Lake Erie Fishermen
The Lake Erie Fishermen Collection was compiled by Timothy Lloyd and Patrick Mullen from 1983 to 1984 in northern Ohio. The collection includes interviews with 20 individuals, thirty 90-minute TDK cassette tapes, 35 sheets of negatives, 35 contact sheets, 725 slides, 393 black-and-white photographs, 131 pages of logs of 16 interviews, 746 pages of transcription from 25 interviews, and one hardcover book. A secondary collection includes one binder of 52 CDs of audio material and three DVDs of audio material digitized from the cassette tapes. For more information about this collection in the Folklore Archives, visit the Lake Erie Fishermen collection on FolkOhio.
Excerpt from the Final Report
The commercial fishing industry in Ohio is in serious trouble. Catches are smaller, as are income and profits, and state regulation has closed down a good part of the industry and threatens to effectively eliminate the rest of it.
This situation had both bad and good results for our fieldwork. There is simply much less of an occupation now than before--many fishermen, especially older ones, have left the business and work (and in many cases live) elsewhere; fewer boats go out each day; fewer fish houses remain open; many former gathering places of commercial fishermen are now filled with pleasure boaters; knowledge of the design and construction of nets is less common and that of boatbuilding is no longer put to use and is rapidly fading from working memory. In short, we found an especially striking version of the typical “you should have been here X years ago” situation familiar to cultural fieldworkers.
At the same time, the very hard going of the occupation seems to have created a resurgence of a more defiant expression of identity among local fishermen. As must be clear from this report, much of our interviewing ended up centering on some variation of this theme, and our publication will reflect the shape and content of those interviews. Had we done this project twenty or even ten years ago, the orientation of the fishermen and our reading of the traditional aspects of their work might have been quite different. Folklorists delude themselves if they think that their work alone will lead to the sort of social changes that they may hope for, even when those changes are also sought by their collaborators among “the folk.” There is no doubt, though, that folkloristic work can make a contribution to the understanding of the lively dimensions of a family, community or occupation that cannot be achieved by a strictly economic calculation or analysis--a human understanding that is necessary, but not sufficient, for any social change to take place.
We hope that our work thus far, and the publication and other products of fieldwork, will present the fishermen's point of view in a way that they would approve of, and we hope it, along with their own efforts, will have some positive effect on the situation of their livelihood. We hope that our work will encourage other folklorists and students of culture to examine and report upon the narrative (as well as the material and performing) aspects of traditional art, and on the arts and customs of working groups of kinds. We appreciate the opportunity to have done this work and we encourage you to support similar projects in the future.
Timothy C. Lloyd, Ohio Arts Council
Patrick B. Mullen, Ohio State University