By Joe Margraf, AFS President. E-mail: [email protected]
If you’ve been following my column, you know I grew up on the water and fishing. I had fish in tubs in our basement. I love fish and the outdoors. I started my career working for a state agency, but spent most of the first 10 years in private ecological consulting before going to the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Program, where I was mostly an academic. I believe in diversity in our profession and I don’t believe that our biggest issue is finding people who are like me. Our salvation will not come from convincing “the younger generation” that life is all about being like me. It will come from convincing young people that what we do is important—to us personally and to society as a whole.
As I also related in an earlier column, fisheries is not rocket science—it’s harder. To augment my thoughts, I borrowed a few definitions from the Internet (so be warned as to their veracity). The working definition of fisheries management from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is, “the integrated process of information gathering, analysis, planning, consultation, decision making, allocation of resources and formulation and implementation, with enforcement as necessary, of regulations or rules which govern fisheries activities to ensure the continued productivity of the resources and the accomplishment of other fisheries objectives” (FAO 1997:7). Banga (2017) defines fisheries science as “the academic discipline of managing and understanding fisheries. It is a multidisciplinary science, which draws on the disciplines of limnology, oceanography, freshwater biology, marine biology, conservation, ecology, population dynamics, economics and management to attempt to provide an integrated picture of fisheries.” Fishery biologists (managers and scientists) require advanced education that includes a bachelor’s or master’s degree or a Ph.D., depending on the position they seek. The job outlook for these positions is about as the same as all jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS; 2017) for 2016, the average annual salary is about US$64,000. Most college programs related to fishery or marine biology state that jobs are very competitive, especially for federal or state government positions.
The typical federal government engineer salary is $92,567 (BLS 2017). Engineer salaries at the federal government can range from $47,380-$160,040 (BLS 2017). This estimate is based upon federal government engineer salary reports provided by employees or estimated using statistical methods. If fisheries is harder than (or as hard as) rocket science, why do fisheries biologist make one-third less on average than engineers? For comparison, according to TruckDrivingJobs.com, truck driver salaries can be as little as $35,000 and as much as $250,000+, with a Walmart freight driver earning an average of $76,000 annually. According to BLS (2017), in 2016 there were 65 professions that were similar to fisheries biologist in expected earnings with a B.S. degree, including dietitians, foresters, geographers, middle and high school teachers, and nurse practitioners. Along with engineers, there were 63 professions that could expect to earn more than fisheries biologists with a B.S. degree, including education administrators, sales representatives, hydrologists, construction managers, and computer analysts (BLS 2017).
So why aren’t fisheries biologists in this upper group? Is it because we like our jobs? I would suspect that other professionals like their jobs as much as we do. Is it because we can be outdoors and with nature? I don’t know about you, but that hasn’t been a major part of my job for years, and other professions can be outdoors with nature as well. From my February 2017 column, you know that I came to the conclusion that the issue is one of the perceived relevance of our profession. It takes a lot of academic training to become a fisheries biologist. If a potential student is bright enough to enter the fisheries biology, why not go into a profession that will clearly be of benefit to and understood by their community. There could be little that’s worse than going home and having your family or community leaders ask why you wasted your talents and education on this. The truth is that fisheries science and management have at their heart providing healthy fish populations. Yet, this is not widely understood. To most people, if you’re smart enough to succeed in fisheries biology, then why not go into the medical or legal professions, or for that matter, become a rocket scientist. Notice that I have not mentioned money, but as I pointed out earlier in the column, that may be an issue too. In general, the profession is accomplished by government or university employees that are typically paid less relative to private enterprise or least that is the perception. In many communities, working for the state or federal government is not looked upon favorably—pay is only part of the equation. So, how do we fix it? Clearly if I had a simple concrete answer, I would forcefully act on it. The answers are not simple, and they are not hard and fast. Increasing the relevance of the profession will not be accomplished without a huge amount of work on our part. It is something that all must do, and do over and over again.
If you’re interested in helping to solve this problem, I appointed a committee chaired by Tom Lang of Texas Parks and Wildlife to start working on it. Contact me, and I’ll forward your interest on to Lang, who I’m sure could use your help
Banga, J. 2017. Applied fisheries science. Delve Publishing, New York, New York.
BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. 2017. Occupational outlook handbook Available: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/lifephysical-and-social- science/zoologists-and-wildlife-biologists.htm. (April 2017).
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nations. 1997. FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries No. 4: Fisheries Management. FAO, Rome.