Q&A with Officer Candidates: Jim Bowker

  1. What do you see as a major scientific and management challenge facing fisheries over the next 10 years and how should AFS be engaged in addressing that issue?

Climate change–scientists overwhelmingly agree that it’s real and it’s happening before our eyes. Very few have a real appreciation for what’s in store, but we see or hear about it virtually every day. We have been cautioned that if drastic measures don’t happen by 2030 to reverse this phenomenon, the damage will be irreversible or very difficult to correct. The year 2030 is literally right around the corner. What is the management issue? It’s dealing with “us,” the collective “us.” “We” are responsible for climate change and have the power to begin to correct it. “We” need to more effectively deal with science deniers and provide them with the facts. “We” are the scientists that have little difficulty in effectively communicating with other scientists but are challenged by communicating science to non-scientists, specifically decision-makers. Often, society doesn’t take notice until something affects them personally. We need to be prepared to provide examples and scenarios on how climate change is affecting us now, whether by increased cost of fish and fishing as populations move from historical habitat in pursuit of colder water or something more visceral liked decreased property values due to increased frequency of “100-year storms.”  We need to be prepared to provide the appropriate information to the AFS Policy Director when legislation is finally brought forward on this issue and be ready to provide expert testimony to our elected officials that will resonate to even the most ardent deniers. AFS members have been studying the impact climate change will have on fisheries resources and are prepared to provide that expert testimony. AFS is more broadly developing training to more effectively communicate with non-scientists. Our members, armed with the right tools, are in a great position to engage in the conversation at legislative or regulatory levels when climate change is being addressed.

  1. AFS has about 8,000 members but, at best, it includes only 1 out of every 4 or 5 working fisheries professionals; less optimistic estimates put the figure at only 1 out of 10. What are 2 or 3 key actions that AFS should be taking to engage more professionals in the society in the next 2-3 years?

This is a challenging issue and is going to require a grassroots effort where we get in front of various audiences, whether as individuals or in groups, and provide them with a clear and consistent message of the benefit, but more importantly, the value of AFS membership. Emphasis needs to be focused on the intangibles such as the opportunity to learn to do your job better by attending technical presentations at AFS Annual Meetings, effective networking that will lead to future collaborations, and opportunities to participate in webinars to help members of all ages and technical skill levels to develop new skills. A number of things AFS can do include getting in front of state, federal, and tribal agency directors to talk about the value of AFS membership and being a Certified Fisheries Professional, and to provide convincing arguments that such certification justifies a higher salary. We can ensure that AFS is a welcoming home to all involved, and actively recruit those directly or indirectly involved in fisheries, including those involved in fish culture, fish nutrition, genetics, and rank-and-file field biologists who think that AFS has placed too much of an emphasis on academic research. We must continue to get in front of Units that have affiliate members and make presentations on why AFS should be the professional home of all fisheries professionals, with a focus on the value of AFS and the “call to arms” approach that every one of our members matters and can contribute to the greater whole. One final suggestion would be to target future professionals by reaching out to high-schoolers and organizations like Girl Scouts of America, Girls for Science, and other youth programs active in urban areas to introduce young people to fisheries as a career and actively recruit a more diverse cohort of future fisheries scientists.

  1. What is one role that AFS does not currently fulfill that you believe could be important in the future, and why?

AFS needs to continually work at being relevant. Whether it’s ensuring that our journals are meeting the needs of our members or that AFS is viewed by groups like the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) as the go-to source of fisheries science. Without a doubt, our members comprise some of the top researchers and managers in their respective agencies, academic institutions, or place of employment. Our professional certification program is on par with such certification for other professions. AFS can do a better job of getting in front of various employers and making this point clear. There are plenty of examples, such as Iowa’s Chief of Fisheries stating that his agency’s fisheries rock stars are AFS members, or that the recently retired Director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game says that he never would have gotten the position had he not gotten involved with AFS some 40 years ago. If a good leader is defined as somebody with the most on their plate, then an active AFS member is a great example of a good leader who is doing more than their day job to benefit our profession. AFS needs to be more actively involved in getting the right people to meet with agency decision makers, university faculty, and others and making this point clear.

  1. What qualifies you best for the AFS presidency?

I’ve developed knowledge and understanding of the way AFS is governed and how the Society does business by serving as President of the Western Division and Fish Culture Section, and serving on the Governing Board for four years and the Management Committee for one year.  I was an active participant in the AFS retreat when it was decided to redefine the roles of the Management Committee and Governing Board, where the Management Committee took on the responsibility of addressing perfunctory issues, allowing the Governing Board to focus on moving the Society forward.  I have a good grasp of the Society mission/vision and associated strategies to help us move forward, serving as a member of the 2014-2019 Strategic Planning Committee and as chair of the same committee charged with developing the 2020-2024 Strategic Plan. I gained a good grasp of how AFS will be able to quantitatively determine the state of the Society by helping to develop the Governing Board Reporting Tool.  I know how important the information it captures will be for internally and externally communicating the scope of AFS’s work and the value of membership.  I recognize the importance of AFS journals, having served as an Associate Editor of the North American Journal of Aquaculture, Science Editor of Fisheries magazine, and participant in the workshop to keep AFS journals relevant. I gained experience organizing Annual Meetings by serving as the programming co-chair for the 2015 AFS Annual Meeting in Portland (~2,300 oral presentations and 900 posters) and co-organizer of the 2016 Western Division meeting held in Reno. I’ve served on the Resource Policy Committee, the Membership Committee, the Certification Resolution Committee, and the Emerging Leader Mentorship Award Committee, all of which have collectively given me better insight into Society operations. I’ve got the passion and, as a recent retiree, the time to devote to the immense task ahead.

  1. How can AFS facilitate better communication of scientific information among fisheries scientists?

At a recent AFS meeting, a number of meeting attendees commented on how many good presentations there were but also how many poor presentations there were, too. The quality of an oral presentation, or a poster presentation, plays a big role in how effectively we communicate science with one another. There are ideas that AFS can use to achieve this goal of facilitating communication. One would be to continue, enhance, and better advertise the monthly webinar series that deals with effective communication. The topics covered so far are very relevant and have been relatively well attended. This effort, as well as oral presentations at Annual Meetings and other meetings, may be more successful if presenters are given the tools they need to put together understandable information in high quality format and deliver a high quality presentation devoid of jargon and over-the-top techno-speak. Guides such as the ‘Power Pointers’ lecture on the Fish Culture Section website are a fantastic resource and should be promoted as such to all members. A companion tool on how to organize and deliver a “knock-em dead” presentation could be offered as a continuing education course with tips and testimonials. I’m guessing that many of our more veteran members would say that they don’t need this type of training, but some may be a bit overconfident in their skills. To help our members understand their strengths and identify areas for improvement, we should offer feedback to all presenters using a standard AFS oral presentation scoring rubric. Another idea is to task the Science Communication Section with providing the expertise, training, or other resources to the Society’s Baby Boomers and others so that they may better utilize social media to promote their science and publications. 

  1. Science is being challenged in government and in our society. What can AFS do to better respond to this challenge and ensure that our institutions persist and the science that they develop are used properly and effectively in resource management?

Transparency, honesty, and integrity—these need to be part of our core values. In a perfect world, decisions necessary to manage our natural resources would be entirely science-based. The reality is that socio-economic and political factors are going to drive many of the decisions. There is mistrust of scientists, particularly federal or state agency scientists, by those convinced that biases are influencing conclusions. Being abundantly transparent, open, and honest with our scientific methodology, results, and conclusions or recommended management actions will be one more small step that fisheries professionals can do to stem the tide of distrust of science. AFS needs to continue to have a presence on Capitol Hill, working alongside our federal and state agency partners to help elected leaders to make informed decisions. Provisions should be made to allow our leading scientists to have time to respond to natural resource or scientific issues when asked. It’s imperative that the science being presented resonates with those in government and the public at large. Effectively communicating science to non-scientists is and will become even more crucial to deal with this dilemma. I’m not sure if “resting on our laurels” is the proper term, but we can’t continue to produce high-quality science and expect the public to understand it, let alone access it.  This is where a process can be established where authors or presenters can seek help from communication staff at AFS, the Communication Committee, and/or the Science Communication Section to draft a short paragraph to include in their manuscript, report, or presentation as a closing statement on natural resource implications based on their scientific findings.