Beaufort News

Gullah/Geechee event celebrates culture's fishing philosophy

The largest fish caught in the May 5 Fillin' Station cobia contest weighed in at 65.02 pounds.

Some anglers might be eager to display the catch as a trophy. Others might release it to fight another day.

Not St. Helena Island native Ricky Wright.

"I would filet him right there," Wright said as he rubbed his hands together. "No doubt. I'd call home and tell them to fire up the grill or put the frying pan on."

Wright, 57, tries to fish every day, calling it his "passion." He fishes with one goal in mind: bringing a meal home to his family.

Wright is vice president of the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association, and his organization, along with other Gullah/Geechee groups, are hosting an Heirs Property seminar and fish fry from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today on Hunting Island.

The fishing association was formed two years ago, Wright said, to help teach younger community members why fishing, shrimping, crabbing and oyster gathering are key to the Gullah/Geechee way of life.

Annette Watson, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, is studying the economics of the Gullah/Geechee culture. She has found their fishing philosophy is different from that of commercial or recreational anglers.

"It's about how you treat the catch," she said. "You fish for what you need for your families and social networks."

That philosophy, which Watson calls "subsistence fishing," doesn't always conform to S.C. Department of Natural Resources regulations.

Limits on size or the number of fish that can be caught make it tougher to catch enough to feed a hungry family, Wright said. For example, he said his mother had 12 children, and even a five-foot shark wasn't enough to feed everyone.

"We can still have limits, but they should be expanded," Wright said Wednesday. He said his group hopes to influence legislation that accommodates the Gullah/Geechee approach to fishing.

In addition to costs for permits, equipment, bait and fuel, following state rules might require a subsistence fisherman to throw back fish that could have been dinner. For Wright, it means more cost and less food.

Wright got rid of his boat after broke is neck in roofing an accident in 2005. His mother, he said, was worried he would continue to go out alone.

"I probably would have," he said quietly, smiling.

He expects the long-term affects of his injury to one day prevent him from his passion.

That's one reason he gives talks and puts on demonstrations to pass on the Gullah/Geechee approach to younger people.

He'll continue that approach today, both at the fish fry and from the pier.

He's confident he'll catch a shark.

"I love the fight," he said. "The sound the reel makes when you get one. ... I guarantee I'll catch one off the pier."