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



A challenge in fisheries research is development of a rigorous and reliable method for representing 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.