Managing Fisheries for the Future

GBA alumna Rhea Moss-Christian assumes the helm of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission
A close-up of Rhea Moss-Christian, posing outside

There’s poetry to Rhea Moss-Christian’s career. For her, the puzzle pieces of her interests, aptitudes, and life decisions have consistently aligned with some happy accidents. As a freshman at UC Santa Cruz, she’d enrolled pre-psychology but could not get into any classes. On a lark, she took a political science course and was quickly hooked. Months later, she found herself on the floor of the United Nations, interning for the Marshall Islands Permanent Mission to the UN.

“I remember sitting there in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, and looking out at this sea of country names,” said Moss-Christian. “I was picking out all the Pacific Island countries and thinking, ‘Wow, this is incredible. I want to go to all of these places.’” 

Her internship kicked off a long career in policy and fisheries. Back on campus, she worked with a professor who had conducted research in Nauru, and she wrote her thesis on the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. On a subsequent family trip to the Marshall Islands—Moss-Christian’s mother was Marshallese—she delivered a hard copy of her thesis, spiral-bound from Kinko’s, to an aide in the president’s office. To her surprise, he read it and sent her to a fisheries meeting a month later in the Solomon Islands as a representative from the Marshall Island’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

With every career development and new opportunity, her interest in fisheries doubled. Moss-Christian is fascinated by how so many disciplines—law, science, economics, and social issues—come together around tuna.  

“We take this tuna fish for granted. We open a can of tuna and make a sandwich, but we don’t think about the chain and what that means to people,” she said. “As I learned more, I just became so much more fascinated with this entire world and how it functioned around this single fish. I love international relations and learning about other cultures. Having my background in politics and part of my cultural identity coming from one of these small islands, it all seemed to fit.”

Moss-Christian’s career has carried her back and forth across the Pacific, from Pohnpei to Honolulu, San Francisco to Majuro. After 26 years working in fisheries, Moss-Christian was ready to step into an executive role and had her sights set on becoming Executive Director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), an international regulatory body concerned with highly migratory fish like tuna. To prepare herself, she wanted to hone her quantitative skills and business acumen. The Fletcher School’s Master of Global Business Administration seemed like a perfect fit for her: a business degree with a global focus at its core. Plus, it was 2020; she was living in remote Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia, and an online degree program seemed tailored to her career and goals.

“I wanted these WCPFC member countries that would be reading my resume to see that I had recent, relevant education, that I hadn’t just studied international relations at three different schools but also had a recent business degree from a very reputable institution. That would hopefully convey that I had learned some current innovations and strategies, and that I could understand the fishing industry, trade, and international relations better,” said Moss-Christian.

“Having the skillset to read the Financial Times and The Economist and understand the lingo and what is being conveyed in articles about inflation and trade balances—it’s so gratifying. I love it,” she added.

As part of the GBA program, Moss-Christian clarified her leadership style and philosophy in the Leadership Development Program. This was directly relevant to her application with the WCPFC. To be considered for an executive position in an international organization, she embarked on a months-long process, which involved lobbying WCPFC member countries and articulating her ethos as an executive capable of taking on the role. In December 2022 at the WCPFC annual meeting, which also marked the conclusion of her GBA, Moss-Christian was appointed to the position of Executive Director.

“Having the end of the program culminate with this job appointment was this fireworks ending to 2022. This is such a pinnacle moment for me in my career, and a natural progression of the way my life has unfolded,” said Moss-Christian.

“I find myself in Pohnpei not by accident, applying for this job. The WCPFC headquarters are here, this was where my career was born with this Commission. I live here, I’m married to someone from here, it’s all intertwined. The decision to apply to Fletcher was with this job in mind,” she added.

Moss-Christian’s appointment—a four-year contract with the potential to renew for a second term—begins in March. While she’s taking some time to recharge after completing her degree, she’s also taking stock as she prepares to assume this leadership role. She recognizes that the countries of the Commission had confidence to appoint her, and she’s excited to push forward, try new things, and continue learning.

“I don’t want to go sit at a desk every day, push some papers around, answer some emails, and be a symbol of an office. I really want to get in and do something that’s meaningful,” said Moss-Christian. “I don’t do anything unless I think I can make an impact in some way. We spend so much of our lives working—it’s why I’ve never stayed in a job I don’t like for very long.”

While she recognizes the benefits of the title and salary, she credits a deeper imperative as her motivation.

“I’m going to do this job because it means something to me, and I believe it means something to people who stand to benefit and stand to lose if we don’t get it right. I want to leave a legacy that makes some kind of an improvement, whether on the way that countries come together to negotiate and do business that results in healthier fisheries, or better business for industry, or better impact on communities.”

“Overall, it comes down to whether we are managing a fishery that ensures that future generations will continue to benefit,” said Moss-Christian, “I’m excited to be in position where I can potentially, meaningfully effect change. And what an incredible opportunity to have, in something you love so much.”

Read more about Fletcher’s GBA Degree Program.