The rich cultural history of Georgia’s commercial fishing industry is the focus of the film “Shifting Baselines,” produced by Blue Voyage Productions in collaboration with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
The film features interviews with the men and women of the Georgia coast who have spent generations building their livelihoods on the water. Each share their own unique story, reflecting on the rise and subsequent decline of the fishing industry.
Mehmet Caglayan, the film’s director, was intrigued by the idea of telling the story through the voices of Georgia’s fishermen.
“As you’ll see in the film, some of these amazing fishing families, who were once doing well, have quit and are no longer fishing,” says Caglayan. “To keep the industry alive, we need to share their story and keep the industry economically viable so they can keep doing what they’ve been doing for generations.”
“Shifting Baselines” is set to premiere at the Trustees Theater in Savannah, Ga., on Feb. 10 as part of the annual Gray’s Reef Film Festival.
In the film, charter boat captain Judy Helmey, commercial fisherman Charlie Phillips, and the Timmons and Gale fishing families are joined by some of the research scientists and representatives from agencies that monitor the dynamic populations of fish species found in the Southeast. The once-booming commercial fishing industry in Georgia has dwindled to just several hundred commercial fishermen on the water today.
Over the years, state and federal agencies have passed regulations in response to declining fish populations, including closing some areas to fishing or requiring specialized fishing gear to reduce bycatch and protect endangered species. The film touches on the relationships and different perspectives between resource managers and fishermen, highlighting conflicts as well as collaborations.
All agree that sustainability is key to keeping the fishing industry alive. Fishermen are seeing a rise in demand by consumers of locally-sourced seafood and are taking advantage of the movement by selling directly to wholesalers and retailers.
“For these efforts to carry into future generations, consumers need to support locally- and sustainably-harvested seafood and invest in the livelihoods of hard-working, multi-generational fishing families,” says Katy Smith, water quality program coordinator with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
Smith coordinated interviews and helped with editing throughout the duration of the project, which was made possible thanks to a National Maritime Heritage Grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division.