Precarity and Resilience in the Heritage of Fisherfolk and Fish

Project Team: Melissa Thomas, Emma Waterton (supervisor) and Tanja Hoffmann (supervisor)

Project Support and Funding: The Leverhulme Trust

The aim of this PhD project is to examine how experiences of exclusion, inclusion and precarity impact relationships with heritage through the lens of current and former fishing communities in the UK. The following research questions will be considered to achieve this aim:

  • How do the political and environmental contexts of fishing in the Anthropocene affect the relationships between fishing communities, communities, fish and their heritage?

  • How do gender and class impact interactions with heritage in these communities?

  • What are the experiences of precarity, liminality and loss amongst fisherfolk and fish in the past and present?

As an island, utilising the sea’s resources has a long history in Britain. Its commercial fishing industry developed in size and intensity from the early nineteenth century, peaked in the early twentieth century, and has been in decline since. The fishing industry today is often highly politicised, despite employing a relatively small number of people directly; this project will explore how the political and environmental contexts of fishing in the Anthropocene affect the relationships between fishing communities, fish and their heritage. These communities have been characterised by loss: of the lives of fishers, of boats and of a way of life as economic, political and environmental pressures change the nature of their industry. This PhD will seek to illuminate these experiences of precarity and liminality of fisherfolk and fish in the past and present. It will examine how the shared experience of instability creates links between class identity and fisher identity. Fishing has always been a heavily gendered exploit. This work will seek to expand upon our understanding of how gender roles are constructed and performed in the context of the fishing industry.

The project will use case studies in Yorkshire and the Scottish borders and include interviews and co-produced material in data collection. Alongside these case studies, the project will examine policy, archive material and oral history. Since the 1970s, oral historians and grassroots projects have been recording the lives of fisherfolk, which have been underutilised in academic research.

Sustainable Development Goal/s