The Bay Shrimpers of Texas
Rural Fishermen in a Global Economy
Robert Lee Maril
Choice Outstanding Title
Shrimpers who fish the shallow coastal waters of Texas fight a constant battle for survival—contending with shrimpers who fish the deeper gulf waters, competing with weekend sportsmen, wrangling with government regulations, and dodging environmentalists' incriminations. Add competition from the international market, an ominous threat frequently overlooked by bay fishermen, and the shrimpers; chances of winning—at least with their current lifestyle intact—are slim.
“Maril’s study is an exemplary ethnography—or what some sociologists might call a “natural history”—of an occupation. A random sample survey, historical analysis, and participant observation provide the methodological foundation for an insightful and provocative view of workers and what they do.”
“Often reading like a good novel, Maril’s political economy of the Texas shrimp industry is written by someone who knows the inner workings of the industry and the communities that depend upon it.”
—Contemporary SociologySee all reviews...
“Maril addresses a number of themes of interest to recent Western historians: the role of government promotion and regulation, environmental politics, racial conflict, and the role of women.”
—Journal of the West
“Maril present shrimpers as committed and hardworking but does not try to romanticize them or their problems. He simply tells their stories.”
—Journal of Southern History
“Describing the craft of shrimping, the community of shrimpers, and political economic developments that have begun criminalizing their livelihoods—bringing the reader aboard his prose—is Maril’s particular forte, yet this book leaves us with more than an accurate description of bay shrimping.”
—The American Neptune
“Robert Maril is a painter with words, sketching what he has seen as a participant observer on the Texas coast, aboard shrimp boats, and at regulatory hearings. In this book the shrimper emerges as a flesh-and-blood human being trying to support a family in the face of overwhelming competing economic and political pressures which he may not fully grasp. Particularly noteworthy is extensive material on the ethnography of bay shrimping, on family ties and female shrimpers, on competing Vietnamese refugee fishermen, and on the influence of special interest groups in shaping state and federal environmental regulations on shrimping. The Bay Shrimpers of Texas is a model study in the sociology of occupations.”
—James H. Copp, editor of Our Changing Rural Society
“A superior addition to the literature on commercial fishing. Maril places bay shrimpers within the larger political economy of coastal Texas, other gulf states, and even some relevant portions of the global economy.”
—David Griffith, author of Jones’s Minimal: Low-Wage Labor in the United StatesSee fewer reviews...
In The Bay Shrimpers of Texas, Lee Maril explores the successes and failures of the shrimpers who prowl remote bays, rivers, and estuaries for their livelihoods. Through random sample surveys of fishermen, participant observation, and historical analysis, he examines the political, economic, and social realities confronting the shrimpers and their families. Legal and environmental constraints, price instability, work hazards and benefits (only one percent of the shrimpers surveyed had health insurance), rivalry with gulf and sport shrimpers, and conflict with Vietnamese refugees are all factors that affect the outlook for shrimping.
Portraying the shrimpers' lives on land and water, Maril describes their boats, equipment, and various fishing strategies (both legal and illegal) used to survive in an increasingly competitive occupation. He gives an in-depth and personal look at an industry that in many ways has changed little over the last century and in others has haphazardly evolved as it enters into a ruthlessly competitive world marketplace.
The prospects for bay fishing—a vital part of the cultural identity and tradition of many small coastal towns—are uncertain. By examining the past and clearing up misperceptions and myths, Maril provides valuable insight into not just the future survival or demise of one industry in a global economy, but the future of small business as a whole.