Lessons in Leadership: Integrating Courage, Vision, and Innovation for the Future of Sustainable Fisheries

From Deckhand to Department Chair: My Unplanned Journey to Becoming a Fisheries Leader

Michael Jones

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch14

For me, the key to becoming a successful leader was keeping an open mind. Three times during my life I thought I knew what I wanted, or didn’t want, and found that I was wrong. I started university believing I was going to become a high school math teacher. I knew nothing about fisheries, or even much about biology. As luck would have it, my father worked in the fishing industry in British Columbia, and he got me a summer job out of high school working as a deckhand at a remote supply station for the coastal BC salmon fishery. As an entitled, upper-middle-class teenager in the early 1970s, this was a real eye-opener. I met fascinating people from very different walks of life, worked in a spectacular setting (coastal British Columbia), and experienced my first real connection to a natural resource industry. This hands-on fisheries experience, my discovery in first-year university that biology includes math, and a chance meeting with Peter Larkin, my first mentor, completely changed my academic path. Three years later, I graduated with an honors degree in zoology from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and continued on at UBC in the famous Institute for Animal Resource Ecology, studying with the likes of Randall Peterman, Carl Walters, and Buzz Holling, all because of the unplanned intersection of these three important things: working in the salmon fishery, finding math in biology, and meeting Peter Larkin.

Graduate school was a phenomenal experience for me. I learned so much about science, modeling, and adaptive management, but I also came to believe that an academic career was not for me. Even though I knew I was in the company of some remarkable scholars, I wanted to be more involved in the practice of natural resource management, rather than the theory. After graduate school I left UBC to start a career as an environmental consultant. As I moved into the private sector, I emphatically stated to anyone who cared to listen, “The one thing I never want to be is an academic!” I had developed a cynical attitude about academia as an ivory tower where nobody did anything that really mattered to tackle the problems of the day. Working as a consultant vindicated this attitude: I was getting my hands dirty tackling “real” problems and feeling like I was making a real difference. When I opted for a change from my consulting career, I moved into a government scientist position where I was able to do more research but continue to work on issues that seemed to me to matter, such as developing models to inform important decisions about Great Lakes salmonine stocking. Ironically, throughout my career as a graduate student, consultant, and government scientist, I learned from and collaborated with lots of academics who were in fact addressing these same problems. But somehow, my time at university had left me with this attitude about the academy that shaped my professional choices for 16 years. Looking back, I’m honestly not certain why, although the excitement of being a part of a new enterprise (ESSA Technologies Ltd., the consulting firm I helped start) likely had a lot to do with it.