Shrimp and Other Mistakes

by Dennis Damon

Fishermen's Voice Photo

My earliest encounter with Maine’s Northern Shrimp came in the early 1960s. I don’t recall anybody fishing for them around my home in Northeast Harbor back then. They came by way of peddlers from the west’ard. They were kind of a novelty. Hard to pick-out and time consuming. Good though.

My father was engineer on the Maine Seacoast Mission boat, Sunbeam, and each month he would head out on her to visit the island and coastal communities from Mt. Desert Island to Monhegan Island.

Often he would come back with a bucket full of shrimp some fisherman had given him. We’d all stand at the sink working to get those critters ready to eat. Sometimes, rather than pick them out of their shells, we’d boil them in the shell after separating the tail from the body. Mum didn’t like to cook them that way though if they had all those eggs attached. So we’d painstakingly try to remove that gray egg mass by digging it off with our fingers.

Mum and Dad were both kind of famous around town for taking in strays — animals and people. I wouldn’t think a thing of having Dad open up his jacket to reveal a hungry kitten he’d saved from its burlap bag destiny. Likewise, finding someone new at the supper table with Mum announcing he or she would be staying in the spare bedroom for a while wasn’t strange either.

One fellow, who she’d take in every fall when he fell from his ‘wagon,’ would always end his stay by saying, “Dot, I want to give you something to show my appreciation.” She’d object, saying it wasn’t anything anybody else wouldn’t have done. One fall he bought her a brand new automatic washer and an electric dryer to go with it. He told her, “Get rid of that wringer washer before someone gets hurt! “She loved the newfangled combination.

The biggest load of shrimp Dad ever brought home was a whole wooden lobster crate full. There had to be over a hundred pounds. I had never seen that many shrimp in one place before.

“Holy cow! What are we going to do with all of ‘em?,” I said.

“Eat some now and freeze the rest for later once we get ‘em cleaned,” came his answer.

“But there’s too many!” I bawled.

“Don’t you worry. I got a plan. Work smarta, not harda,” he replied with a wry grin.

You see he figured that if you put those shrimp in that new washing machine without any soap, only cold water, and put them on the rinse/spin cycle you could clean those eggs off in no time. He was right! Who else would have thought of such a thing? He was the first person I knew who could really ‘think outside the box.’

The first batch we put in there, (Oh, Mum wasn’t home when we did this. He claimed he wanted to surprise her.) came out pretty nearly clean. Most of the eggs, and as it turned out many of the antennae, were gone. I bet the succeeding batches would have been cleaned too if the hoses and filters and the hundreds of little holes that lined the sides of the washer drum had only been a little bigger. If they had been bigger I am sure they would not have clogged so quickly and so solidly and the rinse water would have been able to drain out instead of acting as the broth for what appeared to be a shrimp egg/antennae stew.

Mum wasn’t happy. “#@%^& you Llewellyn! You stayed too long at Fish’s again!,” could be heard from one end of Neighborhood Road to the other. “Fish’s” was what we would today call a tavern. It was his way-point between the mooring and the house.

I’ve had many shrimp since then, but none with quite the spice supplied by that new washer and Mum’s language.

I noticed a headline in my local paper the other day that read, “Shrimp Season Closes Six Weeks Early.” Perhaps that headline should have read, “Shrimp Season Closes Three Weeks Too Late.” But that wouldn’t have provided enough spice.

This shrimp season began on December 1 and was to end on April 15. The total catch was not to exceed 4000 metric tons (8.8 million pounds). That was the number the scientists determined could be caught and still have enough for next year and enough to spawn. That’s called sustainability. Fishery managers strive to achieve sustainability.

On February 18, the Northern Shrimp Section met and after learning that the limit had already been landed, decided to close the season early. Too many shrimp were being caught.
The news of this overfishing did not alarm all members of the Northern Shrimp Section. Although there were some who wanted to close the shrimp fishery on the February 20 and others who thought the 23rd might be the better closing date, Maine’s Commissioner moved that the fishery close at 23:59 hours on February 28, opining that he was “not interested in 8.8 million pounds … more interested in providing predictability for my fishermen and processors.”

Shrimp and Other MistakesThe Massachusetts Commissioner seconded the motion saying, “We’ll have to suck it up next year because we are obviously over our limit.”

When all the landings data are compiled it is theorized that we may have caught in excess of 10 million pounds of shrimp this season. I hope our reluctance to close the season when the indicators showed we were overfishing does not jeopardize the long-term sustainability of our shrimp fishery.

The consequences of that error will compel us to do far more than “suck it up next year” and be far more costly than fouling up Mum’s new washing machine.


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