AFS Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the cover art in the August 2020 issue of Fisheries Magazine

AFS Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the cover art in the August 2020 issue of Fisheries Magazine – a letter to the membership

The collage of AFS Past Presidents on the cover of the August 2020 issue of Fisheries magazine resulted in unexpected yet entirely honest and appropriate reactions from a number of AFS members and others in the conservation community.  We have heard the feedback loud and clear that we need to address the message unintentionally conveyed of an exclusive, non-diverse, and seemingly unwelcoming AFS and profession.  While AFS has and continues to make great strides forward, we fully accept and acknowledge that we have much work yet to be done.

The cover of Past AFS Presidents was designed to be an historical bookend to the first issue of Fisheries published in January 1976, which included a cover collage of the 26 AFS Past Presidents living at that time. As part of our 150th anniversary, the August 2020 Fisheries cover was created by an AFS life member who served as the 4th woman president of the Society, helped found the AFS Equal Opportunities Section, and has provided long-term leadership to promote change and diverse engagement in AFS.  She chose photos of AFS presidents and leaders in the profession from across the 15 decades of Society leadership (when available). These photos correctly illustrate the white male-dominated nature of the profession and AFS in the past, but in no way reflect our current commitment to diversity and our future vision.  Additionally, the cover was tied to the ongoing series of feature articles in Fisheries that explore the history of AFS and fisheries since the 1800’s.  The intent was to recognize our history, but to also present a challenge to us in the present and the future.  Unfortunately, the intended message was lost to many, and instead the cover conveyed a message of racial exclusivity and a lack of conviction to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This was never our intent.  We apologize for this as well as our systemic failure to recognize this point of view.

That the reaction we received was unexpected is evidence that we have work to do, and we take this call to action seriously.  We are proud of our previous and existing efforts to foster an inclusive and diverse AFS, but these efforts need to be amplified and consistent at every level of our community.  Part of our AFS history includes a strong commitment to ensuring that our profession increasingly reflects the diversity of our larger society.  For over 20 years, the AFS Hutton program has focused on engaging underrepresented high school students in a summer internship with fisheries managers and researchers (see the August 2020 issue of Fisheries).  In 1991 the AFS Equal Opportunities Section was established to help guide AFS in addressing diversity issues for our membership and profession through workshops, training, articles, and symposia.  Throughout the years, several AFS Presidents established diversity special projects and awards in their yearly plans of work.  Right now, many of you have already voted to make the existing special committee on Diversity and Inclusion a full Society-level standing committee that will work to even further enhance diversity efforts throughout AFS activities, including our publications.  AFS is also a founding member of the Diversity Joint Venture, a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-profits, and foundations working to address diversity in the conservation field.  We also will soon be launching a new web site on diversity featuring a podcast and toolkits that will serve as a focal point for these various efforts.

Throughout our long history, AFS has been a volunteer-led organization aided by competent and caring staff. The ongoing task of making our Society welcome and diverse is not solely the burden of the Equal Opportunities Section, and participation in these efforts should not fall exclusively to our female, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC members.  All AFS members and staff have the responsibility to educate themselves on diversity issues and to reflect on how their words and actions can impact members and potential members from diverse backgrounds. Please take advantage of the opportunities to embrace, learn from, and even lead in our many diversity initiatives.

All this is not meant to be an excuse or to otherwise offset the unintended message of the Fisheries cover.  Rather we share this to illustrate that AFS and the profession take this challenge seriously.  Yet, we also recognize that we are flawed and still have much work to do.  We not only appreciate that many of you have shared your concerns, frustrations, and disappointments caused by the cover; we welcome this exchange.  We ask that you keep working with us to move down this important path – to challenge us, to provide leadership, and to work as a community to make AFS and the fisheries profession places where students and professionals of all backgrounds will feel welcome and accepted.

Signed by:

Scott Bonar, AFS President

Brian Murphy, AFS President Elect

Leanne Roulson, AFS 1st Vice President

April Croxton, AFS 2nd Vice President

Jesse Trushenski, AFS Immediate Past President

Cecil Jennings, AFS Incoming 2nd Vice President

Doug Austen, AFS Executive Director