Cover image for The estuary's gift : an Atlantic Coast cultural biography
The estuary's gift : an Atlantic Coast cultural biography
Griffith, David, 1951-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
University Park, Pa. : Pennsylvania State University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xix, 196 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm.
Estuaries and gifts -- Names of water -- Early fisheries, oily fisheries -- Vanishing women -- Fishing in the balance -- The fisheries -- Rewriting the coast -- Versions of home.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN560.M63 G75 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A coastal region's oldest inhabitants, particularly families of watermen and commercial fishers, often possess the deepest knowledge about a region and its ecological problems. Because of this, assaults on watermen lifeways and commercial fishing families-whether from organized recreational interests, real estate developers, or public policy makers-reduce the cultural and biological diversity of the coast and often upset the delicate environmental balance. Through the lens of the Mid-Atlantic Coast, especially the Chesapeake Bay and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds of North Carolina, David Griffith develops the theme that environmental degradation follows the loss of the most intimate understandings of coastal ecosystems.

In The Estuary's Gift, Griffith traces the development of Mid-Atlantic cultures from the Algonquins and the earliest European families who hunted whales and netted herring, to present-day commercial fishing families who work the complex estuarine systems of the coast. In the process, he chronicles a series of developments that erode communities across American landscapes: the wearing away of local and regional history that results when national retail and restaurant chains convert local merchants into clerks and busboys, or the loss of biological diversity that follows the reconfiguration of countrysides to support monocrop agriculture, industrial chicken production, hog farming, forestry, and mining.

Griffith insists that we heed the ways we treat one another in light of the ways we treat nature, measuring both by the standards we invoke when we give and receive gifts. Stories of conflict among fishers, of Mexican immigrant women brought to seafood houses to pick the meat from cooked, cooled crab-displacing and replacing African-American women-and of the slow yet steady attempts to criminalize family fishing practices that reach back thirteen generations show the ways in which the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of gift exchange have eroded. Only when we consider human relations as an integral part of the natural cycles will we begin to restore the balance.

More than an account of the decline of fishing families or stressed natural resources, The Estuary's Gift illustrates how pressing social problems, such as environmental degradation and assaults on working families, play out in local contexts and local history.

Author Notes

David Griffith is Senior Scientist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at East Carolina University. He is author of Jones's Minimal: Low Wage Labor in the United States (993), Working Poor: Farmworkers in the United States (with Ed Kissam, 1995), and Any Way They Cut It: Meat Packing and Small Town America (with Don Stull and Michael Broadway,1995).

Reviews 1

Choice Review

"Ecologists know that when someone flushes a commode in Raleigh it affects the health of the entire Neuse River Basin ..." writes Griffith. He offers a wonderful, timely book for those concerned about loss--not only the deterioration of the estuaries and ecological systems, but loss of community, way of life and livelihood, and control of the political process. Griffith (Institute for Coastal and Marine Resources, East Carolina Univ.), co-author of Working Poor: Farmworkers in the United States (1995), offers readers a commercial and ecological history of the Albemarle-Pamilco Estuarian System, focusing on North Carolina's estuaries and its alterations over time. Change in the region is rampant, "displacing ... lifestyles from the water, revising history, rewriting the biography of the coast," but hope for the future, Griffith suggests, is in "slaying the Goliaths" who spoil the waters. To do so is "to repay the estuary's gifts." A good read for social, cultural, and economic historians and for those concerned about ecological matters. Bibliographic essay; references. All levels. P. D. Travis; Texas Woman's University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
1 Estuaries and Giftsp. 1
2 Names of Waterp. 19
3 Early Fisheries, Oily Fisheriesp. 47
4 Vanishing Womenp. 71
5 Fishing in the Balancep. 99
6 The Fisheriesp. 119
7 Rewriting the Coastp. 145
8 Versions of Homep. 169
Bibliographic Essayp. 183
Referencesp. 189
Indexp. 194