Shrimping in the Sea of Cortez

Dec 3, 2015 by Mike Bibb

Being a BCE visitor to Rocky Point – Before Condo Era – I’ve witnessed many changes in the seaside community over the past 35 years. Some good, some questionable, some even more questionable.

However, one of the more noticeable alterations has been the impact contemporary tourism and government regulation has had on the local fishing industry.

Previously, independent and commercial fishing was a mainstay of the community economy. Numerous pangas (small boats) and trawlers supplied the RP citizenry and Mexico, as well as markets in the United States, with quantities of freshly caught shrimp and fish. The flavor and taste of these seaborne delicacies was considered unique. As a result, demand was high and the pescadores (fishermen) worked hard to supply growing markets.

Unfortunately, others also noticed the savory flavor and abundance of the Sea of Cortez sea life and moved in to reap millions of tons of aquatic creatures. Using large vessels and catch nets, practically every conceivable form of fish, shrimp, turtle, shark, porpoise, ray and even whale was nearly decimated by unrestricted harvesting policies going back several decades.

In 1940, author John Steinbeck and biologist Edward Rickets ventured into the Sea of Cortez and reported upon the presence of a sizeable commercial fleet of Japanese fishing ships dredging the sea floor for shrimp and other species – “The Log From The Sea Of Cortez,” p. 204. This practice would continue well into the 1980s until finally the Mexican government, realizing over-fishing was destroying the sea’s ability to replenish itself, began implementing laws to regulate the fishing practices of domestic and international fishing enterprises. The government also established sanctuaries, limiting or prohibiting fishing in certain federally protected preserves.

The results of these mandates have received mixed responses. Like many government imposed ordinances, adequate manpower and enforcement is a constant hassle, as is the usual “go along to get along” custom of personal monetary exchanges to ease the progression of certain transactions. Nevertheless, improvements in ship equipment and specialty-crafted fishing gear has enhanced the success of the daily catch.

Perhaps the most critical pieces of equipment are the trawl nets which are drug along the sea bottom to scoop up the shrimp. Newer nets are now equipped with something called a TED – Turtle Excluder Device – a safety feature allowing captured sea turtles to escape from the nets unharmed. Another mandated environmental feature of the modern nets is the BRD – Bycatch Reduction Device – an apparatus designed to provide an opening at the top of the nets to permit the release of non-targeted marine life, such as red snapper or other finfish. When properly used, the nets have greatly reduced the incidents of turtle and fish capture, thereby inflicting less harm and damage to a delicately balanced watery eco-system.

Even with governmental and environmental restrictions, Sea of Cortez shrimp, like other shrimp sources, remains the most popular seafood in the world. There’s a logical reason for this. Shrimp is laced with all the natural flavors and nutrients its ancient habitat can provide. They are low in calories, have zero carbohydrates, high in protein and omega-3 fats. Shrimp also contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidants, as well as the mineral selenium and vitamins D, B12, B3, iron and zinc. All in all, a veritable smorgasbord of tasty healthy stuff.

When visiting Rocky Point, make a pass through the harbor and observe all the activity during shrimping/fishing season. You’ll see boats being fueled, taking on crushed ice to preserve the catch, deck crews preparing the nets for launch and other activities related to shrimp fishing. All the while, gulls and brown pelicans are busily swirling about or randomly roosting just about anywhere they can perch. It’s quite a mix of man and beast but all in a day’s work for a Mexican pescador.

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