Dr. Mamie Parker, Pioneering African American Fisheries Scientist and Leader, Born (1957)

Music inspires many of us.  But it’s probably a first that a fisheries scientist was inspired to pursue her career by Marvin Gaye’s music.  No, not something she heard through the grapevine, but his song, “Mercy, Mercy, Me,” that reminds us about “radiation underground and in the sky; Animals and birds who live nearby are dying.”

Dr. Mamie Parker, judging the 2013 Duck Stamlp contest (photo by USFWS Midwest Region)

That fisheries scientist is Dr. Mamie Aselean Parker, born on October 14, 1957, in Wilmot, Arkansas.  And it wasn’t just Marvin Gaye who inspired her.  As Mamie tells it, “My mother was an avid angler, a sharecropper, had 11 children.  I’m number 11.  The rest…did not want to be outdoors, but she wanted a companion and taught me life lessons out there.  She passed away when I was fairly young, and I decided to do this in her honor.”  

Her mother was determined that Mamie would get a college education, and she worked hard to make her mother’s wishes come true.  Parker ranked second in her high-school class and then earned a B.S. from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 1980.  She went on to get advanced degrees (M.S. and Ph. D.) from the University of Wisconsin in fisheries and wildlife and limnology.  She took an internship with the U..S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wisconsin, as she said, “quite frightening for a Southern girl like myself that had hardly been north of Little Rock.”

But she never looked back.  She spent 29 years working for the Fish and Wildlife Service, from the Mississippi River watershed and eastward, accomplishing many firsts for an African American woman along the way.  She reached the highest levels in the agency, eventually serving as Regional Director for the 13 Northeastern states, Chief of Staff and Assistant Director for Fisheries (the agency’s highest position related to fisheries).  In a radio interview, she recalled her unique journey:  “I remember my first job here in the D.C. area, and the janitors in the building, they just kept coming and peeking in, and I thought “What are they looking at?” And finally I saw one in the bathroom, and she said, “I’ve been here for almost 40 years,” and she said, “No African-American woman has been in here except to clean this office.”

Parker receiving the 2020 John L. Morris Award from the Association of Fisheries an dWildlife Agencies (photo by Dadayzee)

Parker has had enormous influence on sustaining our nation’s aquatic resources.  She has worked across the range of aquatic issues, from fish culture to fisheries management to pollution abatement. She led negotiations with General Electric to reduce pollution of the Hudson River.  Under her leadership, the Atlantic salmon was added to the endangered species list.  On behalf of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, she worked with major corporations, including Walmart and PetSmart, to reduce their environmental footprints.

For her efforts, Parker has received innumerable awards and recognitions, again often a first for an African American woman.  She was appointed to the board of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, later serving as the chair of the board and achieving major advances in migratory bird protections for the state.  She was the first African American woman elected to the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame.  The list of her honors and leadership positions is too long to cover here, but one illustrates her impact:  She received the Presidential Rank Award, the highest award given to a civilian employee of the federal government.

I have been privileged to know Mamie Parker for many years, having worked with her on various projects of the American Fisheries Society and other organizations.  She is a wonder—intelligent, insightful, dauntless and charming.  Her optimism makes the sun shine on the cloudiest of days.  And she is an inspiration to all of us in conservation, but especially to women and members of underrepresented groups.  

In your own career, wherever it might take you, please remember these words that she shared:  “And then also, mentors are so important — having the right individual there for you when you think about quitting or you want to cry. A lot of times, I had to cry on the shoulders of those janitors in that building. You know, they were the ones that were there for me, telling me to get up and get back in the race again.”

Be like Dr. Mamie Parker, and always get back in the race, and help someone else who needs a hand to get back in her or his own race.


DEL.  Dr. Mamie Parker.  Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau.  Available at:  https://www.delnsb.com/team/dr.-mamie-parker

Encyclopedia of Arkansas.  Mamie Aselean Parker (1957-).  Available at:  https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/mamie-aselean-parker-4127/.

Mamieparker.com.  Mamie Parker, PhD.  Available at:  https://mamieparker.com/about/.

Martin, Michael.  2015.  From Fishing With Mom to Becoming A Top Fisheries Official.  Morning Edition, July 14, 2015.  Available at:  https://www.npr.org/2015/07/14/421141198/from-fishing-with-mom-to-becoming-a-top-fisheries-official.

Natural Areas Organization.  Biography — Dr. Mamie Parker.  Available at:  https://www.naturalareas.org/docs/Mamie_Parker_Biography.pdf.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
Spencer Fullerton Baird, First U.S. Fish Commissioner, Born (1823)
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Ugalde, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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