The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!

Questions about Shrimp
By John Hook
The Bay Naturalist


There are few marine creatures that we know more about than shrimp. Over the years shrimp have supported one of the healthiest and most stable fisheries that we have along the Gulf. Shrimp seasons came and went with very little controversy and everyone was pretty satisfied with the status quo until about 20 years ago. In the late 1980's shrimpers were first required to use Turtle Excluder Devices to cut down on the number of the endangered sea turtles killed in shrimp nets. The quiet shrimping industry was rocked by that controversy and there were many who thought that it would be its undoing. Little did we know then, that was just the beginning. A cascade of questions and controversy followed that has us wondering just what we do know about shrimp and constantly questioning whether the fishery will survive.

The list of shrimp questions is long and the answers are few and far between. For example, which is worse: bay shrimping; Gulf shrimping or shrimp farms?

Shrimp farms are by far the worst from a bay fisherman's perspective. They are said to cause untold pollution problems when their ponds are drained. All the accumulated nitrogen from shrimp waste gets dumped into the bays fertilizing great blooms of algae that cloud up the water and prevent seagrass beds from getting the sunlight that they need to survive. Healthy seagrass beds normally trap sediment keeping the water relatively clear, so when they die out bay waters become more murky which makes it even harder for beds to recover from the algal blooms.

That's a vicious cycle if there ever was one.

Red snapper fishermen aren't bothered by shrimp farms so much since the farms help keep shrimp prices down making them one of their major allies in their battle against Gulf shrimping. Trawling the Gulf for shrimp is the bane of snapper fishermen's existence since juvenile red snapper make up a significant portion of the shrimp trawl by-catch.

The loss of all those young snapper is pretty hard to take especially considering the repeated reductions in snapper season and limits. Now, with Gulf shrimping at its lowest participation level since the 1950's due to the combination of storm damage, low shrimp prices, and high fuel costs, red snapper fishermen are pretty happy. At least they're happy about that.

The guys in charge of managing red snapper have a bit of a conundrum though. They're scratching their heads trying to come up with a new plan since the rapid demise of the Gulf shrimp effort has put a definite wrinkle in their predictive model. An interesting subplot to the reduction in Gulf shrimping is guessing what effect it will have on bay shrimp populations. It could cause juvenile shrimp populations to soar in the bays which just might cause a jump in redfish and trout numbers, who knows?

Bay shrimping has mostly escaped fishermen's displeasure but it is loathed by the environmental crowd. Sensitive bays systems are particularly prone to damage by shrimp trawls. These nets scrape along the bottom tearing up whatever happens to be in their way. The mostly barren mud bottom of the Gulf experiences this situation as well but there isn't too much to tear up, relatively speaking. Shallow bay waters have more productive bottoms and comparatively much less area so trawling bays for shrimp is becoming less and less politically correct.

This controversy has heated to the point where state agencies now buy back commercial licenses to reduce trawl activity. Although with more and more sportfishermen on the water looking for bait shrimp, the boats still active in the fleet spend more hours on the water to meet the ever increasing demand. Bay bottoms are still being scoured day after day and habitat damage is certainly happening whether it directly impacts fish populations of interest or not. Will State agencies allow this to continue?

With all the questions and controversy, it is pretty hard to remember the shrimp fishing industry as the tranquil if not almost noble pursuit that it was considered to be not all that many years ago. Practically the only thing about shrimp that has remained simple is the fact that they are just as tasty as they always were.

So, since most of the questions swirling around the shrimp don't have appealing answers - here's a particularly satisfying grilled double Serrano shrimp recipe to enjoy while you're cussing and discussing all of these questions about shrimp.

Double Serrano Shrimp

You can get fancy with this and make the Serrano pepper strips look like legs on head-on shrimp, or just insert the pepper slice in the vein groove on headed shrimp. It will be just as good either way. Serrano ham is the Spanish version of prosciutto, which you could certainly use. The recipe just won't have that catchy name!

To serve 4 as an appetizer or entrée:
12 Large to jumbo shrimp, headed or head on - three per serving works well
1/4 lb very thin sliced Serrano ham or prosciutto
3-4 Serrano peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise
Lemon pepper or other salt-less seasoning
Melted butter for basting, optional
Peel the shrimp except for head and tail and de-vein
Fill the vein groove with a pepper slice, if using that approach
Season the shrimp; don't use salt the ham will take care of that
Wrap shrimp tail with the Serrano ham, one thickness is enough
Cut short slices into the shrimp on both sides and insert pepper slice "legs" if using that approach
Grill on a medium fire until just done, 2-3 minutes per side, turning once and basting as needed
Serve as an entrée, or eat straight off the grill as fuel for discussions about shrimp!

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