Selected tag(s): Staff Profiles

An Interview with Amanda Leland, National Policy Director of Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program

Amanda Leland, EDF’s National Policy Director for the Oceans Program, is a passionate environmental and policy specialist working to protect and offer innovative solutions to the nation’s oceans and fisheries. Learn more about her experience and background in our series of interviews with EDF’s passionate and talented Oceans staff.


Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Amanda Leland, EDF Oceans Program - National Policy Director

Where did you grow up?


Near Plymouth, Massachusetts. My ancestors actually came here on the Mayflower.

Who introduced you to fishing?

My great-grandfather was a lobster fisherman in Manomet, Massachusetts. He passed his love of fishing on to my grandfather who always took me out on the water to fish for striped bass and bluefish.  He taught me how to captain his 24’ boat when I was 8 years old. I loved the ocean. If I wasn’t on his boat, I was at the beach.

When did you become interested in environmental issues?

I’ve always been interested in the environment. For example, my 7th grade science fair project was about how much trash could be recycled. I became an EDF member when I was thirteen, and I paid my annual dues with my birthday money.

At one point you were studying to be a marine biologist, is that correct?

Yes, I got my Master’s in Marine Biology at the University of Maine. Before that, I did a year-long marine biology program when I was a junior in college. Our time was split between Boston, the Puget Sound and Jamaica. We were in the water a lot and I had my first scuba-diving experience in Friday Harbor, Washington. I’ve now logged 500 dives!

Also when I was in graduate school, I was researching how to bring back Maine’s sea urchin population. Sea urchins were once Maine’s 2nd most valuable fishery but overfishing changed that. I worked with a team of fishermen to hand collect and move 54,000 sea urchins to our study sites. In the process we all got so many splinters from the urchin spines, we started carrying tweezers. Still, we all enjoyed the work. A fisherman once said to me, “You got me to work 15 hours today and I didn’t even notice it.”

What made you decide to work on policy versus being in the field as a biologist?

Several sea urchin fishermen I met told me, “If I don’t catch the last sea urchin someone else will.” There’s such finality in that statement. I decided I wanted to try to improve management so that fishermen aren’t forced to choose between conserving the resource and feeding their kids. We have to reward fishermen for restoring fisheries.

What do you do at Environmental Defense Fund?

I lead a team focused on improving fisheries management at the federal level. We work with Congress and the Administration to move conservation policy forward. We were very happy to see NOAA announce a policy to help more fisheries move to catch shares, an innovative way to manage fisheries that will help bring back depleted fish populations and make fishermen once again profitable.

The way we’re fishing now is not sustainable and the way we are managing fishing is not working. Something has got to give. With catch shares, we can have vibrant fishing communities and healthy fisheries at the same time.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I have bottle-fed walruses. When I was in high school and college, I worked at the Indianapolis Zoo as a marine mammal zookeeper. I took care of the polar bears, baby walruses and sea lions. I sorted through hundreds of pounds of fish every morning to get their food ready.

Another thing people don’t know about me is that I once ate 5 pounds of lobster in one sitting on a dare. I love seafood.

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An Interview with Rod Fujita, EDF Senior Scientist and Director of Ocean Innovations

In continuing with our spotlight on EDF’s passionate and talented Oceans staff, we invite you to learn a little more about Dr. Rod Fujita, EDF Senior Scientist and Director of Oceans Innovations as well as Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

Rod Fujita, EDF Senior Scientist & Director of Oceans Innovations

Rod Fujita, EDF Senior Scientist & Director of Oceans Innovations

Where did you go to college?

I studied biology and math at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. I later got a Ph.D. in marine ecology from Boston University’s Marine Program, at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Tell me about your experience in the field doing hands-on research.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the field, including the kelp forests of California, the salt marshes and estuaries of New England, the rocky shores of Oregon, and coral reefs around the world.  A highlight was back in the late 1980s when I camped out at an isolated lighthouse about five miles off of Key Largo in the Florida Keys to study Carysfort Reef.

I had a power generator to operate my equipment and would stay out there for a few weeks at a time periodically over the course of a year. I dove and snorkeled in the reef several times a day, eventually spending hundreds of hours underwater to study what caused different types of algae to grow in the coral reef.

You were one of the first advocates to propose that mass coral bleaching is a result of climate change, is that correct?

In the late-1980s several scientists began to notice a strange pattern of coral bleaching. My colleague Dr. Tom Goreau and I looked at global temperature patterns and noticed a high correlation between hot spots in the ocean (just one or two degrees Celsius warmer than surrounding waters) and bleaching.  We also noticed a correlation between unusually hot years and unusually severe bleaching, so we made the case that bleaching was indeed global and could be related to climate change.  When my EDF colleague Mark Epstein and I presented the findings at a meeting of scientists in Berkeley, we were criticized by just about everyone there. It wasn’t until many years later that we were vindicated.

What are some other highlights of your 20 year career at EDF and as a founding member of the organization’s oceans program?

I was able to contribute to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and raise awareness among the general public as well as among the negotiators of the Framework Convention on Climate Change about the impacts of climate change on coral reefs, mangroves, and other ocean ecosystems.

EDF’s Doug Rader and I were two of the first environmentalists to advocate for marine protected areas, way back in the late 1980s. I helped establish the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and marine protected areas in the Channel Islands and off the coast of California as well. 

Another highlight was the excitement of learning about a solution to overfishing from EDF economists Zach Willey and Dan Dudek when I first started at EDF in 1988: catch shares.  It’s great to see catch shares catch on, especially after having to endure heavy criticism and opposition for years.

How did you come to support catch share management for fisheries?

When Doug Hopkins, Doug Rader, and I founded EDF’s oceans program in 1990, we identified overfishing as the number one threat to marine biodiversity. The traditional way of managing fisheries has too often failed either ecosystems, fishermen, or both and needs major surgery, not minor fixes. In the ‘90s, we started reviewing various proposals for fixing the system.  Zach and Dan persuaded us to study catch shares, which many economists had been advocating for a long time and which several countries had already adopted.  After an exhaustive review of the scientific literature, we concluded that catch shares could transform the way fisheries are managed and greatly improve their conservation and economic performance.

Catch shares work because they align stewardship with economic incentives and require fishermen to be accountable for their catch. Fishermen are rewarded when the fish populations rebound by being able to catch more fish.  In conventional fisheries management, fishermen are given the incentive to race to catch as much fish as fast as possible and are forced to throw tons of wasted, dead fish overboard.

You’ve been appointed to many advisory panels and committees over the course of your career. Can you name a few?

I served on the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee, three committees for the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast Advisory Committee on Individual Transferable Quotas for fish harvest privileges. I’ve had the opportunity to testify in Congress several times and was a consultant to the EPA Science Advisory Board for the Alaskan Oil Spill Bioremediation Project.

What are people surprised to learn about you?

That I play guitar and bass in a rock band.  People are also surprised to learn that I once hosted Barbara Streisand – a huge EDF supporter – on a tour of the award-winning EDF/American Museum of Natural History exhibition on climate change that I helped design.

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