The click-clack of my shoes on the marble staircase had got me thinking. No, not about how uncomfortable I was in my “business attire” (I was) but rather about the impact of the event that just occurred and, more broadly, about the impact of my work and fisheries science.
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and American Fisheries Society co-hosted Capitol Hill roundtable briefing on inland fish and extreme events. The event was an informal discussion between USGS fish biologists and congressional staffers. There were insightful questions and the conversation lasted an hour and a half. Then, the staffers went back to their offices and I click-clacked out of the Senate office building and wondered about our impact. We have already had follow-up email exchanges with the staffers and I am confident that the experience was valuable but it still has me mulling over the relevance of my work as a researcher.
The daily work of fishery managers can have very tangible impact on the resources. A manager makes decisions that actively restore, maintain, protect, and, in many cases, improve fishery resources. But, for those of us on the research side of the spectrum, we can be a bit more removed. In theory, fisheries science should have a direct relationship with management, answering important research questions to help inform decision-making relevant to fisheries.
But, the incentive structure for advancement in science is not always well-aligned with management impact. Do most fisheries managers regularly page through peer-reviewed literature? I cannot state for certain, but I would guess that most don’t have time for that. While researchers devote significant investments into producing high-quality peer-reviewed publications to communicate with their peers and advance their careers, those findings are not necessarily reaching all appropriate and intended audiences unless additional steps are taken.
Communicating science to other audiences is not simple or easy (even for science communications professionals who have been trained in this field!!), but, researchers can benefit from being a reliable resource of objective scientific information. Perhaps even more difficult, co-produced science, involving managers, policy makers, scientists, and other stakeholders, can be a long, arduous process that doesn’t result in churning out papers – but does result in establishing meaningful relationships with stakeholders and actionable science products.
I was first attracted to this field because I was fascinated by fish but I pursued fisheries, as opposed to ichthyology, because I appreciated the applied nature of the work. Fish are intrinsically interesting but fisheries are important to people. What I’ve learned is, basically, science for science’s sake is a non sequitur for fisheries – it can lead to advancement scientifically but it will not have an impact on people or fish. Applied science, in fisheries or any other field, is about relationship building. This is a long-term investment. Each effort and activity to integrate research may not reap immediate rewards but, hopefully, down the line the compendium will.
So, while I don’t know what will come of our recent hill briefing, I can hope that one of those staffers or one of the people that read about the event may think of us and our science and it can help inform their decisions. Our impact may not be immediate but, hopefully, it will be significant!