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Honors Research: Trawling the Stories of Georgia’s Fishers

Julia Thomas in the archives.

While eating your shrimp basket with fries, do you ever stop and wonder how that seafood arrived on your plate? Perhaps it was caught locally. Or maybe it was imported from another part of the world.  Or even raised in a fish farm. Julia Thomas (anthropology ’19) has spent the past three semesters researching and interviewing fishers, particularly shrimpers and crabbers, in southeast Georgia who supply seafood across American and Asian markets. Her research focuses on the fishers’ relationship to larger commercialized fishing corporations.

“Stricter government regulations, increasing fuel and operation costs, and competition from imported seafood are negatively affecting coastal Georgia’s commercial fishing industry. Fishers’ local ecological knowledge is extensive and gives them unique perspectives into the problems the industry is facing,” she said. “Their perspectives differ from those of biologists or policymakers, making them useful for implementing good management practices that not only consider the scientific knowledge of a fishery, but the human aspect as well. My thesis discusses the findings from mixed-methods research conducted with Georgia fishermen about the problems they face and their unique insights into potential solutions.”

Thomas recently had the opportunity to present her honors thesis at the 79th Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Portland, Oregon. She worked under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Sweeney Tookes whose oral history research team she joined last March.

“I was one of twelve undergraduate and graduate anthropology students selected to be a part of Dr. Tookes’ research team. We conducted oral history interviews with the fishing community,” she said. “As the number of commercial fishers in Georgia declines, there is a lot of cultural knowledge and history that could be lost. While on the trip Dr. Tookes mentioned the opportunity to continue doing research with this community as part of an honors thesis, and I took her up on that.”

The oral histories conducted on that research trip were recorded and will be uploaded to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Voices from the Fisheries database which is available to the public.

As her mentor, Dr. Tookes aided in developing the topic, reading drafts, making edits, and providing support in Thomas’s endeavors. Dr. Tookes praised her student and recognized her strive and commitment. “Julia Thomas has completed intensive, independent anthropological research that rivals the work of many graduate students.  She has completed an ambitious project, and it has been a pleasure to serve as her undergraduate honors thesis advisor,” she said.

The conference gave Thomas the opportunity to share her finding with scholars in her field. While Thomas has presented posters at conferences before, Portland was her first experience with an oral presentation.

“I had only done poster presentations, so this was a whole new experience. It was fun to attend a conference more related to my major and thesis. Dr. Tookes introduced me to a few of her colleagues who attended the session I presented in. It was nice to meet people whose research relates to my thesis and know so much more about fisheries than me. There were also a few people in the audience whose works I cited in my thesis. I was able to put a face to the name and meet people whose research I have read and used in my work,” Thomas said.

During Thomas’ four years at Georgia Southern University, she has been an active member of the anthropology community on campus. She is a member of the Anthropological Society and Vice President of Lambda Alpha, a national anthropology honors society.

“In Lambda Alpha, the officers and I lead and organize meetings and host events like our Anthropology Spring Film Series. Most recently we showed Secrets of the Dead: Herculaneum Uncovered, and 82 people attended. We are also currently planning an end-of-year departmental event in collaboration with the Anthropological Society,” she said.

Thomas also volunteers in the archeology lab, in the Carroll Building, for several hours a week. She works with graduate students and staff, helping in organizational projects. “Last semester, I helped organize and rehabilitate a collection we got from the Armstrong Campus. It was from the 1980s and 1990s, and we went through approximately 80 or so boxes of archaeological material, creating inventory forms for each box and re-bagging artifacts when we need to. We also worked on some of the zooarchaeological comparative collection, mainly by cleaning and rinsing off specimens when they were ready. This semester, we have re-boxed and stored another collection from Armstrong and are currently in the process of cleaning, sorting, and bagging artifacts donated to us from a collector,” she said.

“After conducting research, I am most passionate about the fishers. Before doing this research, I knew next to nothing about commercial fishing and the industry in Georgia. Now, I have so much admiration and respect for the fishers and other people in the industry. It is such dangerous, risky, difficult work, but they love it anyway. Hearing how much they enjoy fishing and listening to their stories is so inspirational and they are such an incredible group of people,” Thomas said.


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