April 20, 2011


Can you blame for me for not wanting to touch the cockroach of the sea?

I was headed to Houston, Texas, from New Orleans, when I heard from my friend, Greg, in the Galveston area, instructing me to hold off on Houston for the moment. I would be on I-10 and could just exit in Winnie, taking a little shortcut to the Bolivar Peninsula, where Greg’s girlfriend could put me up at the RV park and apartments she managed at a marina there. Then I could continue on to Houston afterward.

It sounded good to me, so I drove hard and arrived close to dark but just in time to see the sun sink into the water, a beer in hand. And it was over my second drink, I believe, that two shrimp fishermen invited me to go out with them at 7am the next day. Sure, I said. Why not?

I took Rennie with me and we pulled out about half past the hour on a 30 year-old boat that the owner herself had never ridden on, because she was too busy running the marina bar and bait shop, but that her friends Harley and Levi took out nearly every day— well, until Levi got a flesh-eating bacteria and had to be hospitalized for nearly six weeks. The day we went out was actually one of the first for Levi since he had gotten sick.

The plan was to fish for a few hours, getting back by noon or 1pm at the latest, but it was not until 2 o clock, the maximum hour that anyone is allowed to have their nets in the water, when we were pulling our nets up and heading home, a two-hour trek at about 5 mph. It had not been an extremely fruitful day for shrimp.

“Some days are feast, others are famine,” Levi said, “and today was famine.”

But it was only as we were pointed back to the marina that we found out why: we had been hauling around a huge nest of electrical wires and breaker boxes all day. After Hurricane Ike three years ago, the peninsula suffered a particularly huge amount of damage, losing 80 percent of its structures, much of which were likely blown directly in the bay. Despite a massive cleanup by the state about six months after the storm, a lot of large debris was still left on the bottom of the bay.

“I can’t tell you how many mattresses I’ve found out here,” Levi said.

Golf carts, 40-foot pipes and futons were among other “treasures” they and other fishermen had picked up in their nets, he said, and at $1500 a net, such finds can be costly. The season just after Ike, he said, he started with 22 nets. By the end, he had three left.

Most of the shrimp get sold as bait. They try to keep as many of them as possible alive, because they will earn $35 a gallon off them that way, whereas the frozen ones just get $5 a pound. Once the net gets pulled up from the bottom, usually after about 30 or 45 minutes of dragging it, it’s dumped into a holding tank with water and the culling process begins. This is where it’s helpful to have three people on board: one crewman drives the craft, another scoops out portions of the catch onto a sorting table and a third picks out the shrimp and other bait fish that can be saved, throwing the rest onto a pile on the deck that eventually gets pushed back into the bay.

When I wasn’t taking pictures or hanging out in the cabin with Rennie and the guys, I was either driving the boat or scooping the catch out to be sorted, deftly avoiding the third job of having to actually touch anything. Oh, and I also learned how to hang off the side of a boat and pee, a skill that will no doubt come in handy one day down the road.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yvonne
    Apr 21 2011

    Rennie looks really cute in his life preserver. 🙂

    • Apr 22 2011

      I know. I kind of wish he wore one all the time.

  2. Momminerd
    Apr 22 2011

    Great post! You didn’t spend nearly enough time on the FLESH-EATING BACTERIA, however (an occupational hazard?) You sure
    are learning lots of new skills. I never imagined that shrimp fishing would be one of them! The photos tell nearly all (except for the part where you hang off the railing…)


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