Opinion

Shrimping is grueling, so let’s do it again today | The Latte Guy | May 15

I have a little piece of advice for you.

If you have a friend or colleague who owns a boat, and that friend or colleague invites you to go shrimping with him, and if you’re thinking, “Hey, I like shrimp, and spending a couple hours on a boat catching them might be fun,” and if you are therefore inclined to accept such an invitation, here’s a suggestion:

Ask your friend or colleague the following question: “What do you use on your boat to pull in your shrimp pots?”

If the answer to that question involves the use of either an electric or gas-powered winch, then, by all means, accept the invitation.

If, on the other hand, the answer to that question is that you, the invitee, will also serve as the shrimp pot puller, then my advice is that you decline the invitation, grab a couple hours of extra sleep, and buy a pound or two of frozen shrimp at T&C.

As you might imagine, I came to this knowledge the hard way. While painful, the experience did teach me a lot about shrimp.

For example, I learned that shrimp come from the same phylum or order or genus as early birds and earthworms because, in order to catch them, you evidently need to be out on the water very early in the morning.

I learned that pulling shrimp pots by hand under the best of circumstances is hard work, and it’s even harder when you’re doing it at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning that began at 5 a.m. when you helped load the boat.

I also learned that even the largest cup of the strongest coffee in the world is powerless to counteract the effects of a previous night spent indulging in pre-shrimping activities – most of which involved adjusting personal hydration levels and carbo-loading crunchy snack foods – followed by a short night of sleep on a narrow cot in an unplumbed, unheated cabin.

The cabin’s main redeeming feature was that it was located marginally closer to the place where the targeted shrimp were anticipated to be congregating the following morning, thereby giving us a leg up on our fellow shrimpers.

Shrimping is not a complicated activity. The shrimp pots are tossed over the side of the boat to a depth of 250 to 300 feet. Shrimp, not being the sharpest crustacean in the food chain, wander into the pots and can’t get out.

They are attracted to the pots by shrimp bait, and if you knew what ingredients go into shrimp bait, you’d think twice about eating anything from the shrimp family of foods ever again.

After about an hour, the boat captain (your former friend or colleague who, once his boat has left the dock, has assumed a personality that is a cross between Captain Bligh and Leona Helmsley), says its time to pull the first pot.

You look around the boat for something that looks like it might be used to pull pots, and it suddenly dawns on you that you are the shrimp pot puller.

If you’re wondering how hard it can be to pull up a pot full of shrimp, imagine leaning out the window from say, the top of the Smith Tower, and pulling a small sofa up from the street using a thin nylon rope.

Now imagine doing that same drill when the rope is wet, the floor you’re standing on is both wet and violently pitching from side to side, and someone is randomly spraying cold water in your face.

That’s pretty much what pulling shrimp pots is like. Only colder and wetter.

We dropped and pulled eight pots between 7 a.m. and noon, and eventually caught our limit of shrimp. I was ready for a leisurely cruise back to the dock when the captain politely informed me that the job description of shrimp pot puller includes within it the duties of shrimp cleaner.

The shrimp cleaner’s job is to separate the edible portion of the shrimp (everything below the waist, if shrimp had waists, which they don’t) from the shrimp’s head, which is both ugly and barbed.

This little job is done with a quick twisting motion of the hands that reminded me of the fragility of life, the importance of reading the fine print on job descriptions and the many benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle.

We got back to the boat launch by one in the afternoon. I was wet from head to toe, covered in shrimp guts and brine, chilled to the bone, my shoulders ached and my hands were blistered from pulling rope.

As we hosed down the boat and made ready to go home, I had only one question for my friend: “When can we go out again?”

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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