If Sonora and Guaymas for that matter are known for one thing and one thing only then you could arguably say it is shrimp. The coast of Sonora is very productive in terms of wild and aquacultured shrimp and come September there will be thousands of fisherman attempting to cash in on the tasty protein packed crustacean known as cameron. Shrimp season almost always starts sometime around the first week of September and will run until April. Essentially 8 months of the year, and the rule for remembering what months are shrimp season is this: any month with the letter “r” in it. Biologist from the government decide when the season starts and when the season ends based on catch and size. Now you can almost always find shrimp at the local restaurants in or out of season, which means one of several things.
- The shrimp is frozen
- The shrimp is cultivated
- The shrimp was caught out of season
Ask your local eatery, waiters and owners, where the shrimp came from, since I truly believe that where your sea food comes from is important. It is important for many reasons but especially important when it comes to shrimp. Namely some shrimp is bad shrimp and some shrimp is really really bad shrimp and some shrimp is pretty good shrimp. The question is which is which.
Pretty Good Shrimp: Lets start out with what I consider is pretty good shrimp and for that we need to talk about the dynamics of how the shrimp season starts and who is the one fishing for the shrimp. Now as mentioned above the shrimp season almost always starts in September and this year the season started on the 5th of September. Now what is interesting is that not everyone gets to go fishing on that the day. The first 10 days of the season are reserved for the small artisanal fisherman who fishes off of his small panga. There fisherman are traditionally called ribereños. That means that
this year the big 70 foot shrimp trawlers must wait until the 15th of September to go out. That is important since once the big boats go out it is very hard for the ribereños to compete with the large trawlers. Now the reason that I consider shrimp caught by ribereños as pretty good shrimp is because there is virtually no incidental by catch when the small artisanal fisherman goes out on his panga and catches shrimp. So for the first days of the shrimp season try to buy as much shrimp as you can since you are virtually guaranteed the shrimp are locally caught by artisanal fisherman not frozen and that very few other marine species died for you to get your crustacean fix.
Really Really Bad Shrimp: I consider all shrimp that is caught by the large commercial boats as really really bad. The reason is simple and one phrase sums it up completely, BY CATCH. By catch is what you get in conjunction with the targeted catch. The big shrimp boats, cameroneros in Spanish, are after only shrimp. What comes up in the nets that are supposed to be utilized for shrimp is mostly not shrimp. A friend of mine by the name of Gene Kira wrote some great pieces on shrimp fishing in Mexico and Howard Hall, a very famous underwater film maker, has made some beautiful documentaries on the Sea of Cortes shirmp boats. I have been plagiarizing a phrase from one of Gene’s articles for years now so I figure one more time can not hurt to much. If no one has ever actually seen a shrimp net after it has been dragged on the bottom then it is hard to grasp the concept of by catch. What happens is after the net has been dragged on the bottom of the ocean for a good spell it is raised up and brought on board the boat. The net is suspended above the deck and then released so that all the content from the net drop directly on the deck of the boat. Then the real work starts. Crew members start sifting through what was dropped on deck. Every now and again someone finds a shrimp. The by catch from shrimp fishing can run high depending on the
research you do. For every kilo of shrimp there
could be between 5 to 10 kilos of by catch. In the Sea of Cortes shrimp fishery much of that by catch is returned to the ocean dead. One of the most powerful images of the Howard Hall documentary comes when dead fish rain down upon the cameraman as he sits below the shrimp boat filming the by catch as it is chucked overboard. Thus after ten day’s from the start of the shrimp season I start asking questions to those who are offering me the shrimp. If the shrimp came from the big boats I will not purchase it. If you can imagine clear cutting a forest every 8 months, that is not unlike what the large shrimp trawlers do here in the Sea of Cortes.
Bad Shrimp: The other shrimp is the shrimp that comes form aquaculture. I only list this shrimp as bad shrimp, yet I tend to not want to purchase it non the less. The problems with cultivated shrimp are many and I will not waste time here boring readers with the issues of antibiotics, fish meal, the dreaded mancha blanca, shrimp farm effluent, destruction of wet lands etcetera.
Another issue that I would like to discuss briefly is the term Juatero. Juateros are fisherman who shrimp fish out of season and you will find many juateros just before the beginning of the season. There were several at the Santa Rosa selling shrimp a week or so before the season opened. I always challenge these guys when they ask me to purchase shrimp and they are always stunned to have anyone ask them were the shrimp came from. This year I heard a story from a guy I had never heard before. I was told that the shrimp that he was selling had actually been caught by the biologists who decide when to open the season and when not to. Was that story true? I have no idea but the guy got an a for effort with out a doubt!
So think about by catch the next time you are about ready to order that shrimp cocktail over at Charly’s Rock and just for shits and giggles ask the waiter if he has any idea where it came from. It is always nice to know where the sea food is coming from.