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

Leadership: A Byproduct of Involvement

Charles (Chuck) C. Coutant

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch23

It is often said that someone is a born leader. Maybe so, but in my experience, the ability to be a successful leader builds as one gains experience with involvement in a variety of organizations that involve working with diverse groups of people.

I was never a leader in high school or college. Others took that role, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I participated in a college fraternity and several campus organizations but was not an officer. The fraternity’s governance provided my first introduction to Robert’s Rules of Order (Robert 1915; yes, we did more than party!).

Leadership of an informal sort evolved in my first full-time research position in 1965 as a Ph.D. aquatic ecologist at the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) Hanford site on the Columbia River near Richland, Washington. Because my master’s research concerned the effects of thermal discharge on macroinvertebrates in the Delaware River, I was hired for macroinvertebrate work related to Hanford’s thermal discharges from the Cold War’s plutonium-producing nuclear reactors. The Columbia River was a large, cold river that was presumed perfect for locating the nine reactors that needed to dissipate large amounts of waste reactor heat.

When I was there in the late 1960s, there was growing nationwide concern over thermal pollution. This concern became especially intense politically in the Columbia River basin where setting temperature standards for salmon was (literally) a current hot topic. My early leadership consisted of my seeing the relevance and capability of the staff of the Hanford labs for addressing the thermal pollution issue, which was my interest and a national need. (We refocused on that theme.) The staff already had several studies underway of the discharges’ effects. As a northeasterner and novice regarding Columbia River salmon and its other biota, I volunteered to help many of these other studies, as well as organize my own. Historically, radiation effects and radionuclide cycling were major concerns. (The reactors irradiated the cooling water, leaving several radioactive isotopes in the effluent.) Salmon redds were counted in the Hanford Reach where fall Chinook Salmon spawned, and invertebrates were sampled downstream of the discharges. In addition, salmon eggs were hatched and fry reared annually in a hatchery setting using various dilutions of reactor discharge water with ambient river water, and physiological studies were being conducted in the lab on salmon and steelhead cultured in the lab’s hatchery. The foundation was there for an expanded and coordinated study program focused on thermal effects.