What is Subsistence Fishing?

There is much debate over how subsistence fishing should be defined, and there is a large assortment of research studies dedicated to simply establishing a set way to distinguish it. This term can be ambiguous and have multiple meanings depending on the perspective of the person describing it. For this reason, asking a fisher if they define him- or herself as a “subsistence fisher” may yield results that don’t tell the whole story. Because of the confusion that can come with this, we chose to ask questions about fisher characteristics typically regarded by academics as pertaining to subsistence fishing.


For example, a study on the Perceptions of Subsistence and Informal Fishers in South Africa Regarding the Management of Living Marine Resources chose to interview fishers who defined themselves as “subsistence fishers” and asked them what they thought constituted this definition. The key elements described were a dependence on fishing to survive, not relying on any other sources of income, living close to the resource, and harvesting fish to eat or to sell in order to meet basic food requirements. A similar study conducted in South Africa listed these characteristics as well, adding that subsistence fishers usually use low-technology gear which may be part of traditional or cultural practice and harvest in order to meet nutritional needs.


Because we are investigating the presence of these characteristics in the fishing communities of Carteret County, we are not yet sure if fishers will meet one or all of these conditions typically used to define subsistence fishers. Regardless of whether the fishers we encounter adhere tightly to these attributes or not, this research will allow us to obtain a better understanding of why people in rural eastern North Carolina fish, how they harvest the resource, and in what ways the resource is used. By exploring racial, social, and cultural interactions, we will also gain an idea of the role fishing plays in these relationships. An analysis of perceived water and fish quality as compared to its tested quality will reveal whether there is a desperation for nutritional needs to be met, regardless of the knowledge of toxic water or fish.


For more information on the topics fueling our research, see the links below.


Relevant Literature

Subsistence Fishing

Perceptions of Subsistence and Informal Fishers in South Africa Regarding the Management of Living Marine Resources (Hauck et al., 2002)

Defining Fishers in the South African Context: Subsistence, Artisanal, and Small-scale Commercial Sectors (Branch et al., 2002)


Racial and Ethnic Fishing Participation

Natural Resources Access and Interracial Associations: Black and White Subsistence Fishing in the Mississippi Delta (Brown & Toth, 2001)


Infrastructure-based Recreational Fishing

Fishing off the Dock and Under the Radar in Los Angeles County: Demographics and Risks (Pitchon & Norman, 2012)


Nutrition-based Recreational Fishing

The Nexus of Fun and Nutrition: Recreational Fishing is also about Food (Cooke et al., 2017)


Perception of Toxicity

Understanding the Relationships Between Water Quality, Recreational Fishing Practices, and Human Health in Phoenix, Arizona (Pulford, et al., 2017)