Elizabeth Dubovsky heads Trout Unlimited's WhyWild program from the Juneau office. She started the program in 2007 while working in TU's Portland, Oregon, office. Through WhyWild, Trout Unlimited gives salmon consumers the information that they need to make the best salmon choices possible. It also provides the salmon marketplace with information about wild Pacific salmon habitat and how it can be protected, and in some cases, restored.
In the following interview, Elizabeth speaks about her life and work.
What motivated you to launch a career in environmental conservation?
I spent my childhood in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia outside Charlottesville where I spent as many hours as possible playing outside. We had streams and fields and woods around my house, and I used to love to harass crayfish and forage for wild onions. The woods were my playground and my parents taught me and my brothers how to appreciate and take care of our environment. For as long as I can remember, we recycled and had a compost pile. Environmental issues were part of family discussions. We always thought about our consumption and how to conserve resources. It became a part of who I was and instilled in me a sense of stewardship that I've carried with me ever since.
Why did you become particularly interested in fisheries conservation and protection?
Thanks to my dad, I was introduced to fishing, and cleaning fish, at a young age and quickly loved the thrill of a fish at the end of the line. Fishing's also a great excuse to get outside. I ended up studying both Environmental Science and Environmental Policy at the University of Virginia and during college I spent two summers as an intern for TU in the national office where I worked for CEO Chris Wood on Pacific salmon conservation issues. I had never studied or worked on wild salmon issues before, but I quickly became fascinated. The way their life cycle weaves together the entire West Coast, feeding ecosystems with their nutrient-rich bodies as well as the cultures and way of life on the West Coast. It seemed like magic to me (and still does.). After graduating I relocated to work in TU's Portland office in 2005 as a Pacific Salmon Policy Analyst. Through my work, I was able to get up to Juneau several times and quickly fell in love with its coastal mountains and lush forests. I also couldn't resist the chance to live in a place where wild salmon were flourishing and abundant.
What do you like about your role at TU Alaska and what are your biggest challenges?
The ultimate goal of WhyWild is to engage the salmon marketplace in our restoration and protection work, and so far it's been far more effective than perhaps any of us anticipated. I spend my days reaching out to key members of the food community, such as chefs and retailers, and teaching them about our salmon conservation efforts. This is perhaps the biggest perk of my job, since I love talking about good food, cooking good food, sharing good food, and eating good food. So I feel like I can fulfill that passion of mine through my day-to-day work. I'm thankful for that. I also really love talking to consumers and listening to their stories. Everyone has a connection to wild salmon whether they realize it or not.
What are your biggest challenges?
The more consumer outreach I do, the more I realize needs to be done. Sometimes it seems like a somewhat daunting task with no end in sight. I'm hopeful though that with continued outreach we'll be able to build a strong community of wild salmon consumers who are also wild salmon advocates, ready to take action on behalf of our wild salmon fisheries.
What have been the biggest successes so far?
In the beginning we had five chefs who were onboard, contributing to our efforts. Now we have close to 50 chefs. When we started out we had our Consumer Bill of Rights (a pledge consumers make to support the basic requirements wild salmon need in order to survive such as fresh flowing rivers, clean water and high-quality habitat). We started off with a handful of signatures when we first launched it. Now we've got well over 5,000 signatures.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I'm not working, I'm in the kitchen cooking or I'm outside playing. I really have to be outside as much as possible, ideally doing long runs, hiking, gardening, or skiing in the winter.