AFS Second Vice President Candidate Statement: Gary Whelan

AFS members: Please check your email for voting instructions. Voting closes April 29.

Gary Whelan


My journey into fisheries science is based on a passion for fish and fishing that comes from growing up in northeastern New Jersey during the 1960s and early 1970s, spending every available minute fishing and wandering around in rivers, lakes, and in coastal saltwater areas of New Jersey. Salt was put into my veins, never to really leave, by older family members who found me to be the perfect excuse to get (force) other relatives to take everyone fishing in the waters around southern New Jersey barrier islands and I spent much of my youth in the salt marshes and surf around Long Beach Island. Looking back at those days, it seems as though my profession choice was preordained and my deep interest in fisheries got me to wander way off to college at the University of Wyoming. There, I was really introduced to fisheries science and the American Fisheries Society, completing my BS there and spending a summer/fall after graduation working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. My next stop was the University of Missouri, where I completed my MS in fisheries management under Charles Rabeni and started my professional journey in earnest. After completing my MS, I bucked the migration tide south during the first great recession in the early 1980s and moved north to work for nearly 5 years at Michigan State University as a soft money research biologist, where I had the unique opportunity to work with William Taylor during that time, who is still a close colleague and mentor.With the 1985 expansion of the Sport Fish Restoration Program that was strongly backed and supported by AFS, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division (Fisheries Division) hired 30+ positions in 1987, including myself. I have worked in many positions for Fisheries Division, ranging from evaluating the effects of 5-micron parasites on salmonids to hydropower project analysis to Native American Treaty Consent Decree implementation to landscape conservation on spatial scales ranging from individual fish and waters to the entire United States. Currently, I am a program manager responsible for our research section, the Fish Health Program, and small parts of other Fisheries Division programs. I have also been fortunate enough to work on a number of regional and national fish conservation efforts through my committee work for AFS and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. These include work on forming and leading the Instream Flow Council (Past President), on Landscape Conservation Cooperatives steering committees and other duties, and on the development and implementation of the National Fish Habitat Partnership, where I am currently co-chair of the board’s Science and Data Committee and serve on the board staff. My current job duties require working closely with a broad range of fisheries and other resource professionals who work for entities ranging from nongovernmental organizations to state, tribal, and federal biologists to consultants to academics. These duties have directly or indirectly allowed me to travel to 49 of the 50 U.S. states (catching fish in 35 of those states) and number of Canadian provinces. This broad range of discipline, institutional, and geographic exposure in my career has given me some really unique insights on the issues and needs of members and nonmember fisheries professionals at all levels and geographic regions of AFS.


Like many members, I was “encouraged” to become an AFS member as an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, becoming a member in 1978. I have been a life member since 1985 and am recertifying at this time as an AFS certified fisheries biologist. My focused involvement in AFS started in the 1980s when I served as: Secretary–Treasurer of the Michigan Chapter (1987–1988), a 1987 AFS Annual Meeting Program Committee member, and an Environmental Concerns Committee member (1988–1989). In the 1990s, I served as President of the Fisheries Information and Technology Section (1997–1999), a member on the Society’s Special Management Committee (1998–1999), a member of the Governing Board (1997–1999), and as a Distinguished Service Award Committee member (1998–1999). During the 2000s, I served as a Fenske Award Committee member, a Fenske Fellowship Committee member, Meeting Co-Chair of Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference (2002–2005); as a member of the Board of Professional Certification (2002–2008) including Board Chair from 2004-2008, President of the History Section (2008–2010), a member of the Society’s Management Committee (2009–2010), and as a member of the Governing Board (2008-2010). During the 2010s and this decade, in addition to the Fenske Award and Fellowship Committees, I have served as President of the North Central Division (2011–2012), a member of the Society’s Management Committee (2011–2012), a PFIRM II Committee member (2012–2014), Outstanding Chapter and Sub-Unit Award Committee Chair (2014–2016), Meeting Co-Chair of Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference (2011–2016), 150th Anniversary Meeting Committee including the Unit Exhibits Subcommittee (2018–Present), Meetings Oversight Committee (2019–Present, Co-Chair), President of the Fisheries Administration Section (2020–Present), and President-Elect of the Habitat Section (2020–Present). I was also inducted as an AFS Fellow in 2019. Additionally, I am an active member of the Michigan Chapter, along with four AFS Sections: Fisheries Administration, Fisheries Management, Fisheries History, and Fish Culture Sections.

Over the past 4 decades, I have been remarkably fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend Chapter meetings in 8 states and 1 province, all of the Division meetings at least once, and 25 Annual Meetings. Having the opportunity to participate in this range of AFS events and positions has allowed me to observe the Society from many angles and have provided me a remarkable vehicle to expand my knowledge of our Society. I have also published a number of papers in AFS journals and have served as a publication reviewer for a number of submitted papers in AFS and other journals. My participation in the AFS over five different decades has allowed me to develop many professional and personal relationships that I deeply cherish and have provided me extensive experience in every level of the Society’s organization and management, experiences that will help me serve you as an AFS Officer.


Fisheries science and management often uses a chair analogy to describe the components of our profession as you need to consider people, habitat, and fish to properly make decisions. For the purposes of my AFS candidacy statement I will again borrow this analogy. I would like to offer that the “people” in this instance are the all of you in our profession, including the broad range of individuals who work in fisheries, the diversity of disciplines in AFS, and the diversity of employers. Providing for new and existing important opportunities and services for each of these people will be a key focus area. For the habitat leg of my fisheries chair, I would like to make aquatic habitat a focus area of my time as an AFS Officer if elected, as without habitat, there are no sustainable fisheries and our fisheries habitat is under increasing duress across the landscape from both legacy and current anthropogenic interactions. Finally, the fish leg will be represented by our Society’s multidiscipline science that provides the key information to inform a broad range of decisions about our fisheries resources. It is essential from my perspective that AFS be viewed by all as the place to obtain high quality fisheries information that will make a difference to decisionmakers.

The most important component of any entity are the people, like you, who are part of it. It is absolutely critical that our profession, as reflected by AFS, embraces the broad spectrum of people who want to be a part of this noble endeavor. If I am fortunate enough to be elected as an AFS Officer, I would certainly continue the fine slate of efforts concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been put into place by our current leadership, as we must have people from all parts of our society involved and engaged in our profession to fully understand societal needs for our fisheries resource. Having managed many people and programs in my career, I have much experience to offer on how to make these efforts work to their fullest. I would also expand this effort to include ensuring that the many disciplines that make up our profession all feel welcome and their input to making our fisheries resources better are wanted. We simply cannot afford to overlook knowledge or allow conflicts to needlessly divide us and we can overcome this by developing improved opportunities to have all viewpoints respectfully heard. Finally, we have an amazingly diverse set of employers represented in AFS, ranging from governmental agencies, to academic institutions, to nongovernmental organizations, to private consulting firms. While we have spent time working on diversity, equity, and inclusion for individuals and have a very good job assisting the academic side of our profession, efforts which must continue, we have many members who are from outside the academic world and we need to make sure that no matter whom you work for you feel that you have a home and a voice in AFS. If provided the opportunity, I fully intend to develop and implement actions that provide for this perspective of diversity to be fully integrated into our Society’s operations.

Professionals require convenient and safe ways to communicate about the pressing issues around us. The AFS membership is witnessing unprecedented number of challenges as professionals, including rapid changes in societal demographics, sweeping moves in our political leadership, complete paradigm shifts in communication, changing public interest in aquatic resources, the ever-increasing avalanche of exotic species invasions, the perplexing problem of incorporating landscape scale thinking and big data into our fisheries management decisions, and how AFS remains relevant and attractive to potential current and future members. To enable our members to deal with these intertwined issues, AFS must become even more nimble, communicating quicker and more clearly than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all organizations to change the way they provide services. Our Society must employ best possible communications methods and technologies accompanied by the highest quality journals and publications to ensure that the AFS membership is well informed on current issues, have opportunities to provide effective input into societal decisions on pressing resource challenges, provides effective leadership and assistance to decisionmakers on current and emerging fisheries issues, and has ever increasing high-quality education opportunities to ensure they remain the leaders in aquatic resource stewardship. These are all strategies that would I do my best to facilitate as AFS Officer.

Functioning and resilient aquatic habitat is a key cornerstone of outstanding fish and aquatic communities. Given the ever-increasing pressure being placed on our aquatic habitat from a range of anthropogenic activities, it is critical that AFS is a voice for the fish and other aquatic organisms. A number of decades ago, I remember Carl Sullivan stating that someone has to speak for the fishes and AFS is that voice. Following his sage advice, I see the Society growing in importance as the acknowledged, unbiased expert voice in a broad range of venues, partnering with and building bridges with like-minded entities, such as The Wildlife Society and other similar professional organizations, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, to bring solutions and recommendations on the key habitat issues that are affecting our fisheries resource to policymakers. It is critical that AFS is the go-to organization that policymakers seek out for information to support their fisheries resource and aquatic habitat decisions. This is an area that I have direct experience in and have already developed professional relationships that can help AFS effectively engage with these groups. To facilitate AFS achieving this vision, we need to ensure our membership is appropriately involved in the key fisheries and habitat questions of our time, is provided with the training opportunities and technical resources to be successful in decision venues, and is fully supported by our outstanding AFS staff in their efforts to make a difference for aquatic habitat. In short, the Society’s job must be to make all members better in their jobs to protect intact, rehabilitate degraded, and improve engineered aquatic habitat. This will be a key area of emphasis if I get the opportunity to serve as AFS Officer.

I am a strong believer that AFS must be there “physically” for members and be completely transparent to the membership as “We are You” and are all members of this unique community. We must ensure that AFS leadership is available to meet with members, both in person and virtually, to facilitate the development of relationships between members and the Society leadership, no matter where members are located or who they work for. I would like to implement quarterly interactive webinars or video conferences to address member issues by AFS leadership. These interactions have a huge potential to build new relationships and community strength, particularly as virtual technologies have completely changed across the AFS landscape. The Society also needs to build and capitalize on the remarkable worldwide diversity and information that AFS has in its membership, and needs to bring those unique insights and resources to bear on individual member(s) fisheries issues, using the appropriate communication vehicles. From my perspective, there is simply no substitute for personal interactions on key issues and nothing develops a sense of community than the Society being there physically for the membership by using the vast repository of knowledge that we have.

Finally, I am a strong believer that passion for our aquatic resource is our strongest value. Keeping the passion in our day-to-day work is absolutely critical for professionals to be successful in their jobs, particularly when times are difficult. Without passion, there is simply no way to effectively handle adversity. To keep that passion burning, I envision greater availability of resources to improve our membership’s ability to do their collective and individual work through greatly enhanced virtual training and conferencing opportunities along with new ways to build professional and personal relationships that sustain us in difficult times. To make progress in this area, AFS leadership must work diligently to engage all levels of experience in the Society, from students to retirees, and use of all of our combined skills to improve our collective community.

The American Fisheries Society has been a huge part of my professional life and I simply cannot replace the many relationships, friendships, and interactions that AFS has given opportunities for me to develop. It has truly been a remarkable and likely very unique journey that I would love to share with each of you and I would to thank the Society for providing me this opportunity as am deeply humbled to be considered to serve as AFS Officer.