Big Shrimpin’

A new TV show on The History Channel chronicles commercial shrimpers from Bayou La Batre, Alabama. The shrimpers’ bycatch might be the most eye-opening scene of all.

The video editors behind Big Shrimpin’ on The History Channel excel at highlighting the southern Alabama stereotypes one might expect from a bunch of old-time shrimpers who feel more at home on the water than in port. Weathered faces, tattoos, southern drawl accents, and even a few missing teeth are all their in high-definition clarity.

But the TV show actually serves a purpose—it highlights a small fleet of shrimp boats trawling the waters off Louisiana, Texas and Alabama, showing the daily and nightly workload of a commercial shrimper. It’s important not to confuse these industrial level commercial trawlers that kill all their catch and destroy the seafloor, with local level bait shrimp fishermen that cull their live shrimp and bycatch. No matter what, Big Shrimpin’ is interesting to watch, even if viewers can’t exactly say why.

Bycatch from a commercial trawl shrimp boat, photo provided by Wikipedia.

Ever increasing numbers of recreational anglers are watching it for the “frustration” factor. Recreational anglers know that with trawl nets come bycatch and bottom degradation of the seafloor. The oversize trawl nets “shave” the bottom floor, catching every natural piece of structure, shrimp, fish and turtle in its path. In fact, one of the top traditional bycatch species in the Gulf of Mexico is the juvenile red snapper, a fish claimed to be overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

So far, the show has aired very little bycatch video, but when it does, the cloudy-eyed baitfish, gamefish, meat fish and juvenile fish species take up the entire deck. It’s eye-opening for the casual observer. Just during recent episodes, one boat hauled in a chunk of natural bottom, another boat netted and killed a load of sharks, and still another boat caught in their nets another shrimp boat’s bycatch.

A photo from the Big Shrimpin’ TV show. For every handful of shrimp, notice all the scattered bycatch at the feet of the shrimper. It’s tough to get accurate data showing the percentage of bycatch compared to shrimp.

Florida Sportsman members have already started a forum thread to comment on the show.

Florida Sportsman member Mango Man says, “It’s painting a true picture of the industry. Aside from American red snapper, you have to wonder how many other species are affected by their methods.”

Other Florida Sportsman members agree.

“I’ve watched them all, and it sickens me the amount of bycatch they shovel over,” says Florida Sportsman member THEFERMANATOR. “I saw one episode where it looked like they were moving around undersize cobia in the shrimp hold. I prey that this show backfires, and brings the kind of attention that is needed to the commercial shrimping industry.”

The show portrays a dying lifestyle, there’s no doubt. Should we, as red-blooded Americans, try and preserve this profession? According to The History Channel’s website, U.S. shrimpers harvest over half a million pounds of shrimp a year, while the country imports another 200 million pounds. Much of U.S. shrimp consumption is now from farm-raised operations.

So join the discussion. Does Big Shrimpin’ help or hurt the commercial fishing industry? And is the commercial shrimping industry worthwhile to continue?

  • JLM

    There was 2 UNDERSIZE COBIA really BLEW MY MIND, Way to mUCH bycatch. The VIETNAMES SHRIMPERS IN BILOXI, MS are the worst constantly shrimping ilegally or in the TORTUGAS

    • Jackson

      You really think that illegal activities, such as keeping undersize Cobia, would be shown on television?

  • Big Red

    It is only a matter of time. There will be no sea life what so ever. Not only are they destroying juvenile species of fish. They are raping the ocean floor of vital nutrients that is the food source at the very bottom of the food chain. All the while big government is looking the other way

  • captbobbryant

    As big shrimping rebounds from its almost total collapse after Katrina, we are seeing in real life and experiment that should open the eyes of regualtors Gulf wide.

    That it is not the recreational anglers with unreasonable and excessive release mortaiity that is to blame for certain species conditons, but destructive watseful commericial fishing practices that are to blame.

    Hey ROY, please watch Big Shrimping, it will tell you more than any SEDAR study

  • Flat-Out Fish Wear

    As an angler this makes me worried about the future of the marine eco-systems! Killing all the small bait fish damages all the larger game fish, and will eventually lead to an unbalanced eco-system. The government ignores the commercial fishing industry and put more stringent regulations on the recreational anglers… I believe these regulations are misguided and changes need to be made to the commercial fishing industry. I realize the commercial fishing industry provides thousands of jobs but, changes need to be made!

  • Rachel Stacey Barbour

    I dont understand you guys comments. There has been shrimpers shrimping for hundreds of years. And they have always had by-catch. Seems as if every has a gripe about something. Next time you go to a restaurant don't order seafood if you are so against the way it is caught.

    • FLSportsman

      We have no problem explaining our frustration. Just because something has been done in the past does not make it right. History proves this time and time again. No one on this website will buy that excuse.

      Rachel, recognize the technological advancements made over those "hundreds of years." Better equipment, electronics, GPS, boats and even nets means that shrimpers are much better suited to catch shrimp in trawl nets. Unfortunately, those trawl nets catch, kill and destroy everything in its path. Such is the way of trawl nets.

      Bycatch, or better named bykill, is the dirty secret that most non-coastal, non-fishing Americans do not consider. That directly affects recreational anglers. Many of the juvenile species caught in those nets, we target. Some of the species caught and killed in the nets are even considered overfished by NOAA. Example: While shrimpers dump dead juvenile red snapper overboard in the Gulf, recreational fishermen that target red snapper of legal size cannot keep them.

      Many recreational anglers do not order seafood at restaurants…they catch their own. We are Florida Sportsmen. But you can seem how this shrimping business can make that hard. Besides, we have much better recipes than the stuff you find at those tourist traps.

  • Guest

    What are the trawlers doing to the Gulf of Alaska? I thought that was strictly regulated. I saw a documentary on commercial fishing and was impressed by the efficiency of the large vessel. very little by catch, and that was monitored by fisheries agents on board.

  • Bill Mills

    This show is pathetic in every possible way.

  • danielle

    Let me to u all something this is how these men make a living and this is all they know!!!! quit bashin them u nazi's basically all they do with the back catch is feed the damn birds and dolphins so get over your bullshit comments they make no sense my husband is a commercial shrimper and these men bust their asses doing this job and it is extremly dangerous and it takes alot of exhausting time away frm their families!!!! lets see you get your asses out there and try this job but u coudnt hang one day of it!!!!! Anyone can stick a pole in the water and catch fish how hard is that… Please… give me something better then that

    • Guest

      Danielle, I don't think anyone here is bashing the men out doing their jobs and earning a living for their families. We are saddened and angered by the methods being used that create so much bycatch. It just seems wasteful and disrespectful to our natural resources. Catching fish on hook and line, keeping only what you will eat and releasing the rest unharmed to swim away and procreate is a much more sporting and honorable way to act and ensure healthy fish populations. Just my thoughts. And btw…..I NEVER buy seafood, I catch my own anyway. So as far as I care commercial fishing can end tomorrow.

    • henry

      didnt say he wasnt working hard, but there are better ways to make a living and saving the oceans of the world, what has been done for centuries does not justify what is happening now,. its time to perserve what left of the worlds oceans and let them regrow.

  • John Davis

    trawlers are like taking a bulldozer to harvest grass fed beef in which each pass destroys several inches of top soil. In the late nineties carabelle had a tremendous run of calico scallops, and the shells were piled about three stories high. There were many trawlers with registered with markings showing that they were from the St George banks which at the time had totally collapsed from over fishing with these trawlers. Many of these boats sported New Brunswick and Nova Scotia regisration. They had been reoutfitted with more distructive bottom trawls. Then the grouper fishery took a noesdive shortly after they had ripped up the live bottom destroying the habitat that these species depend on. Now we have a Gag grouper population that appears to be in total collapse.

  • slorobert

    Everyone out there bad mouthing the shrimping industry need to pull their blinders off. Y'all can't see the forest because of the trees. In every industry there is a amount of over-kill. But for people to live things have to die. Sure the bye-catch is a large amount when you are sitting there watching it on TV, but you need to be on the deck of 1 of these boats for a day of work to see what it is about. Just to look around and consider how large the gulf is and how small you are, out there.

    I grew up out there, doing the same thing. So I may know a bit more than some of y'all. Every time someone talks about a net up comes the conversation, (O no they are killing red snapper, or this fish or that fish.)To start with if there is a shortage of snapper, of which I don't believe. It was not caused by a shrimp net, it was caused by over fishing with a hook. The recreational fisherman, because the only place you are going to catch snapper is on some type of structure. Not out on flat bottom, and a boat captain ain't gonna risk his rigging and get close enough to catch them. So you can't blame the snapper on the shrimper.

    But I can bet all y'all, if you go to a seafood buffet you will see those plates piled up with shrimp!!! (But let's shut the shrimpers down)

    Most all y'all believe everything that comes out of the GCCA!!!