By Ed Snyder/Outdoors
Whether you are savoring these succulent morsels on a plate or rigging one to your fishing hook for catching that trophy, Shrimp are the perfect choice for both pleasures. Shrimp (Penaeus Aztecus) are an enormously popular seafood in most homes and restaurants of the U.S.A. Boiled, Broiled, fried, sun-dried, BBQ, or stuffed, they are simply yummy. Considered a fun food, shrimp being also high in protein, minerals and vitamins can also be considered a health food.
Up to 28 different species of shrimp are found in the Gulf of Mexico, but only those of the family Penaeidae are large enough to be regarded as seafood. Brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), white shrimp (P. setiferus) and pink shrimp (P. duorarum) make up the main catch by Shrimpers for the Texas shrimp market.
Bizarre looking critters, their segmented bodies are sheathed in a thin shell. The head spine, walking legs and antennae are attached to the head section, while the edible portion (the “tail”) bears the swimming legs and tail fan. How these succulent shellfish end up on the dinner tables or attached to an anglers fish hook is very interesting.
The life cycles of the brown, white or pink shrimp are very similar, with the shrimp spending their lives in estuaries, bays and deeper Gulf waters. Spawning occurs in the Gulf with a female releasing from 100,000 to 1,000,000 eggs that hatch within 24 hours. The young shrimp then develop through several larval phases while being carried back to shoreward waters by winds, currents, and tides. The young (post larvae) enter the gulf passes and bays one-fourth inch long, transparent but having a shrimp-like appearances.
Post larvae shrimp migrate to nursery areas within shallow bays, tidal creeks, and marshes where food and protection is necessary for growth and survival to obtain color and become bottom dwellers. Favorable conditions in the nursery areas allow young shrimp to grow rapidly where they soon move into the deeper waters of the bays where they continue to grow even more rapidly.
When shrimp reach sub-adult stages, growing 3-5 inches long they migrate from the bays into the Gulf of Mexico where most will spend the rest of their lives maturing and completing their life cycles in the Gulf. The shrimp fishery begins when they are two to four months old and will continue for the rest of their lives. And if not caught by shrimp boats, anglers or eaten by fish, they will live to be two years old. As they grow the shrimp have to cast off their shells to form another as they expand into their new shells. Shrimp grow rapidly in water temps of 68 degrees or higher, but when water temps fall below 60 degrees shrimp growth is much slower and if water temps drop below 40 degrees they often will die.The Texas shrimp fishery is very valuable asset with Texas being one of the major seafood industries in the United States. Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept; sells about 7,000 commercial shrimp boat licenses and about 2,000 noncommercial shrimp trawl licenses per year with its landings exceeding 73 million pounds of shrimp annually, valued at more than 150 million dollars to the commercial fishermen.
Brown, white and pink shrimp harvested in Texas bays and Gulf, account for more than 80 percent of the Texas catch. The young use bays and begin entering the Gulf in late May or early June. If growth is fast, they may leave bays earlier, occasionally this will happen after a warm water winter. White shrimp, which use bays during late spring, summer and fall, support a huge fishery in bays along the upper coast and near-shore waters off the Gulf beach areas. They stay in bays longer than the rest and reach a larger size than brown shrimp and migrate to the Gulf as bays cool in the fall. Pink shrimp, an important commercial shrimp in Florida and Mexico, are caught in Texas but do not represent a major part of the fishery. They inhabit bays from late fall through early Spring, primarily along the middle and lower Texas coast.
Other shrimps of minor commercial value occur in the Gulf. Among these are the seabob, with its long head spine, the rock shrimp, with its hard outer shell, trachypenaeids, with their rough carapace, and a deep-water type called the royal red shrimp. Most shrimp are caught with trawls, which are winged nets forming a cone- like shape in the middle that tapers to a narrow end, called the cod-end. The two “wings” of a trawl are attached to wood “doors” weighted with metal “shoes” or runners with lines running from the shrimp boat to each door. As the shrimp boat drags the trawl over the sea floor, the trawl is held open by the kite-like spreading action of the doors. Shrimp and bottom fish are then scooped into the open trawl piling up in the cod-end. When the net is boated, the line that holds the cod-end closed is released and the catch falls to the deck. Texas Gulf Shrimpers then will remove the heads (not allowed for Texas bay trawlers) before icing down the fleshy tails with the heads discarded overboard.In the days of yore, shrimpers used long and bulky seine nets for catching shrimp and had to labor many hours setting their nets along coastal shores then used horses to pull the nets in. Back then it was only profitable to shrimp when the shrimp were near the surf. But by the 1940’s when trawlers were a common sight along the coast they changed their ways and lifestyles for shrimping the coastal areas. Once shrimpers were equipped with trawls, they could fish the dense shrimp pods found in deeper bay waters and the Gulf of Mexico. Improvements in transportation and refrigeration accompanied the growth of the shrimp fishery into new market areas. Today the modern Gulf trawler are large, well-equipped seagoing vessel that can tow two or more large trawls at once.
Since redfish, sea-trout and most saltwater game-fish feed heavily on shrimp, live shrimp became a very big business for bait shops catering to sport anglers, and the bait shrimpers had to make 10 to 20 drags a day to keep up with the demand. Bait camps hold their live shrimp in watertight pens made of fiberboard, plywood or concrete. Small pens, 4x4x8 feet hold up to 30 to 80 quarts of shrimp. Large pens hold up to 100 quarts, and at almost $20 a quart the profit margin is huge.Because of the rising cost of bait shrimp, cast-nets became popular with sport anglers who choose to catch their own bait shrimp. But cast nets are limited for use near the shoreline or in shallow bays before the angler can successfully catch shrimp with sport nets. Check the rules and regulations in the TP&WD booklet before using cast nets.
The Texas shrimp fishery is a trust of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, with fisheries biologists involved in shrimp sampling programs to safeguard the quantity and quality of shrimp in Texas coastal waters. This information is then used to manage the shrimp fishery more efficiently, which eventually puts that shrimp delicacy on your plate for you to enjoy or for baiting your fishing hook to catch that elusive trophy.
Shrimp are very important to the coastal economy of Texas which is why TP&WD puts very strict rules and regulations on the shrimp fishery. For with no shrimp on your plate or no shrimp on your hook, the commerce of Texas would take a severe hit. (2014-03-05)
(This article was first published in CrystalBeachLocalNews.com on November 7, 2011)