Celebrating Black Scientists in Fisheries & Biology

By Kim Luke, Christine Parisek, Rachelle Tallman, Marissa Levinson, Sarah Yarnell, Miranda Bell Tilcock, Andrew Rypel, and Jay Lund

In honor of Black History Month, the Center for Watershed Sciences would like to highlight the contributions of Black scientists in our field. These prominent researchers have not only pushed the social and scientific boundaries of fisheries biology, but have also acted as dedicated mentors. We recognize that scientists of color, and women, experience discrimination and have had more strenuous journeys to succeed in their fields. Out of respect for their lived experiences, the focus of this article is to share their important work, not speak on behalf of their experiences as scientists of color.  

First in her Field

Dr. Roger Arliner Young was a marine biologist, and the first Black woman to receive a PhD in zoology in 1940 from the University of Chicago. Dr. Young was also the first Black woman in her field to have her research paper “On the Excretory Apparatus of Paramecium” published in the journal Science in 1926. She was the student of another prominent Black marine biologist, Dr. Ernest Everett Just, who recruited Young during her undergraduate studies at Howard University. Dr. Young assisted Dr. Just with his pioneering experiments on marine organism fertilization at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. She went on to teach at several universities and head the Department of Zoology for Dr. Just while he was overseas. 

Fisheries & Anthropogenic Issues

Dr. Daniel Pauly is a fisheries biologist and professor at the University of British Columbia. He has worked all over the world, focusing his research on overfishing and global fish trends, particularly in developing parts of the world. Some of Dr. Pauly’s notable contributions include the fish encyclopedia FishBase, the modeling program Ecopath, and the research initiative for fisheries data, Sea Around Us. One of his papers, “Fishing down marine foodwebs” is widely considered to be one of the preeminent classics, and required reading for many fisheries courses. This paper was also included in the book “Foundations of Fisheries Science” that features reprints of critical fisheries work. Dr. Pauly has also written many books on fisheries and marine ecosystems, and has been given seven honorary doctorates from universities in Europe and Canada.

Working in the Public Sector

Dr. Mamie Parker is a fish and wildlife biologist, and was the first African American Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director. She also served as FWS Chief of Staff, and Assistant Director of Habitat Conservation/ Head of Fisheries. One of the many highlights of Mamie’s work with fish habitat management, was her role in negotiating with General Electric to clean up the Hudson River. Dr. Parker now works as a principal consultant, success coach, and public speaker.

Population Genetics in Fisheries

Dr. Sheila Stiles has been a research geneticist at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center for more than 50 years. Dr. Stiles received a B.S. in Biology from Xavier University (Louisiana, USA), an M.S. from University of Connecticut (Storrs, USA), and finally, Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst, USA) in fisheries and genetics. Dr. Stiles was the first African American woman hired at the Milford Laboratory which later became part of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center when NOAA was created in 1970. Dr. Stiles is the project leader of a collaborative research program with a tiered focus on mussel breeding, molecular genetics, and field work in order to provide various economic and conservation applications. Dr. Stiles is also strongly involved in recruitment, retention, and mentoring activities of young scientists from elementary to college level.

Science meets Management

Dr. Cecil Jennings is Unit Leader at the USGS Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit in the Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology, natural science, and conservation from Carthage College, a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries ecology from Mississippi State University, and a Ph.D. in fisheries science from the University of Florida. He has studied fisheries for over >32 years.

Dr. Jennings is widely known for developing science for improving conservation management of freshwater fishes throughout North America. He has worked extensively with rare and diverse fish species in the southeastern USA, but also fisheries with intense connections to people and communities. He has highly cited papers detailing aspects of the biology and management of sturgeons, suckers and paddlefish. Over his career, Dr. Jennings has mentored a small army of graduate students, post-doctoral research associates, and technical staff who continue to protect and manage fisheries for future generations. In 2020, Dr. Jennings was selected as the 2nd Vice President of the American Fisheries Society.

Founder of “Minorities in Aquaculture”

Imani Black founded Minorities in Aquaculture. Imani is currently a faculty research assistant working at the Horn Point Laboratory in University of Maryland’s Center of Environmental Sciences (UMCES), and soon-to-be graduate student at UMCES in 2021. Imani entered the aquaculture field through internships and trainings at the Oyster Restoration Team at Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Virginia) and Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Oyster Aquaculture Training Program (OAT), and through work as an assistant hatchery manager at Hooper Island Oyster Company (Cambridge, MD). Imani was bothered that little to no people of color held management or leadership roles in aquaculture around her. With a desire to improve recruitment and retention of women and diversity in the marine sciences, Imani became founder and president of a new non-profit organization “Minorities in Aquaculture”.

Diversity, equity, and inclusivity in the ecology and fisheries workforce promotes a rich variety of perspectives, worldviews, creativity, innovation, skills, and experiences required to tackle the  complex socio-ecological issues we face. We must create individual and systemic changes to foster a scientific community to reflect this. We acknowledge that we selected just a few trailblazers, but we encourage readers to continue honoring Black History Month year round by researching other Black scientists and activists. 

“In fisheries science, we often celebrate the biodiversity of species. That celebration, however, exists in tension with the low diversity of gender and race or ethnicity in our workforce.”

Arismendi and Penaluna 2016 

To learn more about the featured scientists experiences, research, and accomplishments visit the following sites:

Dr. Roger Arliner Young:



Dr. Daniel Pauly:




Dr. Mamie Parker:



Dr. Sheila Styles :



Dr. Cecil Jennings:



Imani Black:




About Andrew Rypel

Andrew L. Rypel is a Professor and the Peter B. Moyle and California Trout Chair of coldwater fish ecology at the University of California, Davis. He is a faculty member in the Department of Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology and Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences.
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