Narrative Stewardship and Cultural Sustainability at the Lewis Family Fishery
A record catch of place, lore, tradition, and family connection with environment
Lewis Island in Lambertville, New Jersey, is the site of the Lewis Fishery, the last haul seine American shad fishery on the nontidal Delaware River. The Lewis family has fished in the same spot since 1888 and operated the fishery through five generations. The extended Lewis family, its fishery’s crew, and the Lambertville community connect with people throughout the region, including environmentalists concerned about the river. It was a Lewis who raised the alarm and helped resurrect a polluted river and its biosphere. While this once exclusively masculine activity is central to the tiny island, today men, women, and children fish, living out a sense of place, belonging, and sustainability.
In Another Haul: Narrative Stewardship and Cultural Sustainability at the Lewis Family Fishery, author Charlie Groth highlights the traditional, vernacular, and everyday cultural expressions of the family and crew to understand how community, culture, and the environment intersect. Groth argues there is a system of narrative here that combines verbal activities and everyday activities.
On the basis of over two decades of participation and observation, interviews, surveys, and a wide variety of published sources, Groth identifies a phenomenon she calls “narrative stewardship. ” This narrative system, emphasizing place, community, and commitment, in turn, encourages environmental and cultural stewardship, tradition, and community. Intricate and embedded, the system appears invisible, but careful study unpacks and untangles how people, often unconsciously, foster sustainability. Though an ethnography of an occupation, the volume encourages readers to consider what arises as special about all cultures and what needs to be seen and preserved.
This is a very timely and important book in current-day folkloristic studies in the ways that it contributes to applications of interdisciplinary “applied folklore” theory and case-study research scarcely broached, arguably even conceived, fifty years ago. Groth’s observations and arguments in the concluding chapter, especially, support such a contention. There was a time when the author’s treatment might have been quite satisfactory as an account of occupational heritage, vernacular oral narrative in contexts of particular regional environmental setting, place particulars, shared group expression, and locally valued, traditional practices. Charlie Groth obviously saw opportunity in findings and interpretive framework for a greater reach.- Robert D. Bethke, University of Delaware, Journal of Folklore Research
Lewis Island is an island and it isn’t. Its Shad Fest is about its fishing legacy and it isn’t. It is a storied place and full of stories, and paradoxes, that readers need to know, whether or not they ever stepped foot there. The place, and people, bespeak narratives of our times, of work, of play, and, most of all, of the culture that is like water to fish. With vibrant storytelling skills equal to the people she studies and lives among, Groth introduces us to the characters and plots of experiences to which people far, far away connect. She gives context—of tradition, of landscape, and of a past and future different from the corporate megalopolis casting a mighty shadow. Hers is not local history tucked away on a regional shelf. Neither is it a standard folklore collection or folklife survey of a people somehow apart. It is about them and about us. Its haul of material to ponder, and its cultural reach, cast a wide net. We need to listen to these stories and appreciate Groth’s guiding hand to understand what it means to have places like this and carry their messages of cultural stewardship and sustainability into countless other locales.- Simon J. Bronner, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of American Studies and Folklore at Pennsylvania State University
Another Haul is a beautifully written ethnography of a community and the fishing tradition that sustains its sense of place through what the author calls ‘narrative stewardship. ’ It is the tale of a remarkable family and the stories that have sustained their traditions, their values, and their community. From the ‘big stories’ of environment, tradition, and civility to the personal narratives of place, relationships, and boundaries, Another Haul is an excellent study of the intersections between conversation, story, and occupational identity. The author writes in a lyrical style that had me eager to come back to the book between readings just to see how the ‘characters’ were faring and what they have been up to.- Amy Skillman, director of the MA in Cultural Sustainability at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland