Applied Anthropology in the Fisheries Management

Orbach-1.jpgA SfAA Oral History Interview with Michael K. Orbach 

Michael Orbach made significant contributions to the development of fishery management policy for both the west and east coast of the United States. This involved work with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Sea Grant was well as fisherman and conservation organizations and marine-oriented  units of universities; California Santa Cruz, East Carolina and Duke. He was involved in the process of policy formation through research which mediated the relationships between government fishery management agencies and the fisherman and their organizations. Orbach is Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Marine Affairs and Marine Policy in the School of the Environment at Duke University.  The interviewer is Carrie Pomeroy who is with Sea Grant at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The transcript was edited by John van Willigen.


POMEROY:  It is Friday, July 10, 2015.  We are in Santa Cruz, California.  My name is Carrie  [Caroline] Pomeroy, and I am here to conduct an interview for the Society for Applied Anthropology Oral History Project with Mike Orbach, Mike, thank you for agreeing to do this.

ORBACH:  It’s a pleasure.  

POMEROY:   I’m going to start with a very general and sort of a foundational question: where and under what circumstances were you raised?  

ORBACH:  I was born in southern California and grew up in a town called Newport Beach.  I was kind of a beach kid when it was a little beach town of twenty thousand with ten miles of open fields around it -- now it is just part of LA -- but I grew up surfing, sailing and fishing, which I continue to do and went to high school there and on to college at brand-new UC Irvine.  I was the first  graduating class at UC Irvine, and then later went to La Jolla for the PhD.  My family, I guess you’d call it an upper middle-class family, and my father was a plasma physicist who worked for Fluor Corporation for a while and then started his own company with Arc Research and my mother was an English teacher in high school in literature.  My brother who was five years younger, and we were a sailing family and unfortunately my father died in an accident at Catalina Island. A big offshore storm came before they had jetties over there  in the sixties and  our whole family was there on the boat and my father drowned in that incident when I was eighteen.

POMEROY:  Wow.  I’m sorry.

ORBACH:  Well, it was kind of a life-shaping event in many ways, but people often ask me how can you be around the water so much and the answer is my father really loved the ocean and that whole thing just intensified it rather than putting me off.

POMEROY: That’s interesting.   And how did you come to be an applied anthropologist?  I recall you have an economics undergrad, right?  

ORBACH: Right, economics undergrad, but the economics program at Irvine, there were no departments at that stage.  There was only the division of social sciences and so I sort of actually got to pick the title economics to be on the degree.  It was really a very interdisciplinary degree.  So, I actually took as much history and literature and sociology and psychology and anthropology as I did economics as an undergraduate, but my father always wanted me to be a chemist, so the next closest thing numerically was an economist.  So I went back to graduate school at San Diego in what was essentially an econometrics program where I started to become a modeler and decided I really didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to do something more humanistic.   I had a good friend who was in the anthropology program, and he introduced me to some of the professors.  Mid-stream in the PhD program I switched to cultural anthropology, and as luck would have it my first TA-ship was with Roy D’Andrade teaching mathematical anthropology as a TA to social science undergraduates who never had any computer or math. At Irvine, by the way, we all had to have three years of math no matter what social science you were in,  and be computer literate.  It  quite progressive for that time, and that actually held me in good stead because when I went on to NOAA later and started working with a lot of population dynamics biologists, I could talk to them better than a taxonomic biologist could because they knew the math and I knew the models.  So even though I decided not to do it for a living, it turned out to be really useful even though I went over into very qualitative work with my dissertation.

POMEROY:  That’s very interesting.  OK, and did you have any particular experiences as a graduate student that led you, for example, into the maritime  or marine work or anything like that?

ORBACH:  Well, I have to say that the department at UC San Diego was notably unapplied. The chair at the time, a fellow named Mel [Melford E.] Spiro who came out being a rabbi and a psychiatrist --his famous book was Children of the Kibbutz,  thought applied anthropology wasn’t a thing.  They thought the only thing that you should be and what they were supposed to be training were theoretical anthropologists to go into teaching anthropology.  So there was no--absolutely no encouragement to applied anything in my graduate program.  I was only the second PhD out of the program.  It was new, they were trying to establish their reputation, they hired all these big names from all over the place.  My chair was Freddy [F. G.] Bailey luckily who was a wonderful, wonderful guy who had come from Manchester and was a political anthropologist and lovely writer and just a lovely fellow and he basically let me do what I wanted, but in terms of what I wanted to do. I used to read a lot of Somerset Maugham stories and he had a story called Malay Storiesand so I thought I wanted to go to--and I’ve read  Raymond Firth’s Malay  Fishermen.  So I actually developed and defended a research proposal to go to Malaysia and study fisheries development.  I always sort of considered myself an economic anthropologist because of my general background and interests.   I wanted to go to Malaysia and study fishermen and Freddie was on board with that, and again, I defended a proposal and was looking for money but had a friend of mine, or actually one of my colleagues from graduate school’s wife worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service Science Center which was five hundred meters from where I lived in La Jolla there and they said well, they’re looking for somebody to study the tuna fishery, and so this is sort of an apocryphal story.   I walked down the hill, barefoot, shorts, t-shirt and introduced myself to fellow named Gary [T.] Sakagawa  who was  with the program, and he said, “Yeah, we’re kind of looking for somebody, but you’ll have to talk to the head of the program whose name is Bill Fox.”  So, he took me down the hall and Bill Fox was sitting there in his black slacks and white short-sleeve shirt with the pocket protector with the pens and had this huge model, tuna model, on the blackboard, and in the corner in the right-hand  bottom corner was a little box that said “sociology” question mark, and he said, “Yeah, we’re kind of looking at”--this was 1971 now.

POMEROY:  I was going to ask.

ORBACH:  Nineteen seventy-one, and he said, “We’re”--seventy-two, seventy-two and he said, “Yeah, we thought, you know, it might be important to understand the people in the industry,” and so I said, “Well, you know, that might be an interesting thing to do.”  I know I wanted to stay around the water, this is part of it, and so he said, “Well, you know,” he said, “But we don’t have any money,” but he said, “There’s this new program called Sea Grant that’s right down the hill, Jim Sullivan [the program director] just arrived here.  Go talk to him.”  So still in my shorts and t-shirt I walked down to Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] where Jim Sullivan, the brand-new Sea Grant director was in his office trailer and I introduced myself and told him what the situation was and he says, “Well, we’ve got these Sea Grant traineeships and I could see using one of those for that.  Write me a strong proposal.  I think that sounds good.”  So I walked up and talked to Bill about it and here’s the funny part of the story.  Bill said, “OK, great, so we’ll sponsor you, they’ll pay for you, but we have to get this approved by the director of the lab,” who at the time was Brian [B. J.] Rothschild.

POMEROY:  --small world.

ORBACH:  --and this is Brian’s first administrative position and for some reason that day in La Jolla, he was sitting in his office in a three-piece pinstripe suit, and so we went in and I’m still in my shorts and t-shirt, barefooted, and Bill kind of explains the whole thing and I didn’t say anything and so Brian’s looking kind of grumpy and at one point Bill says, “Well, Mike, can you excuse us for a minute,” and I said, “Fine.”  I walked out the door, the door closed and there was all this banging on the desk and a few minutes later the door opened, and Bill came out and said, “OK, it’s all arranged.”  And I didn’t hear any more about it until really twenty-five years later I was with Bill Fox the day he was named Director of the National Marine Fisheries Services and we were at a meeting in Alaska in Anchorage, and we went out to have a beer with Mike--who’s the name of the Native American fellow was the director of the lab later?  Uh, Mike, Mike, what was that?  Anyway, it doesn’t matter.  So the three of us were sitting there having a drink and Bill said to me, “Did I ever tell you what Brian said when I went back into the room after you had left there?” and I said, “No. This was just as the tuna-dolphin thing had blown up--


Orbach-2.jpgORBACH:  --and Bill [William F.] Perrin, who the industry uniformly felt had misrepresented himself to them, going out and studying skipjack [Editor: Skipjack is a kind of small tuna.] and then writing about the dolphin issues.  So that ruined the relationship for a decade with the federal agency.  It was just after this had blown up.  And so Brian said, “The last thing I need,” and this is a direct quote, “Is some goddamned anthropologist studying the sex lives of fishermen.” (laughs) 

POMEROY:  Wow. (laughs) Maybe it’s just as well you didn’t know back then what transpired.

ORBACH:  But Bill, Bill didn’t--it didn’t faze Bill either.  So anyway, that’s how it all started.  So I got to seek a traineeship and wrote a new research proposal, which I had to defend, and reconstituted the committee, so I was kind of off and running.

POMEROY:  Well, so you received training sort of in classical anthropology in a sense.

ORBACH:  Absolutely, absolutely, classical, well, in fact the department was heavily psychoanalytical, so I had to psychoanalytic interviewing, we all had to take cultural anthropology, psychological anthropology, there was a theory in anthropology course that Milton [B.] Singer came from Chicago to teach.


ORBACH:  And so that was it.  There was no applied anthropology at all.

POMEROY:  Now at the time was there other--you had read Raymond Firth’s work and so on, but was there other work or were there other people working in marine or maritime anthropology whose work you turned to inform what you were doing?

ORBACH:  Well, not at that point, but after I had done most of the research, which I did, you know, I was really a participant observer.  I walked the harbor of San Diego for four months every day trying to get on a tuna boat.  There were a hundred and thirty boats in the fleet at that time and they all docked in San Diego, and the embarcadero used to allow them to tie up there.  It was a tourist attraction, I think.  And finally after four months I found the guy Harold Medina, famous for the Medina Panel, [Editor: The Medina Panel is a net which is deployed to reduce catching porpoises in the nets used in tuna fishing.] to who actually hired me as an unloader and after I’d not died as an unloader, I was considered kind of in the fleet and then quite quickly then was hired for a real trip.  But I worked as a--I was a working fisherman.  They said, “Look, you can’t go on the boats unless you work.”  I said, “Fine.”  So, I actually got paid as a fisherman as well and worked as a fisherman.  There’s a whole other story about how that worked out, but--

POMEROY:  But it beat a graduate stipend, though, at that time.

ORBACH:  Well, I had it in addition to a graduate stipend.

POMEROY:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

ORBACH:  Yeah, yeah, so I had the traineeship and the money as a working tuna fisherman.

POMEROY:  That’s not a bad way to go.

ORBACH:  I never ended up as a full share man because I only did two trips, but I ended up as a half share man, which is not bad.  So--


ORBACH:  So, anyway, that’s and--so as I was writing up my dissertation, which I started actually between my field work trips on the boats, um, a fellow named Peter Fricke organized a meeting on maritime sociology in Cardiff, Wales and I talked my way into some money from the various deans to go to that meeting and then met Peter, and met Susan Peterson and a number of other people who eventually--and on the way I stopped off at Newfoundland,  and met Raoul Anderson and Louie Cervantes and Jeff Stiles and the whole marine man crowd from Newfoundland who were really inspirational in making me realize there was a field out there, and then later, not so much later, but when I was in DC then ran into Russ Bernard, who was also very instrumental, Court Smith, the whole cast of characters.

POMEROY:  Wow, yeah, a bunch of names that are very familiar in the field.  OK.  Very good.  So you worked on your dissertation, and I don’t mean to jump past that, but there’s a long career that has followed.  So, what ended up being your first job as a trained anthropologist after you finished your dissertation?

ORBACH:  Well, my first job was replacing Jim Atchison as the only anthropologist in the Department of Commerce working for the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Now, Jim had gone there on an IPA [Intergovernmental Personnel Act] actually, it wasn’t a permanent position, but he’d gone back to Maine and so they wanted to fill it as a permanent position, and the key is -my PhD is from 1976 and--

POMEROY:  Good timing.

ORBACH:  Good timing.  So the Magnuson Act [Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act] just passes and there were these words about social-cultural factors and things like that and nobody in NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]  knew what that meant.  So they essentially hired me to tell them and so my first job after-I taught for a year one of these kind of courtesy teaching appointments at UCSD and then decided to go back to DC and work for NOAA, and I--seventy-five percent of my time was with NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service, pronounced “Nymphs.” Part of NOAA.] as they called a social anthropologist, and then a quarter time was with Sea Grant, [A program of NOAA directed toward academic programs.] national office of Sea Grant helping.  I was the person prior to Shirley Fiske who was with Sea Grant and the other than economics social science person, and so that immediately foisted me into the policy arena, and I actually became an administrative policy maker.   I wrote the social science portion of the guidelines for fishery management plans.

POMEROY:  Great.

ORBACH:  I worked with all the Councils [Regional Fishery Management Councils] on one thing or the other and I got to travel to all the Councils.  That was back when NOAA had travel money.  In fact the joke was if I was in the office in DC, it was a mistake in my travel plans--(laughter)--

POMEROY:  I can see how that might work.

ORBACH:  And I had two jobs.  One was to tell them what it meant to have social data and information in policy and management, but the other was to go out and try to find somebody to do it, which turned out to be the harder job actually, in part because there’s lack of funding and all that, but that was sort of how it all started and it’s what immediately launched me into the policy and management arena because I had to do it. 

POMEROY:  Yeah, trial by fire in a sense.  OK, 

ORBACH:     No training to do any of it by the way.

POMEROY:  Well, in fact, that was actually going to be  my next question, but when you look back on your training in anthropology, and frankly your broader training in the social sciences given what you’ve described to me, how did it prepare you, if at all, for the work?  I mean, what parts of it did you draw upon do you think?

ORBACH:  Well, first of all, it allowed--in part--especially because of the economics and quantitative background it enabled me to cross that quantitative-qualitative divide.  Part of the problem with anthropology forever is, don’t get me into post-modernism, but is they can’t count, and they write a lot of stories about things that aren’t of use to anybody, and I could count, and I knew how to write something that was useful to somebody, right, and I just figured that out; I wasn’t trained to do it but I figured it out.  Now, later, much later in life part of the reason I ran the Duke professional master’s program the way I did is we did train people ahead of time to do that stuff, which a lot of people still don’t do by the way.

POMEROY:  Yeah, I know, including here.

ORBACH:  I’m on this committee for their [UCSC] new master’s program--

POMEROY:  --I’d like to talk with you about that--

ORBACH:  --yeah, it’s a private--that’s a separate conversation, but yeah.  So, anyway, I had really, but I could explain quantitative and qualitative social science to people in ways they could understand it and that was very helpful.


ORBACH:  And got exposed in that position I actually had to review fishery management plans.  I helped write fishery management plans because I was the only--other than economics social science--none of the SSC’s had--well, a few of the SSC’s at that time, so the Scientific and Statistical Committees, just for the recording here, a few of them had social scientists on them.  So, Court Smith I think was on the Pacific Council SSC [Scientific and Statistical Committee], Susan Peterson was in New England, Bonnie McCay later was on the Mid-Atlantic, but not very many, and so I actually helped write a lot of the fishery management plans at that the request of the Councils, got to know all the regional people and center people and stuff.

POMEROY:  OK.  Nothing like learning by doing.

ORBACH:  Yeah, no, that’s right.  


ORBACH:  I actually thought it was fun.  I really enjoyed my time in Washington.  I enjoyed the challenge; I enjoyed the travel; it was a lot of fun.

POMEROY:  It seems like it in particular in those earlier years, and continuing through, there was so much that was new and so much to be figured out.  You know, if you had any intellectual curiosity that was a great place to be.

ORBACH:  And I had a wonderful boss named Dick Schaefer who was the head of--

POMEROY:  --I met him.

ORBACH:  --fisheries.  Wonderful, wonderful guy and  every six months I would write what I wanted to do for the next six months, and he’s say, “Looks good to me,” and as long as I did enough of the management job, that is being a plan reviewer and helping to write the guidelines, I could do whatever the social science stuff I wanted to do.  So that was really useful having a boss who gave me a lot of flexibility.

POMEROY:  OK, great.

ORBACH:  As long as I did part of the management job that they needed to have done as well.

POMEROY:   OK.  All right, and you mentioned you had this split appointment between NMFS and Sea Grant as a social scientist.  Your role in NMFS and your role in Sea Grant, were they--I mean, obviously Sea Grant wasn’t writing policy, but how were those roles very similar and how were those roles different?

ORBACH:  Well, I was really much more of a--of a working administrative person within NMFS because I actually had to review plans, I had to write guidelines, I had to do those kinds of things.  With Sea Grant it was more of a networking issue.  My job basically was A) to show  the national Sea Grant Office what other than economic social science was, to explain that to them because not all of them grasped that, and then again to find people to do it, to try to recruit people into writing Sea Grant proposals.  So I spent a lot of time--that’s how I first got to Santa Cruz by the way,  this was one of the places they had a marine program.  There was a fellow named Stu Schlegel  [Stuart A. Schlegel] who was an anthropologist and I met him and in fact he’s the reason I eventually came back here to Santa Cruz.  He convinced Bill Doyle, the dean at the time that he should hire me to help develop the marine social sciences here.


ORBACH: So that’s Stu, that connection is how I got back to Santa Cruz.

POMEROY:  Now remind me, when did you come back to Santa Cruz?

ORBACH:  Nineteen seventy-nine to eighty-two.

POMEROY:  That’s in eighty-two?  So, you had quite a stint then back east.

ORBACH:  Three years, yeah.

POMEROY:  OK, and so here you made this shift in a sense, at least on the face of it, from being very much involved in the policy realm to moving back into academia--

ORBACH:  --uh-hm--

POMEROY:  --you seem to have done that a fair bit over the course of your career, sort of played a role in both realms?

ORBACH:  Yeah.

POMEROY:  Can you reflect a little bit on how that’s worked and what sort of the challenges and opportunities have been as an applied anthropologist?

ORBACH:  Sure.  No, absolutely.  So I think the key--the key to the fact that I--it worked out well in Washington was the fact that I didn’t just try to be a social scientist all the time.  I helped them to do what they thought the job was, which was the whole plan review and stuff.  So, and I think that’s the ability--that’s a real key to surviving in any cross sectoral role is it--you adapt and do something that’s of value in the new system you’re in.  But an important thing was the year after I joined NOAA my book was published by  UC Press and it was fairly well received, and I kept writing articles.  I kept writing academic articles.  I probably published, I don’t know, six to ten articles in anthropology journals or ocean journals, marine journals, those like Environment, while I was in NOAA because I knew I probably would want to go back to the university at some point and I knew that wasn’t going to happen unless I had publications, and luckily, I had the time to do that at NOAA.  So, when I came back here, I  actually had an administrative title.  I was the Associate Director of the Center for Coastal and Marine Studies, it was called at the time, now the Institute for  Marine Sciences, and worked very closely with Bill Doyle, wonderful natural scientist and dean and biologist, and actually was appointed here in the Anthropology  Board of Studies, Community Studies Board of Studies, and Environmental Studies and actually taught in--I taught an applied anthropology  class with Diane Lewis in anthropology and co-taught one of the core classes in environmental studies with, Brian Farrell and Bob Curry, which was one of the best classes I’ve ever taught, but that’s another story, but anyway.  And then after a couple years was recruited, but while I was with NOAA, I had met a fellow named John Mayola who was at East Carolina University, a sociologist, and he had put on a big conference called Modernization in Marine Fisheries Policy, and John and I co-edited a book of articles from that period, and he had wanted me to go to East Carolina while I was in DC, but Judy and I didn’t exactly, we wanted to come back to California.  We did for a while, but then, you know, it’s so expensive and, I mean, well, I had a three-year term appointment here was the other thing and there were no faculty positions here, and I had a lot of research money.  I was happy out here, but then John said, “Well, look, why don’t you come back, and we’ll give you a tenured position at East Carolina and you can run the anthro program”  -- at the time it was a combined sociology and anthropology  department, “So you’d run the anthropology  part--it’s a tenured faculty position.”  So we went back there, and it was a wonderful ten years there, actually.  

POMEROY:  Wow.  

ORBACH:  And because I had worked as an administrator here and had my work as a COTR, contracting officer technical rep, with NOAA and Sea Grant really helped me get grants when I went back to the university because I knew exactly how the system worked and knew how to write proposals.   I’ve always been lucky in the sense that I’ve had a lot of outside money when I was here and then back at East Carolina as well.  I had some administrative experience from Washington, which was here as well--I mean, I was on the--I was appointed as member of the SSC of the Pacific Council while I was here, served on that, and got to work with a lot of old venerables like Jim [James A.] Crutchfield and Don Bevan and --what do they call them --University of Washington Mafia, and that was really fun.  In fact, when I was still in DC, Jim called me up when I was in DC and he says, “Mike,” he says, “I just read your book,” he says, “Fantastic. You’ve got to come and do the same thing with the king crab fishery in Alaska.”  And I said, “Well, Jim,” I said, “I really appreciate the thought there, but I’m really busy.”  I said, “The other thing is it’s real cold up there.”(laughs)--That’s what the thing was.  So, I never ended up doing that, but of course in that fishery crashed soon thereafter, but--

POMEROY:  --if only you had written the book—

ORBACH:  --if only I had written the book.  So anyway, that’s in terms of your question, I paid attention to the fact that I might want to go back to the university, publish at the position here, and then end up in a tenured position at--eventually tenured full professor at East Carolina.


ORBACH:  And that’s when I really started getting into a different kind of policy.  Now all along I had research money and was doing social science projects, but out here I worked in North Mariana Islands, I worked in Alaska, I had a big project on the Pribilof Islands on the first sealers.  It was a lot--it was incredible fun, but then back east, when I went back to North Carolina and I had already known some people in the state, including the Sea Grant director, BJ Copeland, and I got appointed by the governor to the state Marine Fisheries Commission. Which is probably the most powerful commission in the country in terms of being a final rule making body, and fisheries are very important and very controversial in North Carolina, very political, and so I spent ten years under two different governors and I’m still quite proud of the fact that I had appointments from both the Democrat and the Republican governors (laughs).

POMEROY:  That’s quite a statement actually.

ORBACH:  It makes my liberal friends nervous, but so I was on the Marine Fisheries Commission for ten years and was a policy maker.  I mean, I was making the motions to make policy for the state of North Carolina at the same time I was doing research.  Now that was an interesting trick and I actually have parleyed a lot of  that experience a lot into my teaching because the ability to be a policy maker and researcher at the same time, especially a social science researcher, you have to do carefully.  It can be done, but you have to do it carefully, and so I’ve taken a lot of that--I took a lot of that experience into my teaching as well.

POMEROY:  Can you give some examples of that?  In fact, this was actually--one of my questions was going to be you wear multiple hats that can be interesting, it can be very productive, it can also be very tricky.  How do you accomplish that?  

ORBACH: Part of it is when you’re a researcher and a policy maker you can never use all that in part because some of it’s confidential and part because it just wouldn’t be appropriate.  And so an example is we were trying to pass--there was a proposal to pass a certain regulation in North Carolina, and there was a local fishermen’s association in Carteret County whose president I’d come to know well because I had gone out on his boat and done research and he had been one of my informants, I’d guess you’d call him, and so the industry has said in public  they were opposed to it, but he came to me at one point and he says, “Mike,” he says, “Look, I can’t get up and support this in public, but I think it’s actually a really good idea.  So, if you propose this, don’t expect support, but we won’t oppose it.”

POMEROY:  Very interesting.

ORBACH:  So that’s the kind of thing you get into, right?  I never said anything to anybody about that conversation, but it was useful for me on several fronts to figure out how the system worked and also to make policy, right? The other case, which is interesting, is while I was on the commission we put the first size limit, this is really telling and this is in nineteen eighty-nine, we put the first size limit on flounder, summer flounder, big fishery, reproductive size, thirteen inches, and the industry cried bloody murder, a lot of this is crazy, it’ll put us out of business, blah, blah, blah.  So, some of the fisherman actually came up to me and said, “Why don’t you do a survey and see what the fishermen think because all you’re hearing is the people who go to the meetings all the time.”  You know, the association heads and this and that.  So we actually did a survey of all of the flounder permits in North Carolina, and we asked them, I designed the survey, and we asked them what they thought of this, how much it would cost them economically. We asked them whether they thought it was a good idea or not, not if they support it, was it a good idea, and the interesting part of this even though this analysis showed that there was couple hundred thousand dollars’ worth of initial impact from doing this because they used to sell what they call dabs, which were undersized flounder, baby flounder,  a couple hundred thousand dollars of impact in the first couple of years, seventy-five percent of the fishermen support it--

POMEROY:  --interesting--

ORBACH:  They said this is a good idea.  We then realized that the people who were vocally opposing it was the same group of fishermen who had been making the rounds to all of our public meetings in the different parts of the state and vocally opposing all of this.  So when the commission meeting occurred, the decision meeting, they got all the public input which we pointed out was from the same people (laughs)--who had gone around, followed us around and made these comments who also, it turned out, were the people who were the biggest [harvesters of] undersized flounder people, but then I said, “But here’s the results of the survey of the fishermen.”  So here’s what the whole fishing group said about this, and that in fact has been a great regulation. 

POMEROY:  That’s very interesting bringing up that example on going through it now, but sometime I’ll have to tell you about a conversation I had with a civic fishery management council folks over discerning public opinion or looking at public opinion versus going out to the-

ORBACH:  That’s always a really interesting question.  

POMEROY:  Yes.  And with applied anthropology and a broader social science background, having the mind set of when you hear public opinion expressing a particular arena, it’s not necessarily the same thing as what you would hear if you went out and did a, a broader research effort.

ORBACH:  Yes, absolutely, and this is one of the lessons that I’ve learned in my research life that I carried over and that is there’s no one set of data or information that’s representative of everything.  Different things get you different places in terms of data, in terms of understanding, in terms of representativeness, and so being able to pick the right tool for the right application was kind of a lesson.


ORBACH:  And, you know, at the same period, actually the same year, I was also appointed by the governor to chair the North Carolina Marine Science Council, which was the governor’s main advisory body on all marine issues including offshore oil and gas, and so I immediately also, and this was the period, it was under my chairmanship of that council, which I also had under two different governors, so I was on the Fisheries Commission and the chairman of the Marine Science Council, that was the period we oversaw North Carolina aquariums, but it was during that period that there was a major proposal to explore  drilling for oil and gas off Cape Hatteras and my council staff was part of the group that issued our consistency objection on behalf of North Carolina that was eventually upheld.  Actually, this has been why there’s been no oil and gas exploration off of North Carolina so far.  So that immediately thrust me into an area that I hadn’t been into too much.  Although, I had worked with Save Our Shores [in Monterey Bay, CA] on the oil earlier.

POMEROY:  Oh, goodness.

ORBACH:  So, that immediately thrust me into a different policy arena which was oil and gas -and the interesting part of that was here I was a cultural anthropologist, the chair of the Marine Science Council in North Carolina, and in fact, some legislators who liked our work amended the legislation for that council to say that there shall be a cultural anthropologist seat on the council. (laughs)--

POMEROY:  That’s great, that’s great.  Well, in asking about different issues that you have been involved in where you’ve brought either your research capacity or your social science involved in the policy process capacity to bear [with] lasting impact, those are things that are interesting to reflect back upon.  In a sense I wonder if you’ve maybe already answered some of this for us, but as you consider your career in applied anthropology in the marine arena, so to speak, what work and maybe particular projects have you found to be the most satisfying or interesting?

ORBACH:  Now that’s a great question and, and I think the answer is clearly the ones that were the most applied in the sense that they were actually making policy.  So, while I was at East Carolina, I got involved in developing several new fishery policy systems and the classic case is the Florida spiny lobster.

POMEROY:  Right.

Orbach-3.jpgORBACH:  And what had happened is this fishery takes place in the Florida Keys near shore, easy to get into, the effort is a trap fishery.  Effort had just exploded in light of a flat catch.  Now there was no biological problem because they’re not fishing their spawning stock.  They essentially catch all the adult lobsters every year.  It doesn’t matter because it’s fed by larvae from the Caribbean.  The problem was they had caught six million pounds of lobsters in the seventies with two hundred thousand traps.  By the late eighties they were catching six million pounds of lobsters with a million and a half traps in the water, and this was all in the same spot.  It all came to a head when a state senator’s yacht got its prop  fouled and tangled in trap lines.  So anyway, it was the subject of a giant fishery management plan between the Gulf and South Atlantic Council, but almost all the fishing takes place in Florida waters.  Florida’s weird because  they have three miles out in the [Atlantic] ocean but nine miles in the Gulf [of Mexico]. At a meeting in Florida the chairmen of the Gulf and South Atlantic councils, the regional director of NMFS and the chair of the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission, who was Bill Fox--

POMEROY:  --it happened all over again--

ORBACH:  --all said let’s go to lunch, and they said we’ve got this problem with the lobster, we know you’re working in Florida, it’s a people problem, you’re a social scientist, would you come help us fix this problem?  And I said to them, I said, “Well, you guys know a lot about lobsters, but you know nothing in a documented way about the people.  So if you will fund research money for me to do a year or two worth of research on the social science then I’ll help you to see if we can solve the problem.”  And they came up with the money, largely through Sea Grant, the Fishery Development Foundation, they were working with NMFS, a lot of different sources, and Jeff Johnson and I did this great project.  We did, I call it the mixed methods project.  We did random stratified surveys,  personal interviews, we did mail surveys, we did participant observation, we did community studies in the Keys, we did network--social network studies. By the end of two years we knew a lot about that fishery in a documented way. And they knew us, OK?

POMEROY:  Right.

ORBACH:  So then we started the [workshop] series, and this is in partnership with the Organized Fishermen of Florida, the commercial group there and  Jerry Sansom,  they were our partners and  the recreational people were the first CCA [Coastal Conservation Association], one of the first CCA chapters was involved in it because I wanted everybody involved, the Environmentalists of Florida, Everglades Association, everybody was involved, and we had this series of consensus-building workshops.  Took place over two years.  There were seven workshops in each series and three series of workshops, and I designed these, this whole system along with Jerry, and our rule was nobody should have to drive more than forty-five minutes to get to one of these, that’s why we had seven of them.  They were all at night, it was day fishery, so nights was when the fishermen could come.  There was no time limit, there was no limit on who was in the room, and it’s a long story about what happened, but through this consensus building series of workshops we ended up with a proposal that came largely from fishermen for something called the Transferable Trap Reduction System, which to cut to the chase, over ten years reduced the number of traps in the fishery by two-thirds and the catch remained the same.

POMEROY:  Interesting. 

ORBACH:  And it’s flexible with the fishermen because it’s a marketable system without a anti-monopoly feature.  So, I get a little cranky when people say, “Oh, they [limited access systems] never work, they always result in monopolies.” They don’t, badly designed ones end up in monopolies.  But anyway, it was avoided, and it became very successful.  The point is we insisted on the research first, and believe me we used that research.  One classic case was there were a lot of Cubans in the fishery and most of them were immigrants and so the Anglos, every time we had these workshops would say, “Oh, the problem’s the damn Cubans.”  Well, because of our research, we could show that the average Cuban fisherman had been in the fishery longer than the average Anglo fisherman and they fished on average fewer traps even though they used slightly larger boats.  And so when we brought up that data it just stopped that discussion.  So that was one of my favorite examples--

POMEROY:  --that’s great--

ORBACH:  --that if you have some social science, you can avoid a lot of bullshit.  So, anyway, what happened is the proposal was developed and this is goes back to my North Carolina comment about what hat you have on.  So I had a hat as a researcher--

POMEROY:  --yes--

ORBACH:  --I had a hat as a facilitator, and we designed the system to fit the federal requirements, and the reason I know how to do that is I worked with the federal government, because we eventually wanted to be a uniform state federal system, which it is.  But through the facilitation process people would always come up to me and say, “Well, you’re the expert.  What should we do?”  And I was religious about saying, “Look, I have two jobs.  One is to put together data and information and hopefully in a way people can understand it, and the second one is to create this discussion,” which we’d done through the workshops, “but you have to decide what to do.  I’m not the guy who does that.”  Now, I later got into advocacy, but you have to be very clear about what world you’re in.  I have to say a huge problem with social science, especially anthropologists, is they don’t realize when they’re being scientists or when they’re being advocates, and they confuse the two, anyway, parenthetically.

POMEROY:  Actually, I think, thinking about the audience for these oral histories, it might be particularly helpful for you to elaborate on that a little bit.

ORBACH:  Sure.  Anytime you use the “should” word, something should happen, you’re not being a scientist anymore, you’re being an advocate.  So, when anthropologists say maybe this Native American program should do this or it should do that, you’re not operating as a scientist anymore, you’re operating as an advocate.  Now that’s fine as long as you recognize that’s what you’re doing, and you don’t call it science and it’s just as bad for a biologist to say the biology tells us to do blank.  Biology never tells you to do anything.  All it does is supply data and information, which is then filtered by your own human values and some decision making and prioritization system into a course of action.  So, making sure you understand the separation of those is really important, and there’s an offshoot of that is you know, should anthropologists speak for Native Americans, and this is the whole ‘Custer Died for Your Sins’ problem and, you know.  So, anyway, because I had been involved in these arenas and had learned early on some of the pitfalls of that, I’ve always been very careful to avoid it including when I had taken advocacy roles.  I was definite with my students about this.  I said, look, there’s analysis you might call  science.  There’s facilitation, which means putting everything together, and then there’s advocacy, and you have to have all three to make policy, but you need to know which one you’re doing at which time.  And then you make it clear to other people which hat you have on at which time, and you can actually have two hats but they’re dangers in that, too.  The more you’re an advocate, the less people trust your science because they don’t know if you’re biased or not because you clearly have an advocacy position. 

POMEROY:  Um-hm.

ORBACH:  So, anyway, this is part of the reason, to have anything come out of the Florida process, I had to maintain that separation.  So it really taught me you’re not going to get where you want to go unless you’re careful about this.

POMEROY:  So you mentioned discovering pitfalls along the way.  Do you have any stories you might share that help to illustrate that or would you prefer not to?   

ORBACH: Well, I guess, the closest I would come to that is, the whole thing in Florida, well, first of all, one thing led to another.  So I was informed about how to approach Florida because in fact I had already been on the fisheries commission in North Carolina, so I had seen it from the other point of view. Bill Fox was the chairman of the [Florida Marine] fisheries commission, the guy who gave me my first traineeship. Jerry Sansom, the industry guy, and Bill Fox could not talk to each other, they just couldn’t do it.  They were just so opposed they thought to some of the things, but I talked to both of them, right, and so the ability to be that intermediary like that and I guess there might have been a couple stumbles where I would make statements in meetings and people would start to say, “Oh, so that looks like you’re kind of affiliated with this group,” or “This looks like you think this outcome’s probably going to be the best one,” and whenever that surfaced because the red flags went up and I realized how careful I was going to have to be if there was going to be an outcome that everybody supported.


ORBACH:  There wasn’t a side that was saying you should do this or the best way to do it is this, and whenever I did the early part of the process, I can’t really think of a good example, but when I would venture into some kind of a statement like that, I’d see the flags and if you look on peoples’ faces you can see it.


ORBACH:  And I’d say, OK, I’m going to have to be careful about this.


ORBACH:  And so we’re here--and then at the end I said, “Here are all the options, here’s our evaluation, is there anything you like?  My job’s done.  I can go home.”  And everybody, all the groups, said the commercial, recreational, the environmentalists all said, “Yeah, this one thing looks pretty good.”  So we went to the Marine Fisheries Commission, and they said, “Well, that looks great, but we don’t have the authority to do that under the Florida law.” So, but they said, “If you go to the legislature, if you, the industry, go to the legislature and get a law passed, we’re happy to implement this.”  So we all went to the legislature together, but I was very careful still then.  When we went to the Florida legislature, I had never registered as a lobbyist and the reason is--Jerry Sansom taught me a lot about this because his wife is a legislator and he was a registered lobbyist--every time I stepped into the legislative building, I had an invitation from a member [of the Legislature] to come and provide scientific input.  So we’d go to these meetings with the legislature--we actually penned a lot of the law along with the legislature--we made suggestions, let’s say, to the legislative research branch about what should be in this law since we wrote it, but every time we’d go to meet with a legislator I would say, I’d go with Jerry and fishermen from his organization, and I would say, Jerry would kind of introduce all of us and I would say, “All right, here is the social science we did, here’s what it said, here’s the process we engaged in facilitation, here are the alternatives, here’s how we did it, here’s how we got public input, and then I’d sit down and shut up.  And then the fishermen would get up and say, “And we support this particular option.  We understand it, we buy into it, we’ve been involved in it all along.”  And so they did the advocacy.  So it was--and again, I--this was a process of learning and people, like Jerry Sansom, helped me a lot in the sophistication of state and local level policy making. 

POMEROY:  And this is someone who was not in anthropology, per se, and was someone--

ORBACH:  --no, he was--he was the-- he had a degree in biology, but he was the long-time Executive Director of the Organized Fishermen of Florida.

POMEROY:  Yeah.  So, it’s interesting to think about our roles in applied anthropology doing things like participant observation in such that the opportunities that’s afforded for learning those things.  

ORBACH:  Absolutely.

POMEROY:  Very interesting.   Are there any other highlights, experiences from your career that you would love to share with someone who might be interested in the field?

ORBACH:  Well, there’s a whole other section actually of the career and that is after I got to Duke.  So what happened is after ten years at East Carolina I started teaching summer courses for Duke and Chapel Hill down at the coast, eventually was recruited to run the marine policy program at Duke and eventually became Director of the Duke lab.

POMEROY:  Right.

ORBACH:  I was the first experiment in social science [at the Marine Lab], then they made me Director, so I hired two more [social scientists].  They’re now part of the faculty of social science, wonderful people.  You know Xavier Basurto?


ORBACH:  Xavier, and Lisa Campbell, you know Lisa, and we just hired Grant Murray.


ORBACH:  You know Grant?  He was my master’s student and I lost track of him.  I stayed out of the recruitment process when I left Duke.


ORBACH:  But when I saw his name on the interview list I just had to giggle.  Of course he went on to get his PhD in Michigan and held a distinguished chair in Canada and so he’s starting this month.

POMEROY:  Good for him.

ORBACH: My pleasure.  So--

POMEROY:  --that’s great--

ORBACH:  --so when I went to Duke, I went from a chair in anthropology, full professor in anthropology, tenured, chair of the anthropology part of the program, to professor of marine affairs and policy. So, no anthropology in my title at all and became director of the lab and ran the professional master’s program in addition to having PhD students.  None of my PhD students, by the way, work in the academy.

POMEROY:  Yeah, I was going to--

ORBACH:  --they’ve all got jobs, really nice jobs in the government and NGO sectors and private sector, which is fine. I’m happy to train people for that arena.  I think it’s probably more important than training professors for me it was.  Now there’s that other problem that we’ll get back to about who’s left in maritime anthropology, but--

POMEROY:  --right--

ORBACH:  So, but then, what happened then, when I went there, I was still on the fisheries commission, I still chaired the Marine Science Council.  I eventually resigned from both those positions because when I became Director, I didn’t have time, but then I started getting these appointments in the private sector boards.  So I was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Surfrider Foundation, national, eventually became chairman of that board, and on the basis of that experience was recruited away to the Ocean Conservancy Board of Directors.  This is where my advocacy hat starts to come on in a big way.  Now there was still a real involvement with students because a lot of our students we took would intern with these groups.  I think a third of the staff at the Washington, DC office of Ocean Conservancy is Dukies.


ORBACH:  We have to be a little careful now about that,  and I would never lobby for them as a Board member.  I mean, that’s the other thing about separation is that I would always say I’ve had, “Do you like our people?” but I’m going to stay out of it.


ORBACH:  So, uh, so I became very much involved in it because those are advocacy groups and advocacy organizations and ended up doing other things like, there’s a big beach erosion problem in the outer banks of North Carolina.  And so there was a set of hurricanes in the nineties that took a lot of ocean front away and I was asked to be the chairman of the [Carteret County] Beach Preservation Task Force for the county and eventually developed a beach nourishment program for the outer banks, so that got me involved in local political issues as well, and sort of as an advocate.  Now, my students work with us on gathering data and information, but the reason the county had asked me to do this is to fix the problem.

POMEROY:  Right.

ORBACH:  And you can’t do that without advocacy.

POMEROY:  Yeah, and yet there is still that tension potentially among those roles.

ORBACH:  Yeah, absolutely.

POMEROY:  And have you found--has that tension changed, I guess, over the years?

ORBACH:  Well, I’ll tell you, the more I got into the advocacy roles and up until the time I left Duke I still had research programs and I cut down a little bit when I was Director because I was the primary fundraiser and all that kind of stuff, I just had too many other things to do.  By the way, the--I was so lucky to have a couple of beautiful projects at the end of my full-time working career.  One was this Marine Managed Area Science program.  I should send you the references to this.


ORBACH:  This was this five year, twelve-million-dollar Gordon and Betty Moore [Foundation] funded project run through Conservation International, and one of my PhD students, ex-PhD students, ran the program and got me involved in it.  This was the one we had field sites in Brazil, Fiji, Belize and Panama.


ORBACH:  Developing marine managed area all with local researchers, all with local facilitators.  They all came out different, they all worked, and actually this month there’s a special theme issue of Coastal Management Journal out all about this project.

POMEROY:  I think I may have seen something about that.  

ORBACH:  Yes.  That is and I’m a co-author of the whole issue with another one of my PhD students, Jesse, Leah and Les Kaufman who’s a biologist from Boston.  And then in terms of things that happened at the end of the career after I stepped down as Director, I went back to my international roots with that project, with a project called CALAMAR, it was a policy discussion between Europe and--between the EU and the US on marine policy.  Started working a lot with the Ecologic Institute out of Berlin, which I still do on climate change issues, and so I’ve now gravitated into climate change and sea level rise. And then for fifteen years, and this is again thanks to wonderful Stu Schlegal, who invited me to a--he’s a Southeast Asianist--invited me to a meeting in Singapore in nineteen seventy-eight on small-scale fisheries  in Southeast Asia and ten years after that I started co-teaching, a class called Urban Tropical Ecology in Singapore that I co-taught with a bio-chemist and I’ve done it now for fifteen years. And I said this is why I spend a month and a half in Singapore every year.

POMEROY:  --wow--

ORBACH:  --half the students are from Singapore and half are from Duke; it’s just lovely, and I teach it with an ex-PhD student who teaches a companion course called Conservation and Environment of Southeast Asia.  Now, all of these things involve my anthropology background.  So I was the social-cultural coordinator for the MAMS program, but I didn’t do the work, I found people,  Joeli Viteyaki in Fiji, Isabella Corado in Brazil, Dolores Cordero in Panama, I mean, just lovely, lovely--Joseph Palacio – a Garifuna -- in Belize -- people.  They were the heads of the work in the countries, I was the coordinator.  


ORBACH:  In the CALAMAR project, having the social science and policy perspective in these discussions of trans-Atlantic marine policy was incredibly useful and really allowed me to build on things I’d done through the whole career. So, the last couple years, and I, especially when I work in the advocacy role you learn a very important lesson and that is you can’t please everybody all the time.  Choices have to be made, and academics are particularly bad at that.

POMEROY:  In what sense?

ORBACH:  Well, in the sense that they never want to--they [anthropologists] never want to take the role of an advocate or a decision maker.  They never want to tell some people that they’re not going to do it their way.  You know, there’s a certain personality type that selects to be university professors and researchers and it’s lovely that they’re that way, but there’s another personality type and you need to be an advocate or a facilitator, by the way.  So these are--I always tell my students at Duke that you have to decide what kind of job you want to have, and these jobs are all real different and no one thing trains you for everything.  This is a conversation I’m having with the UCSC people right now.  They’re trying to design a program in master’s in environmental management and they just want to train people in natural science.  That’s nutty.  They’re not going to be scientists.  They’re going to be facilitators and administrators and advocates and all kinds of other things.  Teach them to do that.

POMEROY:  Right.

ORBACH:  So, but the overall lesson, though, is that anthropology for all its foibles with post-modernism and whatever, is an incredibly useful perspective because it’s holistic, because it’s cross-cultural and because it teaches you, you have to understand people fully from their point of view, and those principles alone were useful in everything I ever did.

POMEROY:  So, when you think about folks who are interested in up-and-coming folks, let’s say, who are interested in maritime marine anthropology  applied or--and maybe you’re stepping into academia, maybe stepping into the policy arena, maybe  Sea Grant or whatever, where do you see that going from here on out?  Where do you see the great needs and where do you see the opportunities to where you see sort of the areas where things might be kind of tricky for anthropology?  

ORBACH:  There’s  a famous book for advising people on professions called What Color is Your Parachute.


ORBACH:  That’s the question. What is it you want to do?  Where do your interests lie?  What training do you need to get where you want to go? Now, I’m a big fan of interdisciplinary training, all right, because no single issue in conservation or social policy or anything else can be solved by anyone’s data--set of data from any one sector or any one discipline.  So, I’m a big fan of interdisciplinary training.  On the other hand, you have to be training the disciplinary specialists as well who become the PhD’s in the field or the disciplinary fields, but I think interdisciplinary training, and I think training in applications, are very important to do.  It’s just a different kind of training.  

(break in interview)

POMEROY:  We were talking about the value of interdisciplinary work but also the importance of having the disciplinary--some folks have to be doing the disciplinary stuff or highly focused.

ORBACH:  Yeah.

POMEROY:  Does it--so do you see somebody doing interdisciplinary, getting this broad interdisciplinary training and working in this realm and another person in the meantime working, for example, in straight socio-cultural and anthropology  or whatever, and then eventually meeting up and learning from one another or is it possible to have that breadth and that depth to some extent?

ORBACH:  I’ve always been tempted to write an article called The Scientific Enterprise of Applied Anthropology where I would compare it to applied physics.  Applied physics as an enterprise gets the fact that you have to have theoreticians, you have to have technicians, you have to have teachers, you have to have practitioners, you have to have engineers, there are lots of different roles.  And anthropology, and I think this is true of sociology as well, has never really developed a concept of a total enterprise like that, and so--but I believe in the total enterprise because you have to have all those parts to have a working enterprise.  So the people who train as theoreticians may never apply anything and that’s fine.  The people who train as practitioners may not develop a lot of new theory and that’s fine, but to have the discipline be useful in an applied sense it has to turn into an enterprise that understands that there are all those different roles that need to be accomplished and fulfilled.

POMEROY:  Uh-hm.

ORBACH:  And so it’s back to What Color is Your Parachute.  You know, I love that I’m constantly running into people who say, “Oh, gee, I had a degree in anthropology, but I never thought I could do anything with it,” and some people say that I’m an example of somebody who did something with it, and I’m pleased when people say that, but it wasn’t by just sticking to being an anthropologist.  It was by learning these other parts of the enterprise and figuring out which ones of them I wanted to do in addition to being an anthropologist.

POMEROY:  So, I think that’s a really interesting point, but when you say, “in addition to being an anthropologist,” what do you mean by that?

ORBACH:  I mean that the skills you need to apply anthropology are other than anthropology, per se.


ORBACH:  They are administration, they are advocates, they are being a facilitator.  Those things are not naturally part of being an anthropologist.  Now you can be an anthropologist and have those other skills as well, and I would argue to be an anthropologist you have to, but it’s more than being an anthropologist in the classic disciplinary sense.  You have to know more than anthropology, and be able to do more than produce anthropological research to be a successful applied anthropologist.  You have to know the--some of the parts of the enterprise and how to do them.

POMEROY:  Good.  All right.

ORBACH:  I mean, Sea Grant, it’s a big issue with Sea Grant researchers because it’s better now, but in the beginning days when I was travelling out trying to find, when I was in DC, trying to find researchers to submit social science programs, they would always fail because they didn’t understand how to submit an applied research proposal.  You know, they say a good monograph is the best possible thing a scientist can do, and somebody else figures out what to do with the monograph once I write it, and that’s useless.  I mean, it’s not useless, but it’s--it doesn’t provide a useful system, not that useful enterprise.

POMEROY:  It’s insufficient.

ORBACH:  It’s insufficient, it’s insufficient.

POMEROY:  Not to put words in your mouth.

ORBACH:  No, it’s an insufficient, absolutely.

POMEROY:  Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that I’ve appreciated about being within Sea Grant is that as a social scientist is that I can  be doing that, but my mandate is to do stuff that’s useful and can be applied.

ORBACH:  Absolutely.  Yeah, and a core, if you’re an academic scientist, you get to decide what questions you want to try and answer.  If you’re an applied scientist, you’re answering other people’s questions, not your questions.  You need to figure out what their questions are and answer their questions.  That’s the key to being an applied scientist.

POMEROY:  That’s a really good point.  And maybe that’s a good spot to move toward wrapping up.


POMEROY:  But I wonder, you shared a great deal and I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated this, is there anything else that comes to mind, as you reflect back on your career and the state of the science, if you will, the state of anthropology, especially in the marine context?

ORBACH:  Well, it’s interesting to note that the marine anthropology community in the university is shrinking as near as I can tell.

POMEROY:  Why do you think that is? 

ORBACH:  Well, in part it’s because we who have been in the academy have not paid attention to reproducing ourselves.  I mean, where are we finding the case students at the university?  Where are my students at the university and the answer is they aren’t, they’re all in applications?

POMEROY:  Well, you mentioned this in terms of the Duke program.

ORBACH:  And the Duke program, that’s right. Where are Court Smith’s--well, I don’t know. 

But where are Court Smith’s students?  Where are Steve Langdon’s students?  And the answer is they are by and large not at universities.  So, the field, although it’s growing some ways, one of them, my pleasurable points is being the only anthropologist in the Department of Commerce in the seventies, now there are a couple of dozen throughout the NOAA system.  Part of them is [at the] Centers, all the SSC’s have social science, some of them now, a lot of council staff are social science other than economic social science, so that system has actually--yeah, the Pacific is not notable for that, but the Gulf and the Atlantic and Alaska, Western Pacific, they’re really--it’s really pleasant to see how that system has developed.  It could develop further, but it’s developed very well.  In a sense, it’s developed at the same time the academic, other than economic social science studies has withered.

POMEROY:  Oh, that’s very interesting.  Yeah.

ORBACH:  Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some smart young people in the system, there are, but they’re a little hard to name.  You know, people who are under forty or under forty-five who are maritime anthropologists.  I mean, who is that these days?

POMEROY:  Yeah.  No, not a bunch. I mean and even here--

ORBACH:  Well, there’s never been any here. There were some in Santa Barbara. So there never have been very many, but now there are fewer.

POMEROY:  Yeah.  Well, and I think  it’s interesting, not to editorialize, in thinking about the situation here at least, somehow anything having to do with the marine realm the traditional disciplinary departments are not all that interested in it and the interest lies elsewhere and then it’s a very particular interest that sort of loses its attachment perhaps taking after anthropology and the other social sciences or has a tough time maintaining that connection.  And it comes back to your comment about the enterprise with the theoreticians, the practitioners and other players requiring all of these people to be contributing to the enterprise in order to make it viable and vibrant and anyway, so.

ORBACH:  Yeah, that’s right and I guess, I’m not opposed to that.  I’m not sure that I’d say anthropology  in general, but certainly the maritime anthropology  people may not have--and I’m including myself here--may not have paid as much attention to creating the enterprise as we should have.  Now in some ways we have, which is why the NMFS/NOAA system has so many other than economic social scientists, I mean, the social science group at this Northeast Center has twelve people in it, the largest social single--marine social science group anywhere, which is great.  Patricia Clay up there and all those people.  So that’s nice, but, and you know, for myself, I kind of went in a different direction.  Essentially helping, I think, to create a new field called environmental professional, which means not scientists but environmental professional because you have these other skills.  Now some portion of those are social scientific environmental professionals, but that--that fills a different niche than the theoretician university niche, and it’s nice that that niche is there.  So, I mean, my replacement at Duke is a classic example of that.  So, [he] had an undergraduate degree in, I think, biology from somewhere.  He did a very interdisciplinary masters with me, we designed the blue crab system in Georgia after Florida and that was his master’s thesis.  He then did a very social science-oriented but interdisciplinary Ph.D. at Michigan, and went on to replace me at Duke, I don’t even know what his title is now.  It’s a distinguished research chair in British Columbia, and he considers himself interdisciplinary but a social scientist and a lot of my students actually, over the years, my graduate students, have been converted natural scientists who wanted to do policy and management.  They realized they’ve got to get some social science and then do the same interdisciplinary thing.  So, that’s an area I feel good about having developed, but it may come at the cost of not reproducing in discipline marine anthropologists.

POMEROY:  Yeah, that’s very interesting.  OK.  Well, I think maybe we can close there.

ORBACH:  Sure.

 Thank you, again, for taking the time to do this.

POMEROY:  Oh, thank you so much.  This has been great. 

Further Reading

Michael Orbach. 1977. Hunters, Seamen, and Entrepreneurs: The Tuna Seinermen of San Diego. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Michael Orbach. 1985. The Anthropologist and the Fisherman: Common Property, Common Problems and the Peasantry. Review of Anthropology 11:368-82

Johnson, Jeffery and Michael Orbach, 1991. A Fishery in Transition: The Impact of Urbanization on Florida's Spiny Lobster Fishery. City and Society 2:1:95-112

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