that was strongly backed and supported by our Society, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources–Fisheries Division hired 30+ positions in 1987, including myself. My work has ranged from evaluating the effects of 5-micron parasites on salmonids to hydropower project analysis to Native American Treaty Consent Decree implementation to landscape conservation on spatial scales ranging from individual fish and waters to the entire United States. Currently, I am a program manager responsible for our research section and parts of other Fisheries Division units. I have also worked on a number of regional and national fish conservation efforts through AFS and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), including the Instream Flow Council and the National Fish Habitat Partnership, where I am currently co-chair of the Science and Data Committee. My job duties require working closely with a broad range of government, non-governmental, and academic professionals, and those duties have directly or indirectly allowed me to travel to 48 of the 50 U.S. states (catching fish in 29 of those states) and a number of Canadian provinces. This range of institutional and geographic exposure has given me some really unique insights on the issues and needs of members and non-member fisheries professionals at all levels and geographic regions.


Like many members, I was “encouraged” to become an AFS member as an undergraduate, joining in 1978. I have been a life member since 1985 and am a certified fisheries biologist (renewal submitted). My focused involvement in AFS started in the 1980s when I served as secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Chapter, 1987 AFS Annual Meeting Program Committee member, and an Environmental Concerns Committee member. In the 1990s, I served as president of the Fisheries Information and Technology Section and as a member of the Society’s Special Management Committee, Governing Board, and Distinguished Service Award Committee. During the 2000s, I served as a member of the Fenske Award and Fenske Fellowship Committees, meeting co-chair of Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, chair of the Board of Professional Certification, president of the Fisheries History Section, and as a member of the Society’s Management Committee and Governing Board. So far in this decade, in addition to the Fenske committees, I have served as president of the North Central Division, a member of the Society’s Management Committee, a Propagated Fish in Research and Management (PFIRM) II Committee member, Outstanding Chapter and Subunit Award Committee Chair, and meeting co-chair of Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference. Additionally, I am an active member of the Michigan Chapter and four Society Sections: Fisheries Administration, Fisheries Management, Fisheries History, and Fish Culture. Over the last 4 decades, I have attended Chapter meetings in 8 states and 1 province, all of the Division meetings at least once, and 21 Annual Meetings. I have also published papers in AFS journals and have served as a reviewer for AFS and other journals.

This range of Society events and positions has allowed me to observe AFS from many angles and expanded my knowledge of our Society. Four decades of participation has brought many professional and personal relationships that I deeply cherish and has provided me extensive experience in every level of AFS, experiences that could really help me serve you as a Society officer.


My vision for the Society has three components: (1) to ensure we are the acknowledged unbiased experts in fisheries science, (2) to make a positive difference in how our fisheries resources are managed, and (3) to improve members’ abilities to make a difference and keep a passion burning in our work, regardless of where we are in our careers.

Our members are witnessing unprecedented challenges as professionals, including rapid changes in societal demographics, political leadership, communication paradigms, and public interest in aquatic resources; an ever increasing avalanche of exotic species invasions; the perplexing problem of incorporating landscape-scale thinking and big-data into our fisheries management decisions; and keeping AFS relevant and attractive to potential current and future members. To enable our members to deal with these intertwined issues, the Society must become even more nimble, communicating more quickly and clearly than ever. The Society must employ the best possible communications methods and technologies accompanied by the highest quality journals and publications to ensure that the membership is well informed on current issues, has opportunities to provide effective input into pressing resource challenges, provides effective leadership and assistance to decision makers on current and emerging fisheries issues, and has ever increasing high-quality education opportunities to ensure we remain the leaders in aquatic resource stewardship. These are all strategies that would I do my best to facilitate as a Society officer.

A number of decades ago, I remember Carl Sullivan stating that someone has to speak for the fishes and AFS is that voice. Following his sage advice, I see the Society growing in importance as the acknowledged unbiased expert voice in a broad range of venues, partnering with and building bridges with like-minded entities such as The Wildlife Society and AFWA to bring solutions and recommendations on key fisheries resource issues to policy makers. It is critical that the Society be the go-to organization that policy makers seek out for information. This is an area where I have direct experience and have already developed professional relationships that can help us effectively engage with these groups. To achieve this vision, we need to ensure our membership is appropriately involved in the key fisheries questions of our time, provided with training opportunities and technical resources, and supported by our outstanding staff in our efforts to make a difference for aquatic habitat. In short, the Society’s job must be to make all members better in their jobs.

I am a strong believer that the Society must be there “physically” for members and be completely transparent to the membership, as “We are You” and we are all members of this unique community. We must ensure that AFS leadership is available to meet with members, both in person and virtually, exploiting new technologies to develop relationships between members and the Society leadership no matter where members are located or whom they work for. For example, quarterly interactive webinars or video conferences by Society leadership to address member issues has great potential to build new relationships and community strength. The Society also needs to build and capitalize on the remarkable worldwide diversity and information that we have in our membership and needs to bring those unique insights and resources to bear on individual member fisheries issues using the appropriate communication vehicle. From my perspective, there is simply no substitute for personal interactions on key issues and nothing develops a sense of community better than the Society being there “physically” for the membership.

Finally, I am a strong believer that passion for our aquatic resource is our strongest value. Keeping the passion in our day-to-day work is absolutely critical for professionals to be successful, particularly when times are difficult. Without passion, there is simply no way to effectively handle adversity. To keep that passion burning, I envision greater availability of resources to improve our members’ ability to do their collective and individual work through greatly enhanced virtual training and conferencing opportunities, along with new ways to build the professional and personal relationships that sustain us in difficult times. To make progress in this area, the Society leadership must work diligently to engage all levels of experience in AFS, from students to retirees, and use of all of our combined skills to improve our community.

The Society has been a huge part of my professional life and I simply cannot replace the many relationships, friendships, and interactions that AFS has given me. It truly has been a remarkable journey that I would love to share with you, and I am deeply humbled to be even considered to serve as a Society officer.

Click here for AFS Second Vice President Candidate Statement: Brian R. Murphy