When Culture & Seafood Sustainability Collide

Both sides of my family have been in the United States for generations. So when I was younger, I was always confused as to how and why my paternal grandmother had a Jamaican sounding accent when she was born in South Carolina.

It wasn't until I saw the movie Daughters of the Dust that I understood. Her soft lilt was the same as theirs. My grandmother moved to Boston when she was young, but her heritage was Gullah/Geechee, so it is mine too. My family shares the migration story in the movie, but neither me nor my father  know the creole language.

I haven't yet been to South Carolina, but I have been researching my family history and have been learning more. Recently I found a very informative website called Gullah/Geechee Nation. Here's an excerpt below.
The Gullah/Geechee Nation exist from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL. It encompasses all of the Sea Islands and thirty to thirty-five miles inland to the St. John’s River. On these islands, people from numerous African ethnic groups linked with indigenous Americans and created the unique Gullah language and traditions from which later came “Geechee.” The Gullah/Geechee people have been considered “a nation within a nation” from the time of chattel enslavement in the United States until they officially became an internationally recognized nation on July 2, 2000.
Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine is the Chieftess and elected Head-of-State for the Gullah/Geechee Nation. In 2008, she presented in Paris at a United Nations conference to further the preservation of the story of the Gullah/Geechee people. Her accomplishments are many and her knowledge of history has been tapped for over a dozen films.

From Queen Quet's information online, I learned about the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association, whose products include, "whiting, mullet, spot, oysters, clams, shrimp, crabs, and more freshly caught from the waterways of the Gullah/Geechee Nation."

Their Mission is:
1) To advocate for the rights of Gullah/Geechee and African American fishermen and fishery workers of the southeast

2) To share traditional fishing methods with the next generation

3) To restore access to the areas and factories needed to sustain the seafood industry in the Gullah/Geechee Nation and southeastern United States
In the video from 2010, Queen Quet sails the Port Royal Sound with Captain Mark Smith, President of the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association on a shrimp trawler.

Smith states that the shrimp industry is dying and he is very concerned with regulations placing limits on his work and being able to "drag nets" when he is 80 or 90 years old. Quet asks him if any of the legislators are in the industry. He says that they are not and she responds by saying, "People who don't do what you do set the laws for what you do."

According to a presentation by Fisheries Specialist Amber Von Harten, the shrimping industry in South Carolina goes back to "The Mosquito Fleet" manned by African Americans in 1850.

John H. Tibbetts wrote an article called Black Waterman and Cooks Created our Seafood Cuisine which gives the details below.
Charleston’s “Mosquito Fleet” sailed their small fishing canoes out of the harbor every morning until a 1940 hurricane destroyed most of the boats. The fleet never recovered. After World War II, some of the men found jobs on the newer diesel-powered boats that trawled for shrimp.

For hundreds of years, the Gullah people—slaves and their descendants who lived primarily along coastal rivers and on sea islands—created or enriched the lowcountry’s seafood recipes and flavors. They supplemented their diet and income by oystering, shrimping, crabbing, and fishing.

Gullah cooks made seafood dishes (shrimp and grits, Frogmore stew, and she-crab soup) by blending European, African, and North American ingredients and recipes.

A common lowcountry dish is a pilau (pronounced “perlow” by the Gullah people), a kind of stew.
Many of us became familiar with shrimping through the movie Forrest Gump, much of which was filmed in these same South Carolina waters.

But according to Save Our Seas Foundation, overfishing is a problem and the fishing method used to catch shrimp is harmful to the environment. See an edited excerpt below.
Shrimp (and many deep-sea fish) are caught using a fishing method called bottom trawling, which usually involves dragging a net between two trawl doors weighing several tons each across the ocean bed. This has a destructive impact on seabed communities, particularly on fragile deep water coral – a vital part of the marine ecosystem that scientists are just beginning to understand. The effect of bottom trawling on the seafloor has been compared to forest clear-cutting, and the damage it causes can be seen from space. The UN Secretary General reported in 2006 that 95 percent of damage to seamount ecosystems worldwide is caused by deep sea bottom trawling.
South Carolina has taken steps at conservation and has set a legal limit of "48 quarts (heads-on) or 29 quarts (heads-off) per boat or seining party."

According to Captain Smith, after expenses he makes $1,000.00 a day. That is a good living. Jobs are scarce and since this 2010 video, conservation efforts may have further impacted his ability to shrimp and earn a living.

We all want to protect the environment and eat sustainable seafood, but there is also the reality of the people who are being shut out because of the necessary changes. There are no easy answers.

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