Fishing for food: Values and benefits associated with coastal infrastructure
While there is substantial literature about the socio-cultural characteristics and values associated with recreational and commercial fisheries in the U.S., studies directed at those who ‘fish for food’—those who depend on consuming their catch to various degrees—are relatively sparse. Using qualitative data collected through 80 semi-structured interviews with fishers in the summer and fall of 2018 in Carteret County, North Carolina, this study aims to better understand the group of recreational fishers who consume their catch by describing social and cultural dimensions and values associated with fishing for food, examining the role of infrastructure in facilitating access to benefits associated with this activity, and considering how knowledge of existing licensing regulations surrounding subsistence license waivers affect this fishing community. Interviews conducted at free public fishing structures in the region revealed that fishers derive a variety of values and benefits from fishing at these sites, including access to recreation, nutrition, a social community, and mental health benefits, which were found to be negatively impacted by Hurricane Florence in September 2018. We also found an informal economy of sharing catch on- and off-site that extends the reach and benefits facilitated by public infrastructure to people beyond those using it directly. Overall, we call for conceptualizations of ‘fishing for food’ that include aspects that go beyond traditional definitions of ‘subsistence’ or ‘recreational’ fishing such as food security, access, and less obvious social and cultural motivations behind the activity. These findings are a compelling rationalization for the creation and maintenance of formal and informal fishing places locally and, by extension, in other coastal areas, given the array of benefits provided by access to these types of locations.