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

Conservation Is a Team Sport

Katrina Liebich

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch52

In fisheries, we tend to be well rounded in the relevant “-ologies”: ichthyology, stream ecology, limnology, and hydrology. We are also pretty nerdy about statistics, the scientific method, and peer-review. The broader fisheries professional field now includes not just biology and management, but also genetics (Stock apportionment anyone?), communications, fish-passage engineering, population dynamics and modeling, landscape ecology…the list goes on. And it is getting longer and broader as the threats facing sustainable fisheries get more complicated: sociology, psychology, economics, and so forth.

Leaders today cannot simply assemble a team of fish biologists and expect to recover a species or remove a dam. I first became aware of this during graduate school. My research project took me to Maine, the last stronghold for wild Atlantic Salmon. I was to survey members of the public there to understand their connections to salmon and inform communication regarding their recovery. To my surprise, I found that salmon were far less relevant to the public than I originally expected. Passionate fisheries biologists surrounded me and we had overestimated the potential for salmon themselves to be motivating enough for change—change in the form of public support for aquatic ecosystem restoration.

If we are to lead change for fisheries, we need to understand and engage people outside our typical network in ways that are relevant to them. Leaders at all levels must increasingly inspire teams of professionals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and communication styles. At the front end of the process, during team development, a leader needs to be able to look forward to the end goal and determine what schools of thought and strengths are necessary to accomplish the objective(s). Leaders must then be able to inspire the right people to join the team—be they social scientists, youth, or public opinion leaders, in addition to the traditional subject matter experts.

Today, as a mid-level professional in a public agency, I frequently find myself on a number of national teams, regional teams, and teams with external partners. These teams vary greatly in terms of effectiveness, with some meeting their objectives and many others dissolving well before meeting their objectives. My thoughts about leadership and the levels at which it can occur have been evolving with each success and failure I observe of teams and their players.