Tangled Lines: the Origins, Performance, and Effects of Commercial and Recreational Fishing Discourses in Carteret County, North Carolina
Through a case study of Carteret County, North Carolina, this research explores historic and contemporary narratives about fishery resource-use issues (e.g., conflicts over ocean spaces and species, disputes over fisheries governance, competing claims about the value of fish and fishing) in order to contribute to nature-society research in the fields of political ecology, cultural and economic geography, and environmental history. This project has three main objectives: (1) To analyze how historic narratives about fish and fishing have changed over the past century; (2) To evaluate the resource-use narratives of contemporary commercial and recreational fishers; and (3) To examine the process of state fisheries policymaking.
This project employed discourse analysis to analyze historic newspaper articles, contemporary interviews with commercial and recreational fishers, and North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission meeting records. This research showed increasing frictions between commercial and recreational fishers over time, precipitated by state regulatory decisions and increasingly divergent interpretations by fishers of the proper roles for fish in environmental, economic, and social systems. Commercial and recreational fishers had distinct ways of thinking about fishery resources, shaped by their personal fishing histories as well as larger socioeconomic trends. In particular, though both types of fishers would agree that `fish are valuable public resources that should not be wasted,' their definitions of value, public, and waste were very different. Further, both recreational and commercial narratives are expressed within the policy process, and most policymaker decisions are compromises between commercial and recreational arguments. Political alliances frequently shift, but Division of Marine Fisheries staff (and their reports) often display substantial power to influence decision-making. Fish stock assessments often serve as objects around which moral arguments are made about how fisheries should be managed and allocated.
Overall, this research indicates that valuing nature also means valuing particular types of interactions between human and nonhuman nature (in this case fish). Further, different modes of interacting with fishery resources over decades have worked to separate recreational and commercial fishers socially and politically (leading to clashes where they overlap spatially). Where these cultural politics matter most is in struggles over the purpose of different types of fish and the meaning of central concepts in fisheries management, as the outcomes have implications for both the practical use of resources and the character and scale of governing institutions.
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