Symposium considers theology of fisheries science

September 2, 2009

What is fisheries science? How does it fit in the larger picture of science? How do the press, the church, and policy makers influence the public understanding of fisheries science?

These are some of the questions Episcopal layman Charles Berry, who teaches fisheries biology at South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota, asked as he and Sheri Potter of the American Institute of Biological Science planned a symposium held September 2. Free and open to the public, the full day program was part of the annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, held this year in Nashville, Tennessee.

The program included speakers not only from several aspects of science, but from the media, government and theology, all exploring the public understanding of fisheries science.

Berry, a member of the Episcopal Ecological Network, saw a need for the professional fisheries group to offer the program as part of its participation in the Year of Science, a celebration exploring "How We Know What We Know" throughout 2009. "We as a group are involved with conservation of aquatic resources, both freshwater and marine," explained Berry in a phone interview. "If the church were to embrace these creation care issues, we have information on the condition and status of the world's fisheries and water pollution."

For Joyce Wilding, a member of the advisory board of the Sewanee Center for Religion and Environment, the great learning from attending the program was that good science can inform the church's environmental policy and activism. For her, Berry's leadership of the symposium underscored the significance of Resolution C012 on Scientific Integrity and Environmental Policy, passed at the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim

In a talk titled "Have Your Hake and Eat It, Too," for example, Tim Fitzgerald of the Environmental Defense Fund showed how fisheries science can inform consumer choices. More subtly, he challenged people to make choices about the seafood they eat from the perspective of environmental health, not just personal health.

Berry noted that the church can be involved in helping people be wiser consumers and recommends the Blue Ocean Institute as one of several excellent organizations that interpret fisheries science in a way helpful to consumers.

In his home church, St. Paul's, Brookings, Berry chairs the Natural Cathedral Committee, the parish environmental group. There his concern is about both fostering the understanding of science in the church, and strengthening the theological grounding of environmental action. "The church needs not to be another Sierra Club," he says, "but to have some theological underpinnings. It's not just changing light bulbs and writing to senators, but about instituting the creation care message in the liturgy."

Berry commends the Episcopal Ecological Network's three-step process of reflection, education and action to other congregations, as a way to faith, science, and environmental stewardship.