Walking along the dark freeway outside Gloucester, Massachusetts, my eyes scanned the horizon for signs of life. After hurrying past foreboding fields for an hour, with Glenn Medeiros playing in my ears, I questioned my decisions to embark on this 3AM journey and, more broadly, to spend my sophomore summer traveling alone around the northeast, studying fisheries management.
The day before, I’d been standing in a fish-gut-covered blazer in a seafood processing plant, watching men swing sacks of Redfish off a boat. As I conversed with the workers, scribbling notes in my journal, I watched a red-bearded giant guide his tuna boat to a nearby dock. After he unloaded and butchered a monstrous Bluefin, I swallowed hard and asked him whether we could talk. Sure, he said, meet me at the docks at 3AM; we’ll talk and fish.
On the boat, the fisherman—Johnny Johnson—told me that fishing’s in [his] blood. He’s fished for decades, and seen fishermen get caught in tuna lines, dragged overboard instantly and drowned. I’d never been this far offshore. Indeed, until recently, my interactions with the ocean had mainly involved sushi. Then, searching for an environmental policy topic to research, I had stumbled across fisheries management—a microcosm for resources management, but with macro consequences. Armed with a generous grant from an alumnus of my school, I embarked on a 4-month study of American fisheries. Through it all, I was amazed at people’s willingness to speak with a persistent highschooler. I interviewed almost a hundred people, many for an hour or more. Indeed, I only met Johnny because a processing plant manager had given me free range to roam his facilities.
My interviewees’ passion was eye-opening. They forced me to think about fisheries management issues as more than abstract philosophical debates. For Johnny, a misplaced or ill-considered regulation would mean he was out of a job and a vocation. As I stood with him on the shore that night, with nothing to show but empty hooks, I understood better than ever the human side of the policy issues I’d been researching.
I’ve always been fascinated by government. My four parents are lawyers, and I’ve been surrounded by law and policy my whole life. When I was six, I refused to let my parents drag me away from Obama’s first inauguration despite the freezing temperatures. At seven, I sat in my mom’s torts classes, taking color-coded notes. At ten, I met the service dogs at my dad’s office at the National Counterterrorism Center.
Then, at the end of my freshman year, I attended my school’s Government Club for the first time. I still remember the debate topic that night: legalizing prostitution, a subject I knew nothing about. I was hooked. When the Club resumed the next fall, I attended every meeting, took more notes, and had goosebumps each time I rose to speak.
Arriving in Massachusetts a year later, I was still that excited, overly curious student. My experience had, thus far, been theoretical and here I was, standing at the brink of a new world full of characters I couldn’t imagine. I was overwhelmed, but Johnny—and so many others—taught me to listen, and to judge fairly and neutrally. When I returned to school, I taught my classmates about fisheries, and shared the perspective I had gained about the real-world impacts of policy choices.
I developed that perspective through careful research, cultivated relationships, and sustained passion. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to follow my passion for two years. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which such opportunities are unequally distributed, and natural disasters are proliferating in the face of poor resources management and a climate crisis with disparate impacts. Addressing these problems won’t be easy, and remedies will take a lifetime or more. But, I still have a lifetime, and plentiful passion, and so I look forward to my next opportunity.