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?

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