Patricia Clay

Patricia Clay
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Voices from the Science Centers


Voices from the Science Centers is an oral history initiative dedicated to documenting the institutional knowledge of fisheries scientists and administrators in the labs of NOAA’s Fisheries Science Centers.

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Dr. Patricia Clay is a fisheries anthropologist with the Social Science Branch of NOAA, where she has worked since 1993. She has a B.A. in Anthropology and Modern Languages from Notre Dame, and a PhD in Anthropology from Indiana University. She works with the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts from the NMFS headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Interview contains discussions of: anthropology, fisheries anthropology, fisheries management, NOAA, NMFS, social impact assessment, social sciences, fishermen, fishing communities, catch shares, Magnuson-Stevens Act, women in science, minorities in science, databases, SAS, oral histories, government agencies

In this interview, Dr. Clay discusses her varied work as an anthropologist with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and the development and growing significance of fisheries anthropology over the course of her career. She was the first Social Scientist of any kind, excluding economists, to be hired by NMFS in the Northeast. She discusses how natural scientists were initially hesitant to accept her anthropology work, primarily interviewing fishermen in the field, as a legitimate science. Her work consists of researching questions relating to the human element of fishing: who the fishermen are, what they do, who their families are, and who their communities are. She describes her career path, from being drawn to anthropology after entering university as a chemical engineering major to her graduate research in a Venezuelan fishing neighborhood. Clay also discusses how the number of women working in science has increased over time, and how the percentage of scientists in her field that are ethnic minorities is still low. When she first began working at NMFS, she found that the other scientists questioned the value of anthropologists, particularly the usefulness and validity of qualitative work like oral histories, but has seen this improve over time. Clay concludes by commenting on her love for her job, particularly the freedom it allows her in choosing her research projects. She feels that there are many areas of fisheries anthropology with the potential for future research.

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