With reality TV shows opening our eyes to the intricacies of all of these obscure fishing industry niches, it’s no surprise that more and more people are becoming curious about other little explored fishing industries - like shrimp fishing.
Generating some $31.6 billion each year, the shrimp industry is anything but small fry. So whether you were thinking of joining a shrimp boat, or if you were hoping to buy your very own dedicated shrimp fishing vessel, it’s important to understand the basics. For instance, exactly how do shrimp boats work?
What is a Shrimp Boat?
As its name implies, a shrimp boat is a fishing vessel that’s rigged for catching shrimp. It’s essentially a trawler, which means it casts a net that drags across the bottom of the water to catch anything and everything in its path. Depending on the location of the shrimp in the water though, boat operators often exercise the option to cast their net just shy of the bottom.
Interestingly, shrimp fishing has been found to produce the highest number of bycatch compared to any other trawling method. Sea turtles are particularly at risk of being caught along with shrimp. That’s because they often eat sea creatures that share an ecosystem with shrimp, so they typically dwell where shrimp do.
The boat itself features an outrigger trawler that stretches out on either side of the vessel. And just like any other commercial fishing boat, it also comes with a superstructure that sits close to the bow.
How Do Shrimp Boats Work?
Now with a basic understanding of a shrimp boat structure, you should be able to picture out how it works. These massive boats have long outriggers that hold nets that can be the same size as the boat itself. This allows the vessel to catch and carry as much shrimp as its size will allow.
How Do the Nets Work?
The nets trail along as they’re hoisted over the water by the outriggers. When it’s time to deploy them, they’re lowered into the water with their open side facing front. As the vessel moves forward, the shrimp are pushed into the net through their opening, and they’re caught there by way of the force pushing into the nets as the boat continues to move.
Some boats have two trawlers on either side, depending on how they’re designed. They’re deployed by way of warp winches that boat operators can turn in order to slowly and safely sink and retrieve the nets in and out of the water.
What are the Benefits of Shrimp Fishing?
Well, the obvious benefit would be the profit. Shrimp fishing can be a lucrative business, earning several hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single trip. This makes it one of the most ideal fishing industries to take part of, especially if you’re looking to get your hands on big bucks in a short time.
Another thing about shrimp is that they spawn pretty quickly. For this reason, shrimp season starts sometime in May or June and extends all the way to December. Their rapid multiplication also means that fishers don’t have to worry so much about depleting shrimp populations by catching too much.
Plus, unlike crabs and lobster, female shrimp do not need to be tossed back into the water. This makes the sorting process much easier for deckhands, especially since they’ll be processing large amounts of catch at a time.
What are the Disadvantages of Shrimp Fishing?
Well, there’s the bycatch of course. While it might not be too guilt inducing to catch a cod or flounder with your shrimp haul, it’s quite common for shrimp fishing vessels to unintentionally catch various other types of marine wildlife. Sea turtles are perhaps the most noteworthy of the animals that pay the price for shrimp fishing.
What’s even more disturbing is that shrimp fishing produces 1/3 of the world’s bycatch despite only producing two percent of all the fish caught in the world. That means that for every one shrimp caught by an outrigger trawler, there can be between 3 to 15 bycatch.
Although there’s definitely a wide array of species caught as bycatch, many of them don’t really sell for much. So if you were hoping to make a pretty penny off of all the thousands of pounds of spare fish you catch, you might be in for a bit of a disappointment.
But there’s more to the dangers of shrimp fishing than just the potential danger on wildlife. Trawling has been known to damage the sea floor. With corals and other marine ecosystems thriving at the bottom of the waves, trawling destroys 580 square miles of seabed everyday. This causes severe changes on our global climate, which can definitely weigh on the conscience of a shrimp fisherman.
How to Get Started in Shrimp Fishing
Shrimp fishing might not be as well recognized as crab or lobster fishing (for the simple reason that it doesn’t have its own reality TV show), but it’s definitely a lucrative gig. That’s especially true if you play your cards right. So if you were hoping to join the wonderful world of shrimp fishing, here are your options:
Joining a Shrimp Fishing Boat
There are two ways to get started in shrimp fishing - the first would be to join an already established shrimp fishing vessel. Much like most other fishing vessels, shrimp boats pay their crew based on the amount of shrimp caught. Greenhorns can make as much as $50,000 a year, while captains can earn over $80,000 annually.
Remember though that if you choose to join a shrimp boat with an experienced crew, they’re more likely to bring in bigger hauls. And of course, the bigger the haul, the bigger the profits.
What’s particularly interesting about joining a shrimp boat is that they probably won’t look for any certificates, references, resumes, or even experience. Greenhorns can get a job on a shrimp boat just by rubbing the captain or the crew the right way, and by demonstrating the right personality for the job.
Keep in mind though that life on a commercial shrimp fishing vessel is anything but easy. These guys work over 15 hours a day, and work in some of the most dangerous conditions in the world. Shrimp boats are also known to stay out on the water for up to a month at a time, which means that everyday life might be a bit of a struggle if you’re new to the experience.
With time, you should be able to rise through the ranks and earn a better salary as an experienced or lead deckhand. During your time as a newbie though, don’t expect to get paid too much. Greenhorns also have to pay for their own food and licenses for the time that they’re still in apprenticeship, which may take a toll on your net income.
Buying Your Own Boat
But if you really want to rake in big bucks, then you might want to consider buying your own shrimp boat. Heck, you won’t even need such a big watercraft. There are lots of guys who make a handsome living by being a one-man shrimp fishing show. One or two man vessels can make just enough for their crew size, and they catch their haul without damaging the seabed to boot.
Now, once you’ve got your boat, it’s important that you get the proper fishing licenses. The technicalities vary from state to state. What you can expect though that each individual person should have a fishing license, since it’s not a collective license for one boat.
Then of course, it’s time to figure out where you want to fish. There are lots of great places for aspiring shrimp fishermen in the United States. Washington and Florida have a thriving shrimp scene, but there are limitations. For instance, in some jurisdictions, you can only catch a maximum of 10lbs of shrimp per day.
Once you’ve caught your haul and you’ve sorted out all the bycatch (which hopefully won’t include rarities like sea turtles), you can sell your shrimp. For private fishing vessels like your own that only catch shrimp in controlled amounts, it might be best to sell directly to the consumers.
Bulk shrimp boats sell their pounds of shrimp for just under $2 each. But if you sell your small haul straight to consumers, you could see yourself raking in anywhere from $10 to $15 per pound. And for 10lbs of shrimp a day, that could earn you $150 which might be a suitable side gig.
It’s interesting to find out how do shrimp boats work, and even more intriguing to discover how much they make. And although those big commercial vessels might be raking in the cash, the humble satisfaction of operating a smaller watercraft for the purpose of shrimp fishing can definitely offset the damages to the ecosystem. So if you were hoping to change your career, or to find a profitable hobby that weighs on your love for fishing, then shrimp fishing might just be what you need.