2021 Boat Stories Research Trip

In November of 2021, eight Anthropology students from Georgia Southern University set out for Georgia’s coast to learn more about commercial fishing, and to ask fishers to tell us their Boat Stories. Below are our thoughts on this project.

Student Research Team at The Fish Dock Bar & Grill in November of 2021 (L-R: Megan Bull, Kassidy Gunn, Yhambria Simmons, Project Manager Jamekia Collins, PI Dr. Sweeney Tookes, Sam Sheppard, Sierra Sutton, Kim Singley, Amber Chulawat, and Fred Lee) (Photo Credit: Co-PI Bryan Fluech).

Thursday 11/11/2021– Written by: Megan Bull and Sierra Sutton

Today we learned all about the Georgia coast lines and where we’re positioned in the St. Simon’s Sound. We learned that estuaries are spots where the ocean salt water and rivers/streams freshwater combine to form something called brackish water. Brackish water is water that has a salinity that is less than typical ocean salinity but greater than freshwater. This forms an environment that is unique and provides a living space to several specially adapted forms of life. This includes baby shrimp that are in their plankton stage and get pushed by the current into the estuaries. Because of these vulnerable baby shrimp (and some other factors) shrimpers are no longer allowed to trawl for shrimp in the sounds, in order to allow shrimp populations to grow. 

We went out on the Georgia Bulldog, which is a research vessel. While we were on the Georgia Bulldog we were allowed to explore the ship and learn more about the shrimping process. One big thing we did was trawl for shrimp. During this process we threw the nets in the water to scoop up shrimp, fish, and other things in the ocean. After trawling the net for a short while we threw in the hook and pulled it back onto the boat, then we dumped out our catch and started separating the sealife (and mud).

Yhambria Simmons pulling in the try-net while trawling for shrimp (Photo Credit: Sam Sheppard)

(Photo Credits: Sam Sheppard)

After separating out all the different critters we threw back the ones that were unable to be kept and kept the others to study. The crew then taught us how to head the shrimp, then one by one we all started to head the shrimp. After we finished heading the first load of shrimp we then looked back at some of the other creatures we kept for research, including some crabs and shrimp. We learned how to tell different species of sea life apart and how to determine the sex of many of them. A little while after this the crew came out of the cabin of the ship with some freshly boiled shrimp that we had just caught and headed only a little while ago. As we headed back towards the docks we all stood around on the Georgia Bulldog eating our fresh shrimp and watching the seagulls and ships pass us by.

Dr. Sweeney Tookes and team eating fresh shrimp on the Georgia Bulldog (Photo Credit: Sam Sheppard)

We took a tour of the shrimp house off the dock, where the shrimp are brought in from the boats and packaged with ice in boxes. After getting to look around, we walked the dock with the working boats docked and found out that years before, the boats might be five deep. Now, there is only a single-file line down the dock.

We moved over to DNR, the Department of Natural Resources, and learned quite a lot. The shrimping season cannot open any earlier than May 15th, however it usually doesn’t open until mid-June. State waters consist of 0-3 miles out and everything past that is federal waters. In state waters, fishing can only occur between sun-up and sun-down. However, in federal waters, shrimping can be done day and night. People can go out with large boats and spend up to sixty days fishing, although there are not many that are able to do that.

Our tour of the Georgia Bulldog was among our favorite things from today. It was the first time we have ever had the chance to look around a boat like this, especially with cameras. We were able to climb down into the bottom of the bow where the lower bunks were and explore the various rooms and check out the riggings. 

While we were on the boat today, we got to spend time with Captain Lindsey Parker and talk about how his life is going. He explained how the radar worked and what depressions would look like on the screens. The screens showed our orientation as we moved through the map and the water depth, as well as what could be seen on either side of the boat. Captain Lindsey told some students about his life and his history of fishing and how he ended up on the Georgia Bulldog.

We think something that surprised us the most was the other sea life we saw in the shrimp nets. Our first pull had a lot of shrimp, but our later ones had less. There was a variety of fish, some crabs, and the most surprising to us were the squid. We were taking count of what was present in our catch, and we held two of the squid, even getting squid ink on our hands. We learned about some invasive species, specifically a tiger shrimp which is so much bigger than the ones we were catching that the tiger shrimp would actually eat the smaller and native shrimp. 

Bryan Fluech comparing a large tiger shrimp to a local white shrimp– the tiger shrimp is significantly larger!   (Photo Credit: Sam Sheppard)

Seeing the process first hand really helped us solidify the things we learned during our training sessions!

Friday 11/12/2021– Written by: Kassidy Gunn and Yhambria Simmons

After a great night of beauty rest (where many of us dreamed about the trip on the Bulldog, and even beheading shrimp in our sleep), we were more than ready to start off the day to talk to fishermen and hear their boat stories. But things don’t always go as planned, waking up to a bright and early morning maybe great for many, especially for the fishermen, but suck for the interviewers. Upon awakening, we completed our morning routines and then headed to the lobby for breakfast. 

We arrived at the UGA Sea Grant Facility at 9 in morning, ready to conduct interviews, except there were no fishermen in sight. Luckily, the fishermen took advantage to trawl in the great weather and hopefully achieved a good catch. We had the opportunity to make last minute adjustments to our interviews and recording devices. Most importantly, we were aided with plenty of coffee and encouragement from our reptile friends. During the “dead time” Brian Fluech gave an excellent tour in the warehouse outside of the dock. Fluech showed us the various styles of former TEDs and BRDs nets. Next, we had the chance to observe and pet the reptiles in the pilot laboratory, which we specifically named “Turtle Time”. Upon entering the reptile room, we noticed several species of snakes, two alligators, and around six groups of turtles. We were ecstatic to hold and take selfies with the small turtles.  “Dead time” came out to be positive, and motivated us to conduct excellent interviews about boats. 

Sam and Amber holding turtles in the reptile lab (Photo Credit: Kassidy Gunn).

Kassidy holding a turtle in the reptile lab (with Amber and Megan in the background) (Photo Credit: Yhambria Simmons)

Around 11:30 we began to interview fishermen. We can say listening to their “Boat Stories”  has definitely been an experience. We’ve learned so much about the fishermen today. They exceeded our expectations with animated stories about experiences with sharks, expensive boat repairs and a strict commitment to remain in the fishing industry; even when going through hardship. One thing we learned, is the more interviews you conduct, the less nervous you become. Most of us conducted around two-to-three interviews today. Many of us grew more comfortable prompting additional questions outside of the interview guide.

Surprisingly, some of the fishermen used identical analogies. For instance, some stated how the high maintenance of a boat is like taking care of a wife, which is understanding, because the fishermen invest so much time and money in their boats to improve their profit. While reflecting on our interviews, we better understand the correlations between our three training sessions prior to the trip and the information the fishers provided. Many fishers discussed their experiences with how strict the regulations had become over the past few decades such as, the closing of the sounds. Lastly, fishers mentioned how the larger steel boats, also called “million dollar boats”, have an advantage over “smaller boats” by taking all the shrimp, therefore all the profit. 

Group picture on roof of Sea Grant building, including a stick figure of Jamekia, who drew herself in (Photo Credit: Brian Fluech)

Although interviews came to a close around 5pm, we were still able to create some fun by going on top of the roof at UGA MarEx/Georgia Sea Grant and enjoying the sunset. After our photoshoot with the sunset, we drove over to The Marshside Grill and stuffed our faces. The majority of the seafood featured on the menu was provided by local fishermen, excluding the scallops and crab. We’ve come to realize that the coastal communities have a camaraderie when supporting each other’s businesses to increase the local economy. After eating the freshly caught shrimp from yesterday and the shrimp from tonight, we understand the fisher’s reference when they say that the quality and taste are better than the imports eaten on the “hill” (i.e. inland). We ended dinner with a sweet dessert and celebrated a fellow Anthro student’s birthday. After a long day of conducting interviews, our research team headed back to the hotel and discussed our strengths and weaknesses. This reflection will allow us to improve our interviewing skills for tomorrow. To conclude the night, many of us downloaded photos and labelled interviews in the hotel lounge.

Group selfie with Brian Fluech on top of the Sea Grant building (Photo Credit: Brian Fluech)

Saturday 11/13/2021– Written by: Samantha Sheppard and Kim Singley

Today we spent our day in Darien at Charlie Phillip’s Restaurant The Fish Dock Bar and Grill.  We had a pretty good start to our day. Everyone had breakfast in the lobby around eight o’clock and we split up to get our last interview in Brunswick done.  Amber and Sierra graciously went back to the UGA Marine Extension/Georgia Sea Grant building to do an interview with a fisher who could not show up yesterday. The rest of us made the decision to get Starbucks on the way to Darien to stay alert and attentive after two very fun filled days. We parked the van across three parking spots, got our coffee and went on our way. Jamekia and Kim went in first to view the restaurant and figure out where interviews would take place. 

Charlie Phillip’s restaurant where we conducted interviews and ate dinner (Photo credit: Sam Sheppard)

Once they saw the rooms, everyone came in and we set up shop. Upon our arrival, two fishermen, Bill Harris and Jimmy Moore, had already arrived.  While they walked around and we set up, we got to see dolphins through the large windows in the room we were using. We were all very happy and shocked to see two dolphins playing by an island in the marsh. They played for about an hour and Kim and Yhambria sat in awe the whole time. We also got to see many people on their boats fishing or just going for a joy ride. There was a sunken boat by the island. You could see the whole thing during low tide but it was fully covered when high tide came around noon. A lot of people came to dock their boats so they could enjoy lunch at Charlie Phillip’s restaurant. 

It was a very interview heavy day.  We started interviewing the first two fishermen almost immediately when we arrived. Jimmy Moore was a mentor to Bill Harris and Bill owns the dock next to the restaurant. They are two very important people in the fishing community and it felt very significant that we got their history documented in our research study. After the first two interviews were done, Bryan, Sierra and Amber arrived to join us for the rest of the interviews.

Robert Todd came in around eleven thirty and shortly after that Darrell Gale arrived for his interview. Both men come from a long line of fishermen and have owned and worked on many vessels.  Both gave us their extensive knowledge on the history of boats in the area.  While Darrell was giving an extensive oral history report, Robert Everson, Captain Truck and Charlie Phillips all got interviewed as well.  Captain Truck’s interview was very informative and interesting. He discussed his boats and more about how Covid-19 affected the shrimpers.

After these interviews a few of us walked around exploring the restaurant and discovering many hidden rooms, while waiting for the last interview to be finished.  We went down to the dock around 3:30 to take in the views and embrace the landscape.  Kim found a fish vertebrae on the fishing dock.  This could be because at Charlie’s restaurant you can bring in your own fish and they will cook it for you.  He offers his freshest catch or yours to be indulged in at his restaurant.  Bryan then showed some of us the secret rooms attached to the upstairs part of the restaurant. Charlie Phillips was the last interview to be completed.  

This is the small treasure– fish vertebrae– we found on the dock (Photo credit: Kim Singley)

We decided this would be a great time to take group photos. We went to the roof and found even more rooms and a breathtaking view.  We took some group photos then quickly left due to the gnats and our eagerness for Charlie’s fresh catch at dinner.  We gathered our things and had dinner downstairs.  We had a great time laughing and talking about our long day at work and drove home a little after seven o’clock exhausted and ready to rest.  

We love that we got to have such a wonderful interview experience and enjoyed such a great view.  We feel connected to the people we met and we hope that what we have done in these past few days can help them with the future of their work and the community of people they are involved with.  We enjoyed all the laughs and connections we have shared with each other.  We hope that what we have done will last a lifetime and contribute to the documentation of history for Georgia fishermen. 

Research team photo wearing our Boat Stories shirts (Photo credit: Bryan Fluech).

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