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

How Does a Teenage Commercial Fisherman Climb the Ladder to Lead the American Fisheries Society?

Kenneth L. Beal

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch49

Is leadership inherited through some specific genetic code, or is leadership something one learns? My feeling is that it’s both and much more.

My first recollection of exercising leadership was at a very young age. Elmer, my younger brother, and I had been put in a playpen in our yard by my mother. It was a sunny summer day on the shore of Southwest Harbor, Maine. I was 3 years old, and Elmer was half my age. I had a goal and a plan. Elmer was crawling around on hands and knees, and I convinced him to let me step on his back. I quickly rolled over the top of the cage and then helped him escape by tipping the playpen on its side so he could crawl out. Regrettably, my planning didn’t go much beyond this point as we were somewhat noisy and soon rounded up by Mom. If my plans had been more comprehensive and included a rapid exit, Elmer and I might have gone down to the beach and perhaps even discovered some new species of fish or shellfish.

I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer Scout. Scouting is about outdoor fun, learning to be a good team member, citizen, and leader. Early in my scouting years, I decided to earn the Eagle Scout award, an accomplishment that only about 2% of all scouts reach, and only two boys in our troop had done this. It was a personal challenge that included planning, organizing, and leading a group of scouts to carry out a community service project. I achieved the Eagle Scout award in 1957, a few days after I turned 15. Clearly, this success was not mine alone, but was equally due to the efforts of the volunteers who helped me. This experience taught me that teamwork was a fun way to get work done, and leadership means motivating others to achieve a common goal. This knowledge has been the foundation of my career.

When I turned 15, I joined my father’s herring seining outfit, fishing in the Mount Desert Island area for sardines. Here again, teamwork was a strong factor in the success of the fishing trips. All crew members had other jobs during the day that were rather flexible, so if we caught herring and had to unload them the next day, their absence from their other jobs would not be a surprise. I fished with the crew for six summers in high school and college. The most profitable year was 1958, the year I was 16, when I received one-half share. (The regular crew each received a full share.) At the end of that second summer, my earnings were about US$2,800, which in 1956 was about half an adult man’s annual salary. I have always smiled inwardly at the fact that my college education was paid for, at least in part, with sardines! Also, this experience allowed me to qualify for a U.S. Coast Guard license later.