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Buoyancy on the Bayou

Buoyancy on the Bayou: Shrimpers Face the Rising Tide of Globalization

Jill Ann Harrison
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Buoyancy on the Bayou
    Book Description:

    Over the past several decades, shrimp has transformed from a luxury food to a kitchen staple. While shrimp-loving consumers have benefited from the lower cost of shrimp, domestic shrimp fishers have suffered, particularly in Louisiana. Most of the shrimp that we eat today is imported from shrimp farms in China, Vietnam, and Thailand. The flood of imported shrimp has sent dockside prices plummeting, and rising fuel costs have destroyed the profit margin for shrimp fishing as a domestic industry.

    In Buoyancy on the Bayou, Jill Ann Harrison portrays the struggles that Louisiana shrimp fishers endure to remain afloat in an industry beset by globalization. Her in-depth interviews with more than fifty individuals working in or associated with shrimp fishing in a small town in Louisiana offer a portrait of shrimp fishers' lives just before the BP oil spill in 2010, which helps us better understand what has happened since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

    Harrison shows that shrimp fishers go through a careful calculation of noneconomic costs and benefits as they grapple to figure out what their next move will be. Many willingly forgo opportunities in other industries to fulfill what they perceive as their cultural calling. Others reluctantly leave fishing behind for more lucrative work, but they mourn the loss of a livelihood upon which community and family structures are built. In this gripping account of the struggle to survive amid the waves of globalization, Harrison focuses her analysis at the intersection of livelihood, family, and community and casts a bright light upon the cultural importance of the work that we do.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6579-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-10)

    In April on the bayou, shrimp fishers arrive at the docks early to prepare their boats for the upcoming May season, the busiest time of the year. But April 2010 would be different. On April 20 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burst into flames and added yet another tragedy to an area already beset with them. Just as coastal communities of southeastern Louisiana had made it firmly on the road to recovery from the devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, the BP oil spill cast a harsh spotlight on the region once again. For nearly three months, oil...

  5. 1 Setting Sail: What We Can Learn from Louisiana Shrimp Fishers
    (pp. 11-41)

    If you have ever purchased wild-caught American shrimp, there’s a good chance that it was caught by a Louisiana shrimp fisher. Louisiana is a major player in the U.S. seafood industry. Nearly one-third of the nation’s seafood comes directly from Louisiana’s estuaries, wetlands, and coastal areas.¹ But if the seafood industry is a crowning feature for Louisiana, shrimp is its largest jewel. Of the entire Gulf of Mexico region (Alabama, Western Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) that supplies the overwhelming majority of domestic shrimp—nearly 85 percent in 2006—Louisiana was the leading producer, contributing almost half of the region’s...

  6. 2 Identity: The Struggle to Stay Afloat
    (pp. 42-88)

    Glen was a third-generation shrimp fisher who began trawling with his father and older brothers when he was just six years old. He was legendary in the town, known for his loud, booming voice and colorful, frank way of talking. Just about every current and ex-shrimper I spoke with recommended him as somebody who would give me a rich understanding of the state of the industry. “Glen will tell you like it is, he don’t hold back nothing. You’ll be entertained if nothing else, yeah,” remarked one trawler.

    I arranged to meet Glen in the sprawling field that sat across...

  7. 3 Loss: Jumping Ship for Higher Ground
    (pp. 89-110)

    Gerald was an ex-shrimper who got out of the industry in 2003, just as it began to collapse. I met him and his wife, Diane, at a shrimp boil I’d been invited to by another ex-trawler named Lindel. Earlier that day I had spoken with Lindel—who now worked for an equipment company that supplies offshore oil rigs—and he’d encouraged me to attend that evening’s festivities. He promised that I would find “lots of former trawlers like me who’ll talk your ears off. And beaucoup shrimp to eat!” I followed Lindel’s advice and headed down to the coast. Before...

  8. 4 Innovation: Changing Course on Choppy Waters
    (pp. 111-142)

    When I first met Jacob in the summer of 2006, I presumed that he would be like most of the other trawlers I had met up to that point. A multigenerational trawler, he had dropped out of high school to work as a deckhand on relatives’ shrimp boats, and by age twenty he owned and operated his own boat, named the Miss Mary Ann after his mother. He liked to hunt in his spare time, and he talked at length about how much harder he had to work now that shrimp prices had fallen and expenses soared. He also proudly...

  9. 5 Docked: The Uncertain Futures of Shrimp Fishers in the Post-BP Oil Spill Era
    (pp. 143-156)

    As we sat in the kitchen of his air-conditioned boat, Jacob brought out some photos from the past. Many of the pictures depicted his boat after he pulled an exceptionally large haul, the kind worth preserving in a photo for the ages. In some photos, Jacob stood surrounded by deep piles of shrimp that spread out across the deck of his boat, completely covering it. In others, hulking nets sagged under the weight of thousands of pounds of shrimp as he looked on proudly. In most of the photos that included him—photos exemplifying some of his most proud moments...

  10. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 157-164)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 165-172)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-180)
  13. Index
    (pp. 181-186)