Another HaulNarrative Stewardship and Cultural Sustainability at the Lewis Family Fishery

Another HaulNarrative Stewardship and Cultural Sustainability at the Lewis Family Fishery

Charlie Groth

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9781496820365

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


When people cross the footbridge to Lewis Island in the Delaware River at Lambertville, NJ, they’re in a “whole ‘nother world”: wild and civilized, stable atop changing water and earth. Here lies the last commercial haul seine fishery on the non-tidal Delaware, where Lewis family members have netted since 1888 and have long monitored the fluctuating shad population. The island also serves as a spiritual, recreational, and community site for local and regional visitors, whom the Lewis family welcomes because of their forebear’s “mandate to share the island.” Visitors feel almost immediately that this place is special, but the why is elusive. Folklorist Charlie Groth explains Lewis Island’s unassuming cultural magic by developing the concept of “narrative stewardship,” a practice by which people take care of communal resources (in this case, river, shad, tradition, and community itself) through sharing stories. Anchored in over two decades of field research, this accessible ethnography interweaves the author’s observations as a crew member, stories from various tellers, interviews, history, and cultural theory. Beginning with thick description, the work explores four broad story types—Big Stories, character anecdotes, microlegends, and everyday storying. Groth traces how narratives intertwine with each other and with the physical environment to create sense of place, while participants in various roles navigate belonging. Ultimately, she posits the idea that in an era when telectronics have changed material conditions profoundly and quickly, echoing the way the industrial revolution led to anomie, narrative stewardship embedded in everyday life helps sustain culture and community.