Interviews and Impacts of Crab Fishery Closure

Post by EMP 510 Guest Bloggers: Teddy Masters, Lucy Cultura, Rodilei Silva Morais

The featured article in KQED News, “Dungeness Crab Season Stays Closed” by Adia White, discusses the impacts of this year’s closure of California’s Dungeness crab season – as a result of toxic contamination – on the livelihoods of crab fishermen and consumer confidence. Concerns over domoic acid, a neurotoxin linked to seizures and death in humans, has motivated the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department to shutdown the crab season for over three months. CrabPotsBoat

Fishermen invested in the Dungeness crab industry have faced large-scale losses to their seasonal revenues, forcing many to diversify their income. Some have had to rely on other less lucrative fisheries while others have had to find work unrelated to fisheries, ranging from Christmas tree farming to construction. The industry itself is worth approximately $60 million with the lion’s share of those profits accrued between the months of November and January. Because of this, the three month closure of the crab fishery has severely crippled the industry, prompting calls for federal relief funding to support those impacted.

Implications of the contamination and subsequent shutdown have extended to consumers. A reduction in the number of local fishermen as a result of the shutdown may lead to a proliferation in Dungeness crab imports to meet consumer demands. Such imports run the risk of being less fresh and caught less sustainably than their local counterparts. Further, perceptions of toxic contamination are likely to reduce consumer confidence in buying Dungeness crab products, at least for the near future.

This article draws on the interview as a method to unpack the human dimensions of the toxic contamination of California’s Dungeness and the shutdown of its fishing season. While interviewing is not directly referenced in text within the article itself, it is unlikely that the author would be able to elaborate on the struggles of crab fishermen or the effects of toxic contamination on consumer confidence and the crab industry without such a method.

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” – Muriel Rukeyser

Guest post by EMP 510 bloggers Natalia Cardoso, Micheal Masiner, and Nicola Walters

“What’s your story?” It’s a common question when wanting to know someone. Why is that? Scholars and researchers across many disciplines from Neuroscience to English have proposed that our identity, our sense of self, and reality is created and maintained as and understoriesby narrative. The process of conception, gestation, birth, aging and death, is an ongoing sensory experience. The information gathered along the way is organized into multiple narratives, stories, that tell us who, where, what, how and why we are. For most, one storyline dominates that becomes who we are. For others, the central storyline shifts continuously through life like a postmodern novel. Stories give us our sense of self, meaning, place and purpose. Stories tell us to vote Democrat or Republican, to stay put or move away from where we were raised—who to love and what to believe. Story is the medium within which we dwell. Jake Kosek titled his environmental history of Northern New Mexico Understories, foreshadowing from the cover that narrative is central to the style, structure, and substance of the book.

Last year I taught History and began every new class telling my high schoolers that there is no such thing as History. Rather, history is collection of competing narratives studied for the purpose of understanding our collective psychology. The stories that are told contain characters and meanings—relationships of power. Kosek’s style in Understories follows the basic narrative structure, first explained by Aristotle as pity, fear, and catharsis. The most important and effective literary device is sympathy. A storyteller first gives the reader or listener sympathy for the characters, then creates conflict or suffering, followed by resolution. We see this structure utilized beautifully in Understories with engaging sensual sentences. By doing this, Kosek brings the reader into the time and place, into the experienced realities of the communities of Northern New Mexico, and the story makes its way inside of us, carrying the argument, meaning and purpose with it. This strategy makes the book engaging and accessible to readers outside academia. It also makes an otherwise highly contested perspective difficult to resist sympathizing with. Environmentalist readers, often unsympathetic to any human land use, leave this book changed and with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of community land­use and the relationships they contain.

Part of understanding Kosek’s focus on the Hispano communities of Northern New Mexico lies in the awareness of the unwavering link between land and culture. The drama of the jagged mesas, the majesty of the Sangre de Cristo mountains during sunset, and the unwavering juniper trees that decorate the chromatic desert terrain tell the story of diverse and resilient people. The entanglement of land and culture is central to the history of New Mexico, as well as the future. For La Jicarita, a non­profit newspaper based in Northern New Mexico, the legacy of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the emergence of the National Forest Service is fresh in the minds of the local communities and contributes to their everyday politics. In their article, Peñasco Votes “No” on Proposal to Expand Pecos Wilderness, the author describes the community of Peñasco, situated outside of Carson


Headgate on one of the Acequias de las Sierras. Photo by Kay Matthews for lajicarita blog

National Forest where Kosek orients his book. As Peñasco works to address threats to agricultural lands, the community is also working to maintain space for the culture of their people. The article describes the viewpoint of the community: “There are no shades of gray in the land grant perception that any expansion of the wilderness constitutes a further taking of the land grant commons, a commons that was stolen by the dominant culture and now lies largely in the hands of the United States Forest Service.” Thus, community debate and discussion ropes in the narrative of colonialism, the separation between people and land, and the culture that is at stake.

By utilizing an ethnographic research method, Kosek enables the use of first person narrative and brings the reader into these histories. Ethnography further gains the trust of the reader, increasing the credibility and impact of the work. The title of Kosek’s work, Understories, alludes to the voices often unheard and oppressed by the dominant narrative. It creates a foundation for the postcolonial effort of unearthing the untold stories of the subaltern, which is essential knowledge for community action today.

Environmental History: Post by EMP 510 Guest Bloggers

The featured article in Orion Magazine, “Out of the Wild” by William Cronon, is presented in the form of a conversion between himself and Michael Pollan. While this conversation touches on a multitude of topics surrounding nature, ecology, and our relationship with the natural world; the theme throughout the conversation is the importance of environmental history and storytelling.

Environmental history “renders connections visible” through the role nature plays, not only in our day-to-day lives but, the ways in which it has been altered over time to create the world we experience today. As Pollan states “history is inescapable” because it is embedded in every part of the human experience. In this conversation they use the example of Point Reyes National Park, California. When visiting Point Reyes it seems to be a wild place with beautiful ridgeline forests, but it has a history that “blurs the lines between wild and cultivated” because the recent past shows evidence of human cultivation in the old agricultural lands, and therefore it is not a truly “wild” place. But does knowing this history take away from the beauty of the place? I would agree with Cronon in saying ‘no’. Cronon goes on to make some excellent points about environmental history and the way places such as Point Reyes force us to realize how interconnected we are as humans to the nature that we tend to think is completely separate from us.

The Point Reyes example is just one of many stories of how humans have altered nature over time and the way knowing the history can change the perception of what we are seeing. The centrality of stories and the environmental history of our lands are the underlying themes through which Cronon and Pollan are able to have a compelling conversation on interesting topics related to the human-nature relationship.