Do We Advocate?

Joe Margraf, AFS President. E-mail: [email protected]

According to Wikipedia (2017), “advocacy is an activity by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or conducting exit poll or the filing of an amicus brief.” This definition is similar to that found in other, more traditional media. I like it because it captures a more modern, popular view of the activity without being overly constraining. So, does AFS indulge in advocacy? Some would say no we do not; others, yes but not enough; and still others, yes way too much. Which is correct?

For this special issue of Fisheries on ethics and advocacy, I specifically asked to not see the articles beforehand because I did not want to be tainted by their content, which I am sure is great. I do not even know who the authors are. Many members have said to me I wish AFS would advocate more. Some very good friends of mine have even said if AFS doesn’t advocate for fish, who will? The answer to both of these groups is we do, but in a way that is not overt and in your face. AFS is a scientifically based professional organization. We are very broad, just like the fisheries profession. For instance, we have Sections that include most of these broad areas: Bioengineering, Canadian Aquatic Resources, Early Life History, Education, Student Subsection of Education, Equal Opportunity, Estuaries, Fish Culture, Fish Habitat, Fish Health, Fisheries Administration, Fisheries History, Fisheries Information and Technology, Fisheries Management, Genetics, Imperiled Aquatic Species, International Fisheries, Introduced Fish, Marine Fisheries, Native Peoples Fisheries. Physiology, Socioeconomics, Water Quality, and soon, Science Communications. There are many more interest groups within the profession, but even this list of Sections is impressive. So, the question becomes how do you support one group’s “sacred cow” without goring someone else’s? This is a conundrum that failure to consider in the past has gotten AFS in trouble with some sectors of the profession. If we advocate strongly for something, then we may appear to be advocating against something else. So, how do we advocate without alienating a segment of the profession, yet still have an impact on the decision-making process?

First and foremost, AFS advocates for the use of fisheries science in the decision-making process. If there are competing pieces of fisheries science in the decision process, we do not advocate for the use of one over the other, unless there is an AFS commissioned white paper that has been voted upon and received the approval of a majority of members who vote. Because this is a very time-consuming process, it is by far not the ordinary situation. For that reason, we steer clear of picking one group of science over another, because doing so will most likely result in us unnecessarily alienating one group of members over another. I am sure in some members’ minds this does not appear like advocacy, but rest assured that it is. Now I am going to launch into what is my opinion, not AFS policy. I am reasonably well convinced of the main reason we often do not get major consideration in the decision-making process, and it is not that AFS does not take a strong enough stand, or that we have not made strong enough scientific arguments, or even worse, that decision makers are somehow evil people who do not appreciate fish. Decision makers have many, sometimes apparently competing, factors to balance in the decision-making process, and usually it is not at all clear to how fish stack up against jobs, money, or the human condition. While we as fisheries professionals all know that healthy fish populations most likely mean better conditions for people, similar to good water, attractive surroundings,
and prosperous economies, we do not do a very good job of pointing this out in our analyses. Many decisions seem to pit fish against jobs and economic well-being. This should not be the case, because in most situations healthy fish populations go hand-in-hand with the desired socioeconomic outcomes. What can we do to make our fishcentric desires more likely part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, or worse yet, cast out of consideration? Do we need to do a detailed economic analysis as part of all of our scientific work on fish? Well perhaps we do in some cases where the economic impact of healthy fish populations is not clear and/or the alternative is potentially dire for the fish. Having just come back from the Western Division and Montana Chapter meetings in Missoula, Montana, the Missoula surroundings and lots of areas like it provide good examples of how healthy fish populations translate into good places for people and prosperous economies. Perhaps we need only to draw careful comparisons to places like this in our scientific analysis of fish populations. However, we need to make these connections explicitly clear rather than hope decision makers will do it for us. So, let’s advocate for fish, but without shooting ourselves in the foot!

Wikipedia contributors. 2017. Advocacy. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available: (May 2017).

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