Risky Business: Subsistence fishing in Tyrrell County, North Carolina
Brown-Pickren, Elizabeth Ann
Catching fish provides inexpensive protein to low income residents living near fish producing water bodies. Tyrrell County, North Carolina, is one of the most economically challenged counties in the state. Located in the Albemarle estuarine system of eastern North Carolina, Tyrrell County is home to an abundance of fish and shellfish but also has a fish consumption advisory for dioxins and mercury for which the levels of awareness of the risks associated with consuming the fish are unknown. The goal of this dissertation is to study the people of Tyrrell County who fish for subsistence with three objectives: (1) to evaluate the extent to which residents of Tyrrell County are aware of the risks associated with consuming fish in the Albemarle estuarine system, (2) compare the local ecological knowledge held by these anglers against corresponding scientific data, and (3) determine whether the subsistence waiver provided by the state is achieving the purpose of allowing low income anglers access to free fish. Data for this study were collected through semi-structured interviews of community leaders and surveys of Tyrrell County residents who eat recreationally-caught fish, either by catching it themselves or by receiving fish as gifts. Results of the study indicate that 86% (N=36) of the respondents depend on catching fish or getting fish as gifts to help with their grocery bills, although several barriers exist to freely accessing fish for consumption. The results also reveal that survey respondents were not well informed about the Albemarle Sound fish consumption advisory for dioxins in carp and catfish. Most people surveyed were not informed about the statewide consumption for mercury, directed especially at women of child-bearing age, developing children, and people with compromised immune systems. Many of the survey respondents do not use the internet, which is a main source of updated fish consumption advisories. Finally, survey participants incorrectly assumed that fish consumption advisories would be posted at locations where contaminant risks are elevated. The local ecological knowledge held by the respondents did not correspond well with the data provided by other sources. Respondents were asked about changes in abundance and size of species then those responses compared to a fisheries biology population survey and there was little correlation. Responses about changes in water temperature and salinity did not agree within the survey, so when they were compared to USGS data there was correlation with about half the responses. Four factors were used to gauge whether the subsistence waiver is effective: participant awareness of the waiver; individual usage of the waiver; opinion of the waiver; and whether the data collected about subsistence waiver usage was sufficient for fishery management purposes. Less than half of the respondents were aware of the waiver, although most were eligible for it. Some chose to fish without a license rather than enroll in the social services required to be issued a waiver. No research has been conducted by fishery managers on the extent of usage of the subsistence waiver, leaving a data gap resulting in incomplete information used for management. The effectiveness of the waiver is a social justice issue in three ways. Respondents indicated they learned of the new fishing regulations after implementation; that they had no input into the process; a form of procedural justice. Several respondents voiced frustration at limits placed on their catch under the new regulations; a form of distributive justice. Finally, those who rely on eating their catch are at disproportionate risk of consuming contaminants; a form of environmental justice. Because recreationally-caught fish is important to low income residents of Tyrrell County as a supplement to their grocery costs, and not all eligible residents have a subsistence waiver, one recommendation is to loosen the restrictions on obtaining the waiver and publicizing its availability. Better communication about contaminant risks in recreationally-caught fish is needed. Suggestions are to post information about contaminant risks at public meeting places (e.g., boat ramps, libraries, and social service offices) and print public service announcements in local newspapers.
Brown-Pickren, Elizabeth Ann. (November 2018). Risky Business: Subsistence fishing in Tyrrell County, North Carolina (Doctoral Dissertation, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/7021.)
Brown-Pickren, Elizabeth Ann. Risky Business: Subsistence fishing in Tyrrell County, North Carolina. Doctoral Dissertation. East Carolina University, November 2018. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/7021. February 26, 2024.
Brown-Pickren, Elizabeth Ann, “Risky Business: Subsistence fishing in Tyrrell County, North Carolina” (Doctoral Dissertation., East Carolina University, November 2018).
Brown-Pickren, Elizabeth Ann. Risky Business: Subsistence fishing in Tyrrell County, North Carolina [Doctoral Dissertation]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; November 2018.
East Carolina University