The Future of AFS Journals

By Steve McMullin, AFS President. E-mail: mcmullintraining@gmail.com

You probably have heard by now that one of the benefits of the Society’s new publishing contract with Wiley is that all AFS members will receive complimentary online access to all of our journals, plus another journal published by Wiley, beginning in January 2018. The rapidly changing world of publishing demands that organizations like AFS reassess future directions of its journals and other publications. The AFS officers, key staff, some journal editors, and several other AFS members with substantial experience in publishing did just that during a two-day retreat held last May in Reno, Nevada. For those who want to know, the cost of the event to AFS was minimal because AFS Meetings Manager Shawn Johnston won a US$25,000 meeting credit while he was in Reno on an advance visit for the 2019 Annual Meeting (the credit would have expired before 2019, so we used it this year).

The retreat participants focused primarily on future directions, target audiences, and editorial structure of AFS journals. We also discussed, but decided not to pursue for now, co-publishing a journal with The Wildlife Society or with federal agencies that publish fisheries-related journals. We also decided not to pursue, for now, publication of a new journal targeting a nontechnical audience. We did, however, hear clearly from many of our members how much they valued gaining access to fisheries gray literature and we agreed strongly that AFS should pursue reestablishing a database of gray literature (e.g., Federal Assistance in Fish and Wildlife Restoration reports and other federal and state agency publications).

Of the many topics discussed at the Reno retreat, we focused specifically on clarifying the mission, target audiences, and overlap of three of our journals: Fisheries, North American Journal of Fisheries Management (NAJFM), and Transactions of the American Fisheries Society (TAFS). Fisheries is unique among AFS journals because it has the largest and most diverse readership and it serves numerous purposes. Fisheries consistently earns the highest impact factor among AFS journals, and the retreat participants agreed that we should try to maintain that status by publishing important synthesis and review articles. Fisheries also serves the important function of sharing Society news and perspectives with AFS members. For example, Fisheries could publish especially relevant plenary talks from annual meetings, perspectives from international members, and perspectives on important topics of broad general concern to AFS members, such as diversity in the profession and policy issues of importance to fisheries.

Retreat participants agreed that TAFS, the oldest and best known of AFS journals, should serve a broad audience by publishing a wide range of articles of the highest quality science. To accomplish this, editorial staff would strive for a rejection rate of 50% (after redirecting submissions that are more appropriate for other journals) and also solicit submissions for highly relevant, cutting-edge scientific articles. We agreed to strive for a top-10 impact factor rating befitting TAFS’s status as a premier fisheries journal.

Considerable discussion addressed clarification of the missions and reducing overlap between TAFS and NAJFM. Many of our members, especially those working for management agencies, have voiced concerns that NAJFM has strayed from its original mission of serving fisheries managers and that is has become a clone of TAFS. Refocusing NAJFM to serve as a primary avenue of communication among fisheries managers means that impact factors will not adequately measure the journal’s impact on the intended audience. To that end, we suggested that in addition to publishing important management-related research, NAJFM should publish case histories of successes, failures, and side effects of fisheries programs to help convey practical management experience to others, as well as articles focusing on tools and techniques used to monitor and manage fish populations.

The North American Journal of Aquaculture (NAJA) will encourage the submission of original papers on all aspects of aquaculture, including broodstock selection and spawning, nutrition and feeding, health and water quality, facilities and production technology, and the management of ponds, pens, and raceways. Editors of NAJA will consider papers dealing with ways to improve the husbandry of any aquatic species—marine or freshwater, vertebrate or invertebrate—raised for commercial, scientific, recreational, enhancement, or restoration purposes that may be of interest to practitioners in North America. We hope that this will address the perception that NAJA has drifted away from its mission to address the needs of the public practitioners of aquaculture in North America, particularly with respect to publication of technical notes and other pieces of value to the community that do not fit the model of replicated studies with formal statistics.

AFS’ newest journal, Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science, is an open access, online-only publication. This journal aims to publish original and innovative research that synthesizes information on biological organization across spatial and temporal scales to promote ecologically sound fisheries science and management. The journal provides an international venue for studies of marine, coastal, and estuarine fisheries, with emphasis on species performance and responses to perturbations in their environment, and promotes the development of ecosystem-based fisheries science and management. Workshop participants envisioned efforts to improve the impact factor and increase visibility of this journal.

Unfortunately, we did not have adequate representation of AFS members with expertise in animal health to address issues with the Journal of Aquatic Animal Health. We will address that journal separately.

Accomplishing all of the changes we desire for our journals will require modifications to the editorial structure of the journals. The most significant change proposed by the retreat participants, and approved by the AFS Management Committee, is to create new editor-in-chief positions for most of the journals. The editors-in-chief will have greater power to make initial decisions on whether manuscripts are appropriate for the journals to which they are submitted and to redirect manuscripts that appear to have scientific merit but are better suited for other AFS journals than the one to which they were submitted. Other changes in editorial structure will include increasing diversity of editorial boards to include more international members and, in keeping with my Plan of Work emphasis on diversity, we also will strive to ensure that editorial boards are diverse in other ways as well. In addition, we plan to increase representation of management agency personnel as associate editors of NAJFM and to get more people involved in serving as reviewers of manuscripts by asking authors who submit manuscripts to commit to serving as a reviewer in the future.

I think that implementation of the recommendations from the Reno retreat will do much to realize the goal of Past-President Joe Margraf to increase the stature and relevance of AFS journals. If you wish to know more about the future of AFS publications, you can view and download the final report of the retreat at https://
fisheries.org/afs-publications-workshop-final-report.

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