Life on the Water: A Historical-Cultural Model of African American Fishermen on the Georgia Coast (USA)

Article (PDF Available)inNational Association for the Practice of Anthropology Bulletin 28(1):109-122 · January 2007with 1,250 Reads 
How we measure 'reads'
A 'read' is counted each time someone views a publication summary (such as the title, abstract, and list of authors), clicks on a figure, or views or downloads the full-text. Learn more
Cite this publication
napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen 109
NAPA BULLETIN 28, pp. 109–122, ISBN 1-931303-35-5. © 2007 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California
Press’s Rights and Permissions website, DOI: 10.1525/napa.2007.28.1.109.
Ben G. Blount
University of Texas at San Antonio
Kathi R. Kitner
Intel Corporation
A challenge in fisheries research is development of a rigorous and reliable method for repre-
senting local fishing knowledge. One solution is to elicit knowledge initially in semistructured
interviews and then to model information held in common among groups of fishermen.
Content analysis of interviews using keywords, the terms by which fishermen talk about and
organize their knowledge topically and thematically, allows for the identification of discourse
content and for its hierarchical organization in the form of cultural models. Cultural model
analysis shows how fishermen construct and organize the central components of their lives as
fishers. Results of a case study are reported here, based on interviews conducted in 1999 with
elderly African American fisherman on the coast of Georgia, focusing on the history of their
participation in coastal fisheries. Keyword analysis showed that the basic cultural model of the
African Americans was of life on the water, which contains a number of submodels that
elaborate the content and meaning of life on the water. The cultural model shows that the
way of life based on making a living from fishing has become increasingly difficult and may
be nearing an end. The loss of means of livelihood raises ethical considerations about access to
natural resources. Keywords: African Americans, cultural models, fisheries, ethics
This article presents a method to describe the cultural knowledge of retired and elderly
African American fishermen on the coast of Georgia (USA). The method consists of
analysis of interviews using keywords, the terms which the fishermen use to describe
their knowledge of fisheries and fishing experience. Keywords provide a means of identi-
fying content and organization of discourse, enabling a researcher to detect the sharing
of the content and organization across individuals. The analytical construction of that
information is in the form of cultural models. Constructed models thus are represen-
tations of shared information, that is, cultural knowledge, providing a view of how
members of a community can talk meaningfully in their own terms about their under-
standings and experiences. The African Americans were asked in the interviews to talk
about their experiences as commercial marine fishermen, to talk about what being a
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 109
fisherman was like. The construction of cultural models from their interviews showed
that the fishermen organized their knowledge into a high-level model called life on the
water. That model contained lower-level models, such as making a living and catching
fish, revealing thematic patterns that making a living on the water now is more diffi-
cult than in earlier days and the historical period of living from fishing may be coming
to an end.
To place the cultural model life on the water in broader perspective, a history of
African American participation in commercial marine fisheries is presented from previous
historical analyses (Blount 2001). That research showed that for a period of 150–200 years,
African Americans did most of the commercial fishing in that coastal zone but that they
were marginalized through time from the three major fisheries on the coast: oyster,
shrimp, and blue crab (Blount 2001). Although the experiences of African Americans in
those individual fisheries are not represented directly in life on the water, the model does
show that making a living from fishing was always difficult and involved hard work. The
model developed through the shared experiences of fisherman within and across genera-
tions, leading to the generation of retired African American fishermen who were in their
sixties and seventies during the interviews in 1999. Because the fishermen saw their way
of life coming to an end, they used life on the water retrospectively and prospectively to
characterize how life was in the past and to show how it is changing with the current gen-
eration of younger adults. The changes raise questions about environmental ethics
because the environmental changes that appear to changing the social landscape affect
how people use natural resources to make a living. A discussion about ethical considera-
tions is presented later in the article.
The southeastern Atlantic coast of the state of Georgia and its associated creeks, rivers,
estuaries, and sounds were once teeming with fish, shellfish, and other crustaceans.
When Europeans came to the area in the mid–18th century, historical records show that
fish were abundant, almost unimaginably so by today’s standards (Stewart 1996).
Europeans, however, appeared to not use the resource much if at all. When African slaves
were brought to Georgia, beginning in 1751, they and their descendants, however, relied
heavily on fish, first for subsistence and then for small-scale commercial gain. That pat-
tern of fishing continued for almost two centuries, but radical changes began to occur at
the beginning of the 20th century. African Americans were marginalized from three local
fisheries in succession over the course of three generations.
English Settlers
The first settlers from England arrived on the Georgia coast in 1732, but, remarkably,
they did not utilize the abundant wild game and fish. The settlement was based on a
utopian plan that called for the creation of an orderly landscape of small free-holder
110 napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 110
farms. The “Georgia Plan,” as it was called, was based on the notion that the discipline
and self-sufficiency of farmers would create a stable and productive social and economic
system (Stewart 1996). The settlers chosen to participate in the Georgia Plan were mostly
urban poor, many of whom had been imprisoned in workhouses. Thus, they had no
knowledge or experience in farming, hunting, or fishing, and, in fact, they were prohib-
ited from hunting and fishing in England of the time, activities reserved for royalty and
wealthy elite.
The survival of these misplaced urban poor was in the hands of the philanthropic
group, the Georgia Trustees, who provided them with food and provisions. Not surpris-
ingly, the utopian settlement plan was unsuccessful, despite almost two decades of finan-
cial underwriting. By the middle of the century, the plan had been scrapped, thereby
opening the area to plantation agriculture. Planters experienced in plantation systems in
South Carolina and in the West Indies began to acquire land in the coastal area of
Georgia. The plantation system required cheap or “free” labor, and the ban on importa-
tion of slaves from Africa was lifted in 1751. From that date, plantation owners began to
import African slaves into the region.
African Slaves and Fishing
Unlike the first English settlers, the Africans were much more likely to have hunting and
fishing experience, and they evidently participated in those informal economies in
Georgia from the outset. Although the plantation work that they were required to per-
form left them little time for their own activities, they both supplemented their diet and
engaged in informal trade. Fishing was a substantial part of that activity. It is estimated
that sea island slaves may have procured as much as one-half of the meat in their diets
from foraging, especially fishing (Gibbs et al. 1980). In addition to fishing in rural areas,
African Americans who managed to live in urban areas, principally the city of Savannah,
did virtually all of the fishing, supplying the local market and even outlying populations.
In the late 19th century, Savannah was the major seafood market on the Georgia coast,
where shad, whiting, snapper, bass, catfish, oysters, clams, and shrimp were sold. African
Americans were both the major suppliers and consumers.
The pattern of small-scale fishing continued after the Civil War and through the post-
bellum historical period, from 1865–1900. Emancipated African Americans continued to
fish, as before, for food and to make a living. They caught most of the fish and were cen-
trally engaged in the processing, marketing, and distribution, just as had been the case in
Savannah a hundred or more years earlier. There was thus a cultural pattern of fishing
and fish consumption spanning 150 years. A few years before the turn of the 20th cen-
tury, however, the patterns of fishing on the coast began to change, first with the oyster
fishery and, eventually, the shrimp and blue crab fisheries. In each case, white
European–Anglo commercial fishers migrated to Georgia, primarily from the northeast-
ern Atlantic region of the United States, bringing with them an established and distinct
history of commercial fishing and the capital to afford new, more advanced technology.
Within a few years they gained dominance in each fishery, and African Americans had
napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen 111
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 111
begun to be marginalized, moving from the center to the periphery or even out of the
fishery altogether.
Oyster Fishery
Commercialization began with the oyster fishery. Oysters had long been abundant on
the southeastern Atlantic coasts, constituting a staple of winter fare and a survival food
in lean times (Fleetwood 1995:188). Most of the oystermen initially were African
Americans, who harvested oysters mostly during the winter months and in their own
boats. With the opening of the Atlantic seaboard to railways that linked the larger east
coast cities, demands for oysters by urban populations increased. As demand increased,
oyster canneries began to appear in the late 1880s, and so the rate of harvesting increased,
escalating as more canneries were built. The consequences for African Americans were
twofold: (1) opportunities for jobs were expanded through substantially increased harvest
levels and processing, but (2) African Americans were pushed disproportionately to the
lower-income end of the business. The harvesters and the pickers were African American,
whereas the managers and owners were of European origin. African Americans essentially
became wage laborers. After the crash of the canneries around midcentury, a few African
Americans returned to harvesting oysters. In 1999, only one fisherman harvested oysters
to sell to a very limited and local market.
Shrimp Fishery
At the beginning of the 20th century, the shrimp market in the southeastern Atlantic
region was limited mostly to local consumption, and shrimp appears to have been a rel-
atively minor food item. Shrimp pickled in brine, for example, were available in local
bars as a free snack food, in much the same fashion as peanuts or popcorn today
(Fleetwood 1995:195). African Americans caught shrimp in the waterways, estuaries, and
sounds fishing with small seine nets and cast nets. Beginning soon after the turn of the
century, however, the fishery was commercialized within one generation. One factor
was the use of gasoline-driven internal combustion engines on boats, which provided
the means for major changes in fishing gear and methods. In 1903 there were 50 auto-
mobile manufacturers in the United States, many of who made engines for boats as well
as automobiles (Fleetwood 1995:172). As engines became more powerful, larger boats
could be built, and by the middle of the 1920s, motor-driven boats were not only
becoming more common, they were becoming larger and more powerful. Boats could
cover much more water in shorter periods of time, and they could go further from shore
and return more easily.
A related factor was the importation of the otter trawl from England, where it had been
developed in 1894. The otter trawl consisted of two constructed wooden doors, each
attached to the open end of a large net. As the boards were pulled through the water they
were forced outward, opening the net up to form a large scoop. They could scoop up
much larger quantities of shrimp as compared to seine nets or cast nets. Engine-driven
112 napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 112
boats had the power to pull the nets. By the beginning of the second decade of the 20th
century, motor-driven boats with otter trawls has spread over the southeastern Atlantic,
and the shrimp fishery had been revolutionized. With that revolution, African
Americans were shifted from the center of the shrimp fishery to the periphery. As in the
oyster fishery, but more directly and drastically, they were no longer the principal fishers.
Because of the existence of institutionalized racism, very few African Americans could
afford the capital outlay that was required to purchase a large, motor-driven boat and the
otter-trawl system. They neither had the money nor the access to financial institutions to
obtain loans to purchase the necessary boats and equipment. Most African Americans
who remained in the shrimp fishery became laborers (strikers) on the boats, emptying
the nets, sorting the catch, and de-heading (“heading”) the shrimp, or else they sought
employment in the fish houses, cleaning and boxing the catch for shipment to external
markets. This pattern continues today.
Blue Crab Fishery
Longtime residents of the coast of Georgia report that blue crabs historically have been
viewed as a “poor man’s” food. The rationale was that crabs were plentiful and that a
meal could be caught easily with virtually no equipment and little effort. Another con-
tributing factor was that crabbing was associated with African Americans. As recently as
napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen 113
Figure 1. African American Shrimpers, South Atlantic Coast. Photo by Kathi Kitner.
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 113
the early 1970s, almost all of the crabbers were African American. Crabbers submerged
baited, wooden traps in the sounds, estuaries, rivers, and creeks, and the traps had to be
pulled to the surface at least every few days to remove any crabs that have been trapped.
Some crabbers pulled as many as 200 traps. African Americans used small wooden boats,
small motors, and pulled their traps by hand, which was arduous work, since the water-
logged, wooden traps, full of crabs, could weigh considerably more than 100 pounds.
Eventually, metal traps replaced wooden ones, but even a metal trap full of crabs can
weigh up to 100 pounds.
Two developments led to major changes in the blue crab fishery. Migrants to the
Georgia coast, many retirees from other occupations, began to crab part-time. They
had the capital to buy larger boats with larger motors, and they could also purchase
“crab pullers,” a mechanical device based on a pulley and powered by the boat’s engine
to pull the traps from the water. The heavy work of hauling the traps to the surface by
hand is thus avoided. Within a few years, two classes of crabbers were evident,
European American crabbers with larger boats and crab pullers and African Americans
with smaller boats and engines and many without crab pullers. By 1980, the number
of African American crabbers had diminished significantly, and the fishery had become
European American. Again, African Americans were pushed to the margins of a fish-
ery that was once almost exclusively theirs. By the end of the century, only a few
African Americans remained in the blue crab fishery. The development of a limited
entry plan at the end of the 1990s made even more difficult the entry or reentry into
the fishery.
Cultural Factors
It is clear that significant economic factors, principally severely limited access to capital,
marginalized African Americans from their participation of long-standing in the oyster,
shrimp, and blue crab fisheries. Cultural factors may also have played an important role.
Expectations anchored in the cultural landscapes included a strong aversion to risk tak-
ing, understandably, given that the margin of security for African Americans during the
entire 150 years of the plantation system and the postbellum must have been very slim,
at best. There would have been few and marginally thin safety nets to guard against
economic disaster, and in that type of socioeconomic environment, risk taking would
have been a highly salient activity. Risks that ran the possibility of total economic col-
lapse especially were to be minimized. When commercialization of the fisheries began,
African Americans must have been reluctant to take the risks necessary to compete,
even in the few cases in which resources might have been available. Racial discrimina-
tion was clearly a major factor. Bank loans were not available to African Americans,
thereby precluding the use of loaned capital to guard against total financial collapse.
The interviewees, however, saw loans as double edged, commenting that loans could
escalate the risk of collapse. Inability to repay a loan would mean a total loss of means
to a livelihood, a risk that was stated by several interviewees as being too high. Risk
avoidance was an important strategy.
114 napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 114
A research project was undertaken in 1998–2000 to document the history of African
American participation in commercial fisheries on the coast of Georgia and, in particu-
lar, to elicit the views of elderly fishers who could provide in-depth accounts from the
lifetime of experience. The first result that became apparent was that the number of eld-
erly fishers was very small, as was the number of African Americans still participating in
the shrimp and blue crab fisheries. One author was told repeatedly that his work was 10
or even 20 years too late, that many of the more experienced individuals had died within
that period. One goal of the research was to try to find individuals who would have per-
sonal recollections of the changes that occurred in the shrimp fishery, but those changes
had occurred earlier than originally thought, and that aspect of the project was certainly
too late. Nonetheless, a few individuals were located who had fished for 40 years or more
and who could provide historical and cultural perspective.
Eight retired African American fishers were interviewed during the summer of 1999.
Six of them were retired shrimpers and two were retired blue crabbers. The age range was
50–84, but all but one of them was over 70. The interviews were conducted at the homes
of the individuals, and they averaged 90 minutes each. The format was semistructured
interviews, leaving the responses as open ended as possible. The interviews were all tape-
recorded. Seven questions, however, structured the interviews and were asked of each
respondent. These are given in Table 1.
The transcribed interviews were subjected to a content analysis, using the method of
keyword analysis (Blount 2002). The objective was to identify keywords, construct the
information content of those words, and to construct models of information shared
across individuals. To the extent that sharing occurs, the models can be considered to be
Keywords are terms or, more commonly, phrases that serve to structure discourse and
that have constructed informational content. The underlying assumptions are that lan-
guage is a symbolic guide to culture and that vocabulary is a sensitive index of culture
napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen 115
TABLE 1 Core Interview Questions
1. Can you tell me what shrimping (crabbing) was like when you first began to work in that fishery?
2. What were the boats like? The gear?
3. Was it hard to make a living at shrimping (crabbing)?
4. What are some of the changes that you have seen in the fishery?
5. Why did you begin to work as a shrimper (crabber)?
6. What do you see as the future for African-Americans in the shrimp (crab) fishery on the Georgia coast?
7. Do young African-Americans do any kind of fishing nowadays, recreationally or commercially?
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 115
(Sapir 1933). Keywords, as words, point to categories or classes of objects referentially, but
for reference to work, they have to subsume units of agreed-on, that is, shared meaning.
The sharing of the meaning is possible because of experienced, that is, historical, cul-
tural matrices. Keywords subsume especially central or important cultural content.
Contemporary examples in fisheries might be marine protected areas, overfishing, bycatch,
and so forth.
If the focus is on keywords in use, they have an indexing function, referencing
what is being talked about, and they also have an abstracting function, serving as a
label to extract cultural information and construct it in relation to the label
(Aitchison 2003). In effect, they serve as informational search and recovery devices
and frameworks for organization. Keywords are cognitive labels. If the focus is on dis-
course, then keywords serve as nodal topics in relation to which discourse is struc-
tured. Again, they can be seen as “what is talked about.” Discourse consists of
keywords and of the construction of informational content in relation to them. The
content of the construction depends on a variety of factors, but central is the idea of
the extent to which assumptions can be made about whether the discourse partici-
pants have access to the same or similar content, in effect, that the content is or can
be shared.
Keywords and Cultural Models
Assumptions about informational sharing are based on experience. Keywords are used
indexwise and nodalwise in relation to expectations of shared experience. The informa-
tional structures that are generated can be referred to as “cultural models.” Cultural
models are shared, taken for granted, experientially based means of understanding
behavior. They frame interpretations of experience and serve as bases for inferences about
experience. In a sense they are models of the world that serve as means of understanding
the world (Blount 2003; Quinn and Holland 1987). The more a group of individuals has
similar experiences, the more likely they are to share models, and cultural models thus
can be seen as hierarchical structures. The greater the sharing of experience and infor-
mation, the higher the respective node is in the model. In addition, the higher the node,
the more one can expect that the information can serve to provide motivations, to have
directive force for behavior.
Keyword analysis provides the nodes for the diagrammatic construction of cultural
models (Blount 2002). The resultant model structure can be seen as an outline or struc-
ture of the way that the world is conceptualized, in relation to the topics represented by
the keywords. Discourse texts are analyzed for topic focus and organization, leading to
identification of keywords. An illustration is provided with a brief section of one of the
interviews, with an individual named Captain J. and on the topic of changes in fishing.
“Inv” refers to the investigator, and “CpJ” refers to Captain J.
Inv: Why do you think that all of those changes occurred?
CpJ: Well, I don’t know, don’t really know.
Inv: But there are not as many fishermen now?
116 napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 116
CpJ: No, nothing like as many as what used to be. Life on the water was all we had then. Only way
to make a living.
CpJ: Lot of oysters then. Now not enough oysters to make a living.
You have to leave here, live in the city to make a living now.
Inv: Yes, I guess that’s true.
CpJ: Was hard work, but you could make a living. That way of life is gone.
Inv: So young people can’t make a living fishing now?
CpJ: No, they go live in the city, Savannah or Brunswick. Or deal drugs.
Analysis of the African American discourse tapes led to the identification of 14 prob-
able keywords. These are shown in Table 2 below. The number in the second column
refers to the number of the respondents who used the keyword in nodal-fashion, not the
total number of times that it was used collectively or by an individual.
The list of terms can be seen as an interview “free list,” indicating scalar salience. The
greater the number of individuals who used the term, the more important the keyword
was and the higher in the cultural model it was. From these keywords and their use in the
discourse, three cultural models can be constructed. One model is life on the water as a
way of making a living by paying bills. This model is given below as Figure 2. In this dia-
grammatic representation, life on the water involves making a living, which is truncated
and simplified as pay bills. To pay bills, one must have a steady income, which in fishing
involves hard work.
The second model is also life on the water, but here the focus is on the risks involved,
on taking a chance at making a living. In this model the ability to live on the water
napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen 117
TABLE 2 African American Keywords for Fishery Cultural Models
Life on the water 8
Make a living 8
Pay bills 7
Taking a chance 7
Steady income 6
Way of life 5
Young people 5
Hard work 5
Not enough fish 5
Getting started 4
Living in town 4
No money left 4
No future 4
Deal drugs 4
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 117
involves critically the availability of fish. If there are not enough fish, then there is no
money left and thus there is no future. This model is given in Figure 3.
The third model concerns young people in relation to life on the water. Because making
a living is necessary, young people must have sufficient financial means for getting started,
which is a major obstacle to entering the shrimp fishery. Getting started for most young
people is prohibitively expensive, since they have to invest in a boat and gear, meaning
that there is no money left and, thus, no future. Because that option is not promising, the
choices are either to move to the city, live in town, or sell drugs. Living in town is a short-
hand way of saying that in urban areas the possibility of work is much greater, enabling
one to make a living. If young people choose to stay in the rural areas where shrimp and
blue crab are caught, there are few options open to them to make a living, and some of
them do, in fact, turn to selling drugs as a way to have an income. The diagrammatic rep-
resentation of the cultural model is given in Figure 4.
118 napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen
Way of Life
Life on the Water
Make a Living
Steady Income Hard Wor
Pay Bills
Figure 2. Cultural Model of Life on the Water–Steady Income.
Way of Life
Life on the Water
Make a Living
Taking a Chance
Not Enough Fish
No Money Left
No Future
Figure 3. Cultural Model of Life on the Water–Taking a Chance.
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 118
The three models can be constructed into a larger hierarchical composite model, as
shown in Figure 5. The two major facets of making a living through life on the water, that
is, taking a chance and steady income, can be seen as coordinate to each other. Making a
living requires, of course, a steady income, but in fishing there are always risks, taking a
chance. Each has its respective submodels, to be activated depending on the nature of the
discourse and the extent to which sharing of perspective can be expected. The submodel
of young people can be embedded in the larger model in terms of making a living. Young
adults are eventually faced with having a way to support themselves, and, historically, the
way that African American youth did that was to enter a fishery. As the model shows,
they really do not have that option now. They are faced with moving to a city to seek
employment or else engage in the illegal selling of drugs.
napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen 119
Way of Life
Life on the Water
Taking a Chance
Not Enough Fish Young People
No Money Left Getting Started
No Future Living In Town Dealing Drugs
Way of Life
Life on the Water
Make a Living
Taking a Chance Steady Income Hard Wor
Not Enough Fish Young People Pay Bills
No Money Left Getting Started
No Future Living In Town Dealing Drugs
Figure 4. Cultural Model of Young People–Make a Living.
Figure 5. Collective Cultural Model of Life on the Water.
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 119
The cultural pattern of making a living through first artisanal and then commercial fish-
ing appears to be near the end for African Americans on the coast of Georgia. They pre-
dominated in each of the three historic fisheries, oyster, shrimp, and blue crab, but they
were pushed to the periphery in each of those cases because of migration to the area of
individuals who had the capital to afford recent technological advances. Still, a few fish-
ers managed to continue in the fisheries, but by the end of the 20th century, the future
prospects for life on the water appeared dim. In 1999, African Americans held only 12 of
159 licenses in the blue crab fishery, and seven of them were over the age of 70. All but
one of the crabbers was either in the same family or was related to each other through
marriage. Once those individuals retire, African Americans will no longer be in the crab
fishery. One of those individuals still harvests cluster oysters and sells them to a few cus-
tomers through his backyard fish house.
In the shrimp fishery, only 5 of approximately 400 boats in 1999 were owned and
operated by African Americans, and one of those boats has since burned and sank. While
a number of African Americans work as strikers on shrimp boats, the work is part-time
and seasonal, and only local men who have no other options work in that capacity. The
number is dwindling. Shrimping on the Georgia coast is in serious difficulty at the pres-
ent because of the volume and low cost of imported shrimp, and the future of the fish-
ery is in doubt. A few African Americans appear to have made it to the end of the fishery,
despite the marginalization, but life of the water, a way of life that spanned almost
200 years, is clearly coming to an end.
It is well worth noting that it is not only the African American fishermen that have
and are suffering a loss of livelihood, a way of life. The entire configuration of small-
scale domestic, commercial fishing in the U.S. South (and elsewhere) is being severely
curtailed and, in some instances, extinguished because of a variety of events: state and
federal fishery regulations, land development schemes, tourism and gentrification, envi-
ronmental factors, and the substitution of locally caught, wild seafood by less expensive
foreign- and domestic-farmed and wild-harvested seafood. What is sorely missing from
this occurrence is the awareness by local government management agencies (responsible
for both terrestrial and marine management) of the cultural and social histories and cur-
rent realities of small scale commercial fishing. There is little if any attention paid to
understanding what factors may be causing environmental injustice in coastal fishing
communities. In particular, federal fishery management agencies have reduced the input
and analysis of social scientists even though such analysis is required by law and many
social scientists have given their time freely attempting to improve the management
process and outcomes. As such, this paper serves to fill one more gap in the social science
literature on fishing, also providing an account that incorporates history perspective.
Historical accounts of fishing cultures in the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts add sub-
stantially to our knowledge of the place and importance of small-scale fisheries, as shown
vividly in recent work by David Griffith (1999), Ben Blount et al. (2000), and D. Robert
Cooley (2003).
120 napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 120
Historical reconstruction of cultural landscapes provided information for this
account of African American fishing on the Georgia coast for the past 150–200 years.
Keyword analysis and the consequent construction of cultural models allow for a more
detailed representation of current knowledge about life on the water in terms of the
central concepts and of their relationship to one another. Cultural models can represent
local knowledge and perspectives, initially in abstract and diagrammatical terms but
also as a framework for “filing in” historical ethnographic and ecological detail (see
Garcia-Quijano 2006, for a recent example on Puerto Rican fisheries). It is perhaps
ironic that only as the long historical period of a fishing culture comes to an end that a
more detailed cultural account has been provided. At least, however, African American
fishers can themselves contribute to the final chapter of their history of participation in
marine fisheries.
Acknowledgments. This research was supported through a National Sea Grant award, no. USDA RF
Sea97 R/FS-3.
Aitchison, Jean
2003 Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon. 3rd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
Blount, Ben G.
2001 Coastal Refugees: Marginalization of African-Americans in Marine Fisheries of Georgia. Urban
Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 29(3):285–313.
2002 Keywords, Cultural Models, and Representation of Knowledge: A Case Study from the Georgia
Coast (USA). Occasional paper no. 3, Coastal Anthropology Resources Laboratory. Athens:
Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia.
2003 Perceptions of Legitimacy in Conflict between Commercial Fishermen and Regulatory Agencies:
Some Ethical Concerns. In Values at Sea: Ethics for the Marine Environment. Dorinda Dallmeyer,
ed. Pp. 127–146. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Blount, Ben G., David Greenawalt, and Eileen Mueller
2000 Population Characteristics of the South Atlantic Bight: Demographic Changes on the Coasts of
South Carolina, Georgia and Northeast Florida, 1850–1950. Occasional paper no. 2, Athens, GA:
Coastal Anthropology Resources Laboratory.
Cooley, D. Robert
2003 Cultural Models among Blue Crab Fishermen on the Georgia Coast. Unpublished Ph.D.
Dissertation, Athens: University of Georgia.
Fleetwood, William C., Jr.
1995 Tidecraft: The Boats of South Carolina, Georgia, and Northeastern Florida. Tybee Island, GA: WBG
Marine Press.
Garcia-Quijano, Carlos
2006 Resisting Extinction: The Value of Local Ecological Knowledge for Small-Scale fishers in South-
eastern Puerto Rico. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Athens: University of Georgia.
Gibbs, Tyson, Kathleen Cargill, Leslie Sue Lieberman, and Elizabeth Reitz
1980 Nutrition in a Slave Plantation: An Anthropological Examination. Medical Anthropology 4:175–262.
Griffith, David
1999 The Estuary’s Gift: An Atlantic Coast Cultural Biography. University Park: Pennsylvania State Press.
napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen 121
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 121
Quinn, Naomi, and Dorothy Holland
1987 Introduction. In Cultural Models in Language and Thought. Dorothy Holland and Naomi Quinn,
eds. Pp. 3–42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sapir, Edward
1933 Language. Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 9:155–169.
Stewart, Mart A.
1996 “What Nature Suffers to Groe”: Life, Labor, and Landscape on the Georgia Coast, 1680–1920.
Athens: University of Georgia Press.
122 napa Bulletin 28/ African American Fishermen
NP28_09.qxd 7/18/07 11:55 M Page 122
  • ... Lexical semantics morphed into an expanded cognitive anthropology beginning in the 1970s (Agar 1990;Berlin 1992;D'Andrade 1995;Dougherty 1985;Spradley 1979Spradley , 1980Tyler 1969). An important development was the initiation of cultural models constituting an expansion of local knowledge systems into new, more abstract and complex domains (Blount 2007(Blount , 2011Blount and Kitner 2007;D'Andrade and Strauss 1992;Holland and Quinn 1987;Kempton, Boster, and Hartley 1995;Kronenfeld 2008;Paolisso, Weeks, and Packard 2013;Quinn 2005;Strauss and Quinn 1997). These studies have shown that members of social groups hold information in common, organize the information into models, and utilize the models as a shared and mutually understood structure in their communications with one another. ...
    ... Lexical semantics morphed into an expanded cognitive anthropology beginning in the 1970s (Agar 1990;Berlin 1992;D'Andrade 1995;Dougherty 1985;Spradley 1979Spradley , 1980Tyler 1969). An important development was the initiation of cultural models constituting an expansion of local knowledge systems into new, more abstract and complex domains (Blount 2007(Blount , 2011Blount and Kitner 2007;D'Andrade and Strauss 1992;Holland and Quinn 1987;Kempton, Boster, and Hartley 1995;Kronenfeld 2008;Paolisso, Weeks, and Packard 2013;Quinn 2005;Strauss and Quinn 1997). These studies have shown that members of social groups hold information in common, organize the information into models, and utilize the models as a shared and mutually understood structure in their communications with one another. ...
    ... The procedure for coding the data was to read through each interview and to record on a coding sheet whether the respondent mentioned or referred to one of the 60 topics (see Blount 2002Blount , 2011Blount and Kitner 2007). Each of the 60 topics addressed by the respondents is a representation of local knowledge, in effect, keywords. ...
    Full-text available
    Research was initiated in 2008 with the objective of developing social indicators for well-being of fishing communities. Initial steps included development and testing indicators for the concepts of dependence, gentrification, vulnerability, and resiliency in relation to nine fishing communities on the Texas Gulf Coast. Procedurally, a mixed methods design was employed, using quantitative analyses of large secondary data sets to rank coastal communities based on socioeconomic measures, and independently employing qualitative approaches to provide rankings of the nine communities. The two qualitative approaches, an informed expert description of the communities, and cognitive-based interviews in the same communities each produced rankings almost identical with each other and with the quantitative rankings. Three types of analyses yielded similar results, indicating that cognitive ethnography can be a valuable tool in the description of community resilience, vulnerability, and well-being.
  • ... In the fisheries literature, there is a considerable body of work dealing with the significance of the identity of fishers and fishing as a 'way of life' (Hviding 1996;McGoodwin 2001;Pollnac et al. 2001;Eder 2005;Blount and Kitner 2007;Gupta 2007) as well as the importance of selfactualization as an explanatory factor for fisher's resistance to move out of fisheries (Pollnac et al. 2012). An important strand is the analysis of gendered meanings and identities in fishing communities Davis 1993;Hapke and Ayyankeril 2004;Neis et al. 2005;Power 2005), with the work on smallscale fisheries in developing countries including a more comprehensive emphasis on the pursuit of livelihoods. ...
    ... Other work underlines the central place of identity in the overall functioning of fishing communities. Blount and Kitner's (2007) study of coastal shrimp fishery in Georgia, USA uses an ethnographic and linguistic approach to identify three cultural models used by African American fishers to understand fishing as 'life on the water'. One model is 'life on the water' as a 'way of making a living', which is condensed to a notion of 'paying bills' and associated with 'hard work'. ...
    ... If young people choose to stay in the rural areas where shrimp (Penaeidae) and blue crab (Callinectes sapidus, Portunidae) fisheries are the main activities, there are few options open to them to make a living, and some of them invariably turn to selling drugs. Blount and Kitner's (2007) work reveals the intersection of the material, relational and subjective dimensions in understanding how livelihood strategies are perceived and expressed within fishing communities, although they do not frame their analysis in terms of wellbeing. ...
    Full-text available
    Despite longstanding recognition that small-scale fisheries make multiple contributions to economies, societies and cultures, assessing these contributions and incorporating them into policy and decision-making has suffered from a lack of a comprehensive integrating ‘lens’. This paper focuses on the concept of ‘wellbeing’ as a means to accomplish this integration, thereby unravelling and better assessing complex social and economic issues within the context of fisheries governance. We emphasize the relevance of the three key components of wellbeing – the material, relational and subjective dimensions, each of which is relevant to wellbeing at scales ranging from individual, household, community, fishery to human-ecological systems as a whole. We review nine major approaches influential in shaping current thinking and practice on wellbeing: the economics of happiness, poverty, capabilities, gender, human rights, sustainable livelihoods, vulnerability, social capital, and social wellbeing. The concept of identity is a thread that runs through the relational and subjective components of social wellbeing, as well as several other approaches and thus emerges as a critical element of small-scale fisheries that requires explicit recognition in governance analysis. A social wellbeing lens is applied to critically review a global body of literature discussing the social, economic and political dimensions of small-scale fishing communities, seeking to understand the relevance and value addition of applying wellbeing concepts in small-scale fisheries.
  • ... In the U.S., ethnographic examples of fishing communities range from isolated, resource-dependent communities in Downeast Maine (Acheson 1988) or rural Alaska ( Wolfe and Bosworth 1994), to occupational enclaves in more industrialized cities such as Gloucester ( Miller and Van Maanen 1981) or Seattle ( Bell et al. 1978), to virtual communities based on gear, ethnicity or other non-place-based ties (Maril 1983;Wilson and McCay 1998;Allen and Gough 2006;Kitner 2006;Blount and Kitner 2007). Some communities rely on small-scale, family-based fisheries; others may be involved in extensive regional linkages with other places. ...
    ... It is also path-dependent, where historical institutions and processes limit some options for resistance and adaptation (Wiegandt 2004;Berkes 2007, 15188). As we have discussed elsewhere (Clay and Olson 2007), the social construction of vulnerability within fishing communities is varied and can involve institutions ( Apostle et al. 1998), gendered differences (Thompson 1985;Davis and Wagner 2006), ethnicity and class (LiPuma and Meltzoff 1997;Meltzhoff and Schull 1999;Juravich n.d.;Allen and Gough 2006;Kitner 2006;Blount and Kitner 2007;Masozera et al. 2007;Aizenman 2007), and labor relations (Kaplan 1999). Even fishermen utilizing similar gear and targeting similar species often have heterogeneous practices, as Acheson (2003) describes for Maine lobstermen. ...
    ... Marginal or less powerful groups, especially those that in the U.S. fall under provisions of the Environmental Justice Act (E.O. 12898), 34 will have less room for action (e.g., Kitner 2006;Blount and Kitner 2007). ...
    Full-text available
    As populations of many fish species worldwide have de-clined, the price of fuel has increased, and coastal development has mushroomed, fishing communities have suffered economic and social vulnerability. Since its 1996 re-autho-rization, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (which governs U.S. marine fisheries) has included a definition of "fishing community" as "substan-tially dependent on or substantially engaged in the harvest or processing of fishery resources to meet social and economic needs" and a requirement (National Standard 8) to minimize economic impacts and sustain participation in fisheries in these communities. These initiatives are being implemented in conjunction with a worldwide move towards ecosystem-based management. These legal and policy requirements add a new layer to theoretical discussions of "community" and "vulnerability." We review key themes and issues from the lit-erature on ecological anthropology, vulnerability, disasters, ecosystem-based management and fishing communities in the context of applied anthropological work in the U.S. Critical factors for understanding vulnerability in fishing communities are discussed and put in the context of more inclusive and holistic forms of management.
  • ... Sociocultural actors (e.g., fishermen, women who work in processing plants, traditional shellfish harvesters, fisheries biologists, etc.) interact with and experience environments in ways that shape their perceptions, beliefs, and held values toward these environments, constituting what Paolisso & Dery (2010) and Blount & Kitner (2007) call "cultural models." Cultural models are often abstract and include philosophical, spiritual, and moral views about environments, and these in turn shape the vision of how resources should be managed (Hall-Arber et al. 2009). ...
    ... Commercial fishing furthermore plays a role in shaping collective place-based and occupationally-based identities. For example, Blount & Kitner's (2007) study of elder African American fishermen who harvested shellfish from coastal Georgia show that fishing is not simply an individual economic strategy, but it also constitutes a "way of life" in these coastal communities. ...
    Environments are complex socioecological systems demanding interdisciplinary research and conservation. Despite significant progress in characterizing socioecological complexity, including important inroads for measuring human wellbeing through ecosystem services approaches, cultural interactions with ecosystems remain poorly understood. Inadequate knowledge of cultural dimensions of ecosystems challenges the ability of conservation professionals to include these considerations in their programs. Ecosystem-based conservation without cultural considerations is not only insufficient, it risks producing unaccounted negative impacts to communities and misses an opportunity to build culturally meaningful alternatives. This mini review of relevant social science identifies five key cultural dimensions of ecosystems, highlighting examples from coastal North America. These key dimensions are: meanings, values, and identities; knowledge and practice; governance and access; livelihoods; and interactions with biophysical environments. We outline guiding principles for addressing these connections in integrated conservation research and application. Finally, we discuss potential methodologies to help improve interdisciplinary assessment and monitoring of cultural dimensions of conservation.
  • ... DeZutter (2008) used similar interview techniques to extract the cultural models of teaching in U.S. communities. Moreover, Blount and Kitner (2007) analyzed interview keywords in their investigation of the cultural model of African American fishermen. ...
    This article introduces the theory of sociocultural models (TSCM) along with its propositions, historical and conceptual foundations, ontology, and the methodology for its applications in sociocultural research. Sociocultural models (SCMs) are a structured set of prescriptions for people to interpret the world, communities, other people, and themselves; they are a set of scripts for acting in accord with these interpretations. These models are developed by people's cultural communities, and they are learned and internalized by their members as validated recipes for their lives and actions. Members of communities continuously co‐construct their SCMs by enacting them through their everyday interactions. Culture is described as a distributed network of specialized SCMs that guides community members’ lives in different domains. According to the TSCM, to fully understand the nature of people’ actions and experiences, researchers first must examine the system of SCMs that these people were born into—the public aspects of SCMs. Subsequently, researchers must investigate how these people act, experience, and live through these models—the internalized aspects of SCMs—and determine what roles their autonomous agency and self‐determination play in their existence. To study SCMs, researchers use methods such as person‐centered ethnography, interviews, and experiments.
  • ... Some fishermen are motivated by a desire to preserve a sense of identity or tradition. Such fishermen may be resistant to changing their behavior in the face of new regulations (Hviding, 1996;McGoodwin and Nations, 2001;Pollnac et al., 2001Pollnac et al., , 2012Eder, 2005;Blount, 2007;Gupta, 2007;Weeratunge et al., 2014). Interventions can be designed to either take advantage of such an interest in preserving or reinforcing identity, or to change them where necessary. ...
    Full-text available
    Illegal fishing is a serious problem that threatens the sustainability of fisheries around the world. Policy makers and fishery managers often rely on the imposition of strict sanctions and relatively intensive monitoring and enforcement programs to increase the costs of illegal behavior and thus deter it. However, while this can be successful in fisheries with sufficient resources to support high levels of surveillance and effective systems for imposing penalties, many fisheries lack the resources and requisite governance to successfully deter illegal fishing. Other types of governance systems, such as customary marine tenure and co-management, rely more on mechanisms such as norms, trust, and the perceived legitimacy of regulations for compliance. More generally, the absence of such social and psychological factors that encourage compliance in any fishery can undermine the efficacy of an otherwise effective and well-designed fishery management system. Here we describe insights from behavioral science that may be helpful in augmenting and securing the effectiveness of conventional deterrence strategies as well as in developing alternative means of deterring illegal fishing in fisheries in which high levels of surveillance and enforcement are not feasible. We draw on the behavioral science literature to describe a process for designing interventions for changing specific illegal fishing behaviors. The process begins with stakeholder characterization to capture existing norms, beliefs, and modes of thinking about illegal fishing as well as descriptions of specific illegal fishing behaviors. Potential interventions that may disrupt the beliefs, norms, and thought modes that give rise to these behaviors, along with those that encourage desirable behaviors, can be developed by applying principles gleaned from the behavioral science literature. These potential interventions can then be tested in artefactual experiments, piloted with small groups of actual stakeholders and, finally, implemented at scale.
  • ... Rather, it is a clash of opposed cultural interpretations, in the sense of ''models of and for reality'' (Geertz, 1977). Anthropologists have utilized the concept of ''cultural model'' to refer to knowledge about the environment, knowledge which is structured by social organization and which has visible influence on discourses and behaviors at the community level (Blount and Kitner 2007;Paolisso and Dery, 2010). Culturally motivated behaviors can pose major problems for conservation of biological species and natural resources. ...
    Full-text available
    When the global moratorium on commercial whaling was implemented in 1986, Korea prohibited whaling; however, there was no effort to build the capacity of social institutions to guide local residents to cooperate with the policy. Utilizing a social ecology approach, this research examines the practice of eating whale meat in Ulsan, South Korea, to illustrate the importance of culture for attaining the social acceptance of wildlife conservation policy. The cultural models which influence the consumption of whale meat are here classified as representing four distinct responses to the moratorium: opposition, resistance, evasion and support. The two most important changes are the public utilization of whale meat as a symbol of an endangered culture, and the reliance on meat procured legally from accidental entanglements of whales in fishing nets (cetacean bycatch). These cultural changes have a social function, which is to impart legitimacy and acceptance to the continued consumption of whale meat, from illegal as well as legal sources. Given the cultural acceptance of whale meat, I argue that it will not be possible to eradicate the illegal market through enforcement alone. Instead, the solution is to persuade local consumers of whale meat to cooperate with the moratorium.
  • ... Placing attention at the community level enables a focus on the local scale and a holistic approach in which nature and society are linked. Our approach to CTR also benefits from prior research by environmental anthropologists who have investigated the cultural processes that mediate social relationships with their environments, especially in the context of environmental change and resource management conflicts (e.g., Blount and Kitner 2007;Crate 2011b;Paolisso and Dery 2010). Engaging CTR at the community level allows insights into why climate change and the policies designed to address it, including adaptation and mitigation, are often controversial and even polarizing within and between different societies or groups within a society. ...
    Full-text available
    The way in which people perceive climate change risk is informed by their social interactions and cultural worldviews comprising fundamental beliefs about society and nature. Therefore, perceptions of climate change risk and vulnerability along with people's "myths of nature" - that is, how groups of people conceptualize the way nature functions - influence the feasibility and acceptability of climate adaptation planning, policymaking, and implementation. This study presents analyses of cultural worldviews that broaden the current treatments of culture and climate changemitigation and adaptation decision making in communities. The authors use insights from community-based climate research and engage the Cultural Theory of Risk conceptual framework to situate community understandings of, and responses to, climate impacts. This study looks at how the issue of climate change manifests socially in four cases in the United States and Tuvalu and how ideas about climate change are produced by the institutional cultural contexts across scales from the local to the global. This approach helps us identify local and regional priorities and support the development of new relationships for adaptation research and planning by helping to diagnose barriers to climate change adaptation, assist improved communication through framing/reframing climate issues based on shared understandings and collective learning, and help move from conflict to cooperation through better negotiation of diverse worldviews.
  • Article
    Post‐civil war, African Americans developed communities in Georgia where traditional fishing practices created family fleets, processing plants, and other self‐sustaining fisheries work. The decline in African American fishermen since that period has been attributed to increased fishing costs, little access to capital, and a reluctance to have children work in labor‐intensive fisheries professions (Blount, MAST (Maritime Studies), 5, 2007, 5). Additionally, fluctuations in commercial landings may have had a negative influence. This study tested these hypotheses by comparing first‐hand accounts from current and former African American fishermen and their families with trends in Georgia fisheries data (1950–2015). Analyses of the histories and landings data indicated that African Americans fished the most abundant species during the years described by the participants (1950–1985) and that reasons for fishing or not fishing could be classified into 8 major themes related to work experience, Gullah Geechee values, and generational shifts.
    • Naomi Quinn
    • Dorothy Holland
    Quinn, Naomi, and Dorothy Holland 1987 Introduction. In Cultural Models in Language and Thought. Dorothy Holland and Naomi Quinn, eds. Pp. 3-42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sapir, Edward 1933 Language. Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 9:155-169.
  • Population Characteristics of the South Atlantic Bight: Demographic Changes on the Coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Northeast Florida
    • Ben G Blount
    • David Greenawalt
    • Eileen Mueller
    Blount, Ben G., David Greenawalt, and Eileen Mueller 2000 Population Characteristics of the South Atlantic Bight: Demographic Changes on the Coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Northeast Florida, 1850-1950. Occasional paper no. 2, Athens, GA: Coastal Anthropology Resources Laboratory.
  • Tidecraft: The Boats of South Carolina, Georgia, and Northeastern Florida
    • William C Fleetwood
    • Jr
    Fleetwood, William C., Jr. 1995 Tidecraft: The Boats of South Carolina, Georgia, and Northeastern Florida. Tybee Island, GA: WBG Marine Press.
  • What Nature Suffers to Groe
    • Mart A Stewart
    Stewart, Mart A. 1996 "What Nature Suffers to Groe": Life, Labor, and Landscape on the Georgia Coast, 1680-1920. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
  • Resisting Extinction: The Value of Local Ecological Knowledge for Small-Scale fishers in Southeastern Puerto Rico
    • Garcia-Quijano
    Garcia-Quijano, Carlos 2006 Resisting Extinction: The Value of Local Ecological Knowledge for Small-Scale fishers in Southeastern Puerto Rico. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Athens: University of Georgia.
  • The Estuary's Gift: An Atlantic Coast Cultural Biography
    • David Griffith
    Griffith, David 1999 The Estuary's Gift: An Atlantic Coast Cultural Biography. University Park: Pennsylvania State Press. napa B u l l e t i n 2 8 / A f r i c a n A m e r i c a n F i s h e r m e n
  • Cultural Models, and Representation of Knowledge: A Case Study from the Georgia Coast (USA)
    • Keywords
    Keywords, Cultural Models, and Representation of Knowledge: A Case Study from the Georgia Coast (USA). Occasional paper no. 3, Coastal Anthropology Resources Laboratory. Athens: Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    The history of the participation of African-Americans in the coastal marine fisheries of Georgia (USA) is described from a cultural landscape perspective. The nature of the participation was tied to characteristics of landscape, and a series of landscapes existed over a period of 250 years. In the plantation period, African-Americans were virtually the only marine fishermen. Fishing was subsistence and low-level artisanal. In the postbellum period, that pattern was expanded in scope, since fishing was one of the few livelihoods available to freed African-Americans. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, however, African-Americans were marginalized in the oyster fishery, due primarily to commercialization. The new landscape included migrant fishermen who had more capital and more modern technology. During the twentieth century, similar developments occurred first in the shrimp and then the blue crab fisheries. Marginalization was due to lack of resources to compete effectively in the newly mechanized and capitalized landscapes but also to cultural patterns of risk management. African-Americans were less willing to take capitalization risks if loss of livelihood was a possibility. Their modes of fishing, however, were less destructive of the environment and were more sustainable in the long term. The mechanized commercial fisheries have either collapsed or are under considerable economic and environmental stress at the present.