AFS Second Vice President Candidate Statement: Brad Parsons

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Brad Parsons


I was fortunate to grow up in southern Wisconsin very near the top of a watershed of a clear, beautiful, and largely undeveloped lake. I used to spend hours walking the shoreline, swimming, and fishing at that lake. Combined with family vacations to beautiful northern Wisconsin lakes, that cemented my love for the water and my view of habitat and fishing. That all changed when we moved to Peoria, Illinois, when I was 13. I could no longer just walk a ways to fish. And when my friends and I did fish (after we could drive) it was on the shoreline of the Illinois River or reclaimed strip mine lakes; hardly the pristine lakes I was used to. I learned that in order to have good fishing, we needed to protect the land, the water, and the fish. I also learned that there could also be a career in that. So, unlike many people, I knew very early what I wanted to do—no thanks to my high school guidance counselor, who scolded me and told me to go into engineering and make money!

Despite his advice, I headed off to the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point to major in water resources and biology. It was a terrific experience with excellent professors. When the time for graduate school came, I was fortunate to land an assistantship at the University of Wyoming under Wayne Hubert. My graduate research focused on Kokanee Salmon Oncorhynchus nerka in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir system. It was a great choice for many reasons, not the least of which was experiencing new aquatic resources, reservoirs, and rivers in a high‐altitude, arid locale.

As a Midwesterner at heart, I was fortunate to be hired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as a research biologist in 1986, and have spent my career here. Most of my years were as a research scientist in western Minnesota. Much of my research focused on various aspects of stocking Walleye Sander vitreus, but I also worked on population dynamics and exploitation of Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus and Black Crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus, shallow lake dynamics, and angler expectations. Most rewarding were the projects that included extensive collaboration, either with our fisheries management team or with universities, including Iowa State, South Dakota State, and North Dakota State. Ten years ago, I left research to become Regional Fisheries Manager, overseeing fish management in 7 areas over 23 counties, including the Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area. In July 2018, I was selected as Fisheries Section Chief, heading a staff of about 275 people in fisheries management, hatcheries, habitat, and research.

Beyond the applied fisheries research, which I loved, there are two experiences in my career that I would like to highlight. The first is being an original member of the group that developed the “Culture of Respect” for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 10 years ago. At the time, it was a very unique thing for a state agency to really dig into cultural norms that had existed for decades and recognize those norms may have been part of a culture that did not value everyone equitably. The stories I heard made me realize change had to happen. It has been slow, but I believe respect has become part of our agency culture.

The second was being selected to Cohort 6 of the National Conservation Leadership Institute. The classroom work revolved around the book Adaptive Leadership, and other lessons that included empathy and inclusivity—all were outstanding. However, the truly transformational aspect of the experience was developing truly intimate relationships with the other 35 members and the coaches. I felt so empowered by being among people who shared my values around a deep respect for our natural world. Having that experience past the midpoint of my career has energized me to this day, and I use the lessons learned daily.


I joined AFS in graduate school and gave my first professional presentation at the Colorado–Wyoming Chapter meeting (even won best student paper, a framed certificate that resides in my office to this day). I have been a member of the Early Life History, Fisheries Management, and Fisheries Administration Sections over the years. After moving to Minnesota, my personal professional development was heavily rooted in AFS service. It started as a young professional, with opportunities at the Chapter level, such as newsletter editor and various committee roles long before being elected Chapter President. I was very fortunate to have a supervisor, Jack Wingate, who allowed and encouraged employees to be active within the Society. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have mentors including Wayne Hubert and Dave Willis, who encouraged me to seek more service to the Society and expand my horizons.

I have served the Society in several roles, including Associate Editor of the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, President of the Minnesota Chapter, the Society Strategic Plan Revision Committee, President of the North Central Division, and co‐chair of the international symposium on fish marking and tagging in New Zealand.

My time as Division President was most rewarding. I had the opportunity to interact with so many people. The Chapter meetings were especially satisfying. Meeting with the students and professionals throughout the Midwest was incredible. The differences and the similarities, the challenges, frustrations, and hope that emanated from the people during those meeting was real.


Science denial is a real and truly frustrating thing. When I was on the AFS Governing Board in the mid 2000s, it was the time the Society was truly grappling with its dual role as scientific expert and advocate for the resource. This struggle continues today and will for what I see as the foreseeable future. But our Society must continue to be both the expert and the advocate. How do we achieve that? Our journals must remain the standard of fisheries science that they are. I know that the peer review process we have had and currently have is excellent, and the science is sound. But how do we be an objective scientist, yet call to the hills what is right? In my role as a member on the executive board of the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association over the past 5 years, I have walked that line. When we met on Capitol Hill with legislators and staffers I had to wear at least four hats. Minnesota, upper Mississippi basin, the whole basin, and scientist. We had educated and advocated for years for more funding to address Asian carp, and it has indeed finally arrived.

The state of Minnesota, and my agency, are coming to grips that the world is a changing place. Our employees are overwhelmingly white and male, as am I. I believe we are in a much better place with women in our department, but we struggle to find people of color in the hiring pipeline. We truly need to better reflect the people we work for. My department is, much as we embraced the Culture of Respect, attempting to truly address equity, diversity, and inclusion. My vision for the Society is for it to play a strong role to help us and other agencies in this vital endeavor. Historical programs, such as the Hutton Junior Biologists Program, do help. We have hosted many of those Hutton Scholars in our department. But I believe AFS can and must do more to get grade and high school students of color to pursue a career in fisheries. We state agencies are ready and able to hire, but we need a more diverse pool of candidates. This will not be easy. My experience as a high school senior can only be amplified for students today. I believe the environmental justice movement could serve as a catalyst to get more students into our field. But I admit freely I do not have an answer. But we do have a Society full of people with ideas.

I believe that I would not be where and who I am today without my AFS service. I seek to model that behavior with my staff. However, across many states, agencies, and organizations, many professional fisheries people are only Chapter members, and do not see the value in the broader Society. Thus, another part of my vision for AFS is to address this issue so that we can expand membership among state fisheries professionals. I am honored to have the opportunity to share my experiences and vision for AFS with you. To be able to move forward on these items as your AFS Second Vice President would be humbling and exciting beyond measure.