2018 Georgia Oral Histories Research project

Thursday,  March 22, 2018 – Written by Alexis McGhee, Julia Thomas, & Ahmauri Williams-Alford

Waking up to an early start, we began our day at the UGA Marine Extension and Sea Grant (UGA MAREX) facility where we received an informational lecture by Bryan Fluech, the associate Marine Extension Director on the Georgia’s coast and fishing industry. An interesting topic and huge takeaway from Mr. Fluech’s lecture was the impact blackgill has on Georgia shrimp and how this affects the industry. Blackgill is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite known as ciliate, that negatively impacts the respiratory system of the shrimp. As a method of understanding and research, the UGA MAREX team has developed a smartphone app called Shrimp Black Gill Tracker available to fishermen to track blackgill, in an effort to get a better perspective on the extent and behavior of the disease.

After our morning lecture at MAREX, we headed to DNR to learn about some of the behind-the-scenes action of fishing and shrimping, including the different boundaries for state, federal, and international waters along the Southeast and Atlantic coasts, different permits and licenses available to commercial fishermen, and benefits of introducing the blanket permits. Getting a different perspective and more background information on the industry was invaluable.

After our educational morning, we headed to the Yellow Deli for lunch. The place had a pleasant charm with its homemade food, welcoming staff, and beautiful indoor and outdoor décor. Some of us sat outside by the fire pit to enjoy the nice weather. One of our student researchers, Mpume, taught the rest of us a trick to divert the smoke away. She held out a peace sign and angled it towards the smoke, making it shift away from her. We were amazed and spent the rest of lunch practicing our newfound talents.

Peduncle! We got to experience ‘Life on the Water’ as Mr. Fluech, Captain Lindsey, Captain Truck, Captain Marty, and Marine Tech Lisa took us out on the Georgia Bulldog research trawl where we got first-hand experience of shrimp trawling. Using the tri-nets, we brought up a number of catch ranging from crab, jellyfish, and stingrays. This is where we adopted two horseshoe crabs, Marvin and Linda, who the UGA team kept to use for teaching purposes. We got to see several and learn how to distinguish between males and females by looking to see if the shape of their front claws looked like boxing gloves or not – after that, as horseshoe crabs came out of the net we were on the lookout for the Floyd Mayweather of crabs. Apart from the awesome bycatch, we got the chance to test our skills at heading the Georgia White shrimp! We have some potential as future shrimp headers!

After our trip out on the water, Captain Lindsey showed us the warehouse at the MAREX where they house the TEDs. It was interesting to see the different types of TEDs and BRDs that they had on display after learning about them during our morning lecture and expedition on the Georgia Bulldog. It was also interesting to hear about it from Captain Lindsey after getting a glimpse of his early work in a knot-tying video Mr. Fluech showed us that morning.

Last on our itinerary for the day was Poteet’s Seafood! We got a wonderful tour of the facility and got to see all the steps in processing shrimp. We also learned about the difference between fresh and frozen shrimp and how on the coast fresh shrimp is readily accessible, but at inland stores and markets the fresher shrimp are often actually the frozen ones because of the time it takes to transport the shrimp inland from the coast.

Overall, the day was a really great experience! Learning more about the industries in Georgia was great background information for our oral history interviews tomorrow and seeing some aspects of it first-hand was both a fun and educational experience! Going out on the Georgia Bulldog and learning all about the shrimp as well as different bycatch species was really exciting, and we really enjoyed getting to touch and handle the different species we encountered. Plus, we united Marvin and Linda. After today, there’s a general consensus on the excitement for the rest of this trip, and the experiences we are all ready to share.

Friday, March 23, 2018 – Written by Kendra Cooper, Nompumelelo Hlophe, & Erin Scooler

Our day started early with many of us waking up before 7:00am to get out of the hotel by 8:00 and arrive at the Sea Grant facility by 8:30am. It was the first day of conducting oral history interviews and all of us were chomping at the bit to meet our first fisherman. The majority of us had to pour ourselves a generous cup of caffeinated joe in order to perform at our maximum capacity. Presenting yourself in the best light possible at 8 am sometimes takes a little extra effort. Luckily for us the fishermen were ready, willing, and excited about participating in the interview process.

Although all of us had to complete the required training to participate in this research project this was the first time many of us had actually conducted a full oral history interview. We had to learn the hard way that there is no one perfect formula for the ideal interview. An oral history is someone’s life, and that is not always going to fit into a simple set of predetermined questions.

What was really stimulating about the interviews today is that we had a good number of fishermen who came in to be interviewed.  These are men and women who left what they were doing to come and tell us their life stories about fishing.  It was amazing how a lot of them were actually willing to tell us about their fishing career and childhood.  Although they seemed a bit skeptical at first with one cup of coffee and a little conversation they were ready to chat away.  Most of them would be so comfortable with us that they would start telling us really interesting stories before the interview has officially started and we found ourselves having to stop them just so they can tell us again during the interview.  While some interviewers were busy conducting interviews, others had an opportunity to go out to the dock to meet some of the fishermen and they came back with some great stories about how most of the fishermen come up with names for their boats.  They also learned how fishermen unload their shrimp off the boats and got the chance to see the machines used to clean and divide shrimp by size.

Our goal with this research project is to gather information about fishing traditions and futures on the coast of Georgia. We basically interviewed all the fishermen about the past, present, and future of the fishing industry as they had experienced it. A majority of the fishermen that we interviewed were primarily or exclusively shrimpers, so a lot of our information is centered around that fishery.

Fishing was a central part in many of their communities growing up. Many of the interviewees that participated were at least a second-generation fisherman and several learned their trade from their parents at a young age. Back when a better part of the fishermen we interviewed began, fishing was a lucrative business to be a part of. This meant that not only did they want to continue with the family business, but they also knew they could make a decent profit from it.

Nowadays, the fishermen’s view of the industry and its future is overwhelmingly bleak. They describe, in detail, how difficult it is to make a profit off of shrimping with the price of shrimp going down as the price of fuel and supplies steadily increases. Somedays fishermen can lose money if they haven’t caught enough shrimp to pay the dock and their crew. One man even went so far as to say that he would not recommend any young person pursue a career in fishing, because it is so hard to make a living in this day and age.

But even with such dismal views of fishing today and how close many believe the industry is to its inevitable collapse almost all of the fishermen said they would stick it out to the end. They take great pride in their trade and are willing to fight tooth and nail to continue doing what they love. When asked about what the most rewarding part their job is to them we would receive answers like “the freedom of it” and “working hard and earning my money.”

Tonight we’re staying at the adorable Open Gates Bed and Breakfast in Darien, Georgia. It’s an old house with several uniquely decorated rooms. Each room brings out the charm of the house. I think we’re all excited to spend two nights in this quaint place (even if some of us have homework to do)!

Saturday, March 24, 2018 – Written by Victoria Barrett, Scott Clark, & Danielle Sayre

Our day began buggy and with a bit of uncertainty that we were going to be able to pull off this last day of interviews. The Inn we stayed at made a fantastic breakfast for the group with a beautiful fruit spread and crepes. We sat around at breakfast discussing the day before and what was hopefully to come that day as well. A little before our first fishermen were supposed to arrive, we loaded up in the van and drove over to the Darien Telephone Company.

We were a little worried about space today! The conference room everyone piled into was tight and there weren’t a lot of other places to go for interviews. We ended up setting up chairs in the machine room, a garage, even outside in the shade. As we began setting up our interview spaces and resting areas for the day we did battle with the swarms of sand gnats that are native to Southeast Georgia. In the middle of our losing battle we turned to see several fishermen approaching, excited and ready to share their stories. Our concerns over the possibility of not having enough fishermen to interview was quickly subdued and replaced by excitement. Some interviews brought us to tears, while others laughter, but all were cherished. Between interviews students would sit with each other to discuss their feelings about their interviews and even share their own personal stories.

After several more interviews we came to the end of our allotted time at our interview venue and made our way to a dock where we could observe the final process of soft-shell crabbing, waiting for the crabs to shed their last exoskeleton. As we looked over one of the many crab-filled tanks, dock manager Tommy Brown explained the process while we passed around a crab that was cracking its last shell. We even watched as another crab began backing out of its shell and eventually saw it abandon the shell completely. We touched the soft and hard shells of the crabs, and really got a grasp of how much time and work it takes to make sure that the crabbers and docks produce the very best product.

Afterwards, we were delighted to find that several of the crabbers at the dock were interested in being interviewed and invited a few of us to conduct the interviews on their boats! While a few students conducted interviews, the remainder of the students sat at the dock and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Many people moved past us as they worked on painting and cleaning the boats, a very labor-intensive work, for the upcoming “Blessing of the Fleet”. Our interest grew more and more about this important annual celebration. We had heard so many fishermen talk fondly of this event, that we decided to look up days and times so a few of us could make plans to attend.

After we said goodbye to our very last interviewees we gathered ourselves back into the van and made our way to Skipper’s Fish Camp where we again enjoyed a beautiful dockside view, but this time with a gorgeous sunset. Once our stomachs were full of delicious food we enjoyed a quick game of cornhole, where only a few of us showed any real skill, but we all had fun trying. When we got back to our bed and breakfast we shared our favorite parts of the day, laughed hard enough to make our faces hurt, hugged, and scratched our bug bites.

Sunday, March 25, 2018 – Written by Savannah Bell, Amber Gosser & Angelique Jennings

This morning we woke up with heavy hearts because it was our last day out on the coast. Breakfast was at 9:00 am, and even though we were all sad that it would be our last breakfast together, we were thankful for the chance to sleep in after having two long days of interviews. Over the course of thirty minutes (because getting up is hard) we trickled into the dining room. We were greeted with the wonderful smell of food coming from the kitchen, and we all began to happily devour the delicious fruit, pastries, and muffins that were waiting for us.

Once everyone had already eaten a decent amount of food and had some coffee, we decided it was time to debrief our trip. Before getting into the more logistical aspects of where we should go from here in the research, we took a few minutes to share some of our favorite interviewing moments with each other. We talked a lot about some of the patterns that we already recognized in the data, and some things that we may need to begin searching for in future research projects on this topic.

Finally, it was time to pack up and get ready to leave for church. We spent a few minutes loading everything up and making sure that we got at least one group photo before piling into the van and driving off.

We arrived at the church a little after 10:00 am and were immediately greeted with warm smiling faces. Captain Truck, who is  Deacon McIverson at this church, introduced us to every member of the church. As they came in, everyone greeted and welcomed us openly, even the Pastor. One of the most noteworthy greetings was from the church’s musician. He had an amazing laugh and gave high fives and applauded us for staying in school, while also telling us how youthful we looked. What was unique about this service was the fact that today was Palm Sunday. This was signified by the palm leaves that were on the door window.

We then entered the church in and were greeted by chandeliers all over the ceiling and stained glass windows that lined the walls of the building. The ushers attended to us passing out pamphlets, fans, and envelopes for the offering. At that point you could see that the deacons were lining up in front of the choir, and they began to sing together. Service starts at 11:00 am, but people were still trickling in. We heard a couple of hymns from the choir and the musician we met early was leading on the piano upfront. The pastor allowed the choir to sing further and then he began to sing the Lord’s prayer.

Soon after the Lord’s prayer, both Captain Truck and two female ushers relayed the news from the church. In this announcement they mentioned our presence within the church and how grateful they were to have us there. They invited us to come back at anytime and constantly mentioned our presence in the church which made us feel so welcome and incorporated in their environment. Not too long after that, the pastor began preaching about the dark times you may go through in life and you could see it really resonated with everyone in the church as they were echoing him and clapping. He called upon the church to do a large prayer at the steeple with the musician singing in the background. Overall, we really enjoyed our time at church and felt so welcomed by all the members.

After church, we headed to Mr. Charlie’s restaurant, the Fish Dock. It was amazing food, wonderful atmosphere, and a perfect end to our weekend. Around the table we talked about what a wonderful experience we had talking with all the fishermen and captains. We moved around the table so that some of us could better hear Mr. Charlie’s stories, much to the confusion of the server.

At the end of the meal, which was delicious, Mr. Charlie showed us around the property and explained some of the processes of clam farming and the processes that the clams go through before they can be packaged.

Perhaps the best, although coldest, part was when Mr. Charlie took us outside and gave us a mini tour. We got to see his airboat that Dr. Tookes informed us, “always conveniently sinks” when she comes. We got to see the clam boats and Mr. Charlie walked us through what the clams go through after being harvested, which is no small task. When Mr. Charlie wanted to show us the blood arcs (a form of clam with hemoglobin) he opened the freezer. The freezer is working perfectly well as it sent more cool air our way.

At the end of our short tour, he took us into the office to see a map that has all his clam beds marked. That’s where we saw a very cute picture of a dog named Trouble. We inquired about where the precious Trouble was and Mr. Charlie informed us that he was probably under his truck so, much to our dismay, we wouldn’t get to meet Trouble on this trip. As we pulled out of the parking lot we were told that Trouble was not under the truck and Mr. Charlie was slightly worried, however, we climbed into the van to head home.

The van trip home was quieter than normal (thankfully) as we were all exhausted and most of us fell asleep right after the van started moving. We reached the Carroll Building parking lot about two hours later to find that Dr. Tookes somehow beat us back. We parted ways having learned so much from so many people, not only gaining new insights but also new friends.

Also, we were informed upon arrival that Trouble was found and that he and Mr. Charlie were off to make a fire.

%d bloggers like this: