Shrimpers – a Dying Way of Life Photo Essay

Shrimpers – a Dying Way of Life Photo Essay

Not too far from my home exists a small rag-tag fleet of shrimp boats. It saddens me to see these once proud trawlers fall into disrepair as they diminish in number. But, I love photographing them. There is a rugged romanticism which is very appealing.

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Shrimp Boats, Ft Myers photos-7

We find beauty in decay. Perhaps because we realize there is impermanence in everything, including ourselves. An attempt to pause the inevitable, to momentarily linger.

Shrimp Boats, Ft Myers photos

Shrimp Boats, Ft Myers photos

Shrimping has always been a hard way to make a living, even more so today. Fuel prices have skyrocketed and the fishing season and net configuration is controlled by the government.

Shrimp Boats, Ft Myers photos

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But, shrimpers are a tenacious lot. For many, it is a family business that has been passed down for generations. Their boats often named after women, real or imagined, in the captain’s life.

Shrimp Boats, Ft Myers photos-9

These much sought after, delectable crustaceans are found in most of the planet’s warmer waters.They can be caught, frozen, and shipped from Asia and elsewhere for less than the breakeven point for our local fisherman. Sound familiar?

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And then there is aquaculture, the farm raising of shrimp and prawns. Once you see it you don’t want to eat it. But it is a growing segment of the seafood market and with little regulation, especially overseas. Personally, I will not knowingly eat farm raised seafood.

Shrimp Boats, Ft Myers photos

Shrimp farms are a scourge on the earth, frankly, from an environmental point of view. They pour huge amounts of pollutants into the ocean. They also pollute their next-door neighbors.

___Jane Poynter

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How do we satisfy the ever increasing global demand for protein without harvesting our resources to extinction?

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Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There’s, um, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried. There’s pineapple shrimp and lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp,shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich… That’s, that’s about it.

___Mykelti Williamson

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Ron Mayhew

Fine Art Photographer specializing in Still Life and Commercial Photography.

This Post Has 39 Comments

  1. Beautiful pics but a very sad story. I love prawns (shrimp) but rarely eat them because I can’t always be sure where they’re from. Between the damage the farming causes, & the fact they are being over-fished in the wild as well, they’re mostly off the menu for me unless they’re labelled as sustainably produced, as is a whole lot of other seafood. In Australia the Marine Conservation Society produces a guide to sustainable seafood. sadly, they can’t give the green stamp of approval to much of it at all.

    1. Sustainable fishing and environmentally friendly aquaculture seems to be challenge. Thanks for you comment and for visiting.

  2. Pictures and words tell the story in a sad and poignant way.

  3. Great photo essay.. Our world is changing so fast and not always in the best direction.

  4. Great story Ron. I too love photographing boats of all kinds. While in Foley Alabama last year I went down to the docks and bought some fresh shrimp, Delious. I also went back later when the light changed to get a few shots of some glorious old Shrimpers. Yes, they too were in declining condition but still serving their crews well.

    1. Thanks Rick. Those old boats make great photo subjects.

  5. This is happening all over the world, like here on the French west coast, same thing. A lot of these people who used to live on fishing lost everything; too bad, an old tradition is almost lost. Great photos !

    1. A global problem for sure. Thank you Maria.

  6. Wonderful images, Ron, but your words tell a very sad tale. I hadn’t realised all the issues related to my favourite seafood. Thanks for educating me.

  7. Great image, it let me think about the fishing shrimp boat from Forrest jump (oh I just read now the words on the wall haha!!!)
    Have a nice sunday 🙂

    1. Thanks Sophie and thank you for visiting.

  8. Great photo essay, and I love that first image…that vessel has seen life alright. A ver sad story…

    1. Sad yes, but a reality. Makes me wonder how we will feed the growing population long term. Thanks Sue.

      1. Couldn’t agree more…

  9. Wonderful post. I especially like the second photo. Thanks for the information on the state of the shrimp industry.

    1. Thank you Marie. I am happy you liked the post.

  10. Great choice for the challenge Ron. We have shrimpers at home too and it’s really a dying breed. High costs to run and maintain the boats, low prices on the shrimp because of foreign competition. Really sad. I did a post on it a while back myself. Your photos are gorgeous as always!

    1. You are exactly right. We feel fortunate to be able to get local seafood, but for how long? I’ll check on your post. Thanks for your comment and enjoy the rest of your road trip.

  11. Excellent photo essay. Beautiful photos and… I agree…no farm-raised shrimp (or fish) for me!

    1. I think aquaculture is inevitable and, hopefully, done in an environmentally sustainable. Thanks Maya

  12. Great shots. I was expecting Forest Gump in the photos. 😛

    1. He was there. You didn’t see him? 🙂 Thanks.

  13. Great set of photos…beautiful description of a way of life that is disappearing. Reminded me when I was a teenager going out on a gill-netting boat fishing one night and I told my Dad this is what I would like to do for the rest of my life…before understanding that the economics would never allow that to happen (small fishing fleets in Oregon are always going under). These shots really brought all that back. You capture so much of the hardship, but hearty life of the people who rely on water and the sea. Well done Ron.

    1. There is a romanticism to that way of life, isn’t there? It is a concern that the world’s fisheries are being depleted making it all the more difficult for these guys to make it. Thanks for your encouragement Randall.

  14. It’s sad to witness the demise of shrimping in the country, but what a great photo opportunity. These photos are amazing. I always love seeing ruins in photos. I wonder why that is?

    1. I suppose we see a certain beauty in decay and it reminds us of our own vulnerability. Thank you Cathy, as always.

  15. Great photos. Hopefully it will NOT be a dying life but certainly a struggle to survive. Please support Wild American Shrimp(s)! 🙂

    1. Struggling, yes and surviving, perhaps one smaller scale much like organic farming. We are fortunate to live in a area where fresh wild caught seafood is available and that is all we ewill eat.

      I would like to spend some time with shrimper interviewing and documenting their work and lives and ultimately publishing a coffee table book. Would you be able to help me with some contacts?

  16. Unfortunately farm raised shrimp dominate the seafood market in restaurants even here in eastern NC where shrimping is alive (but not well). I was raised by commercial fishermen to be s fishermen but chose a different path in my early 20’s. It’s a rough life and will make you old before your years. I put in a few years on these boats. There’s no question that farm raised shrimp are no comparison to what is caught in our coastal waters. Support your fishermen and buy local shrimp if possible!

    1. Many years ago I did some recreational shrimping with a 16 foot Simmons Sea Skiff in the sounds around Wilmington. Some of the best days of my life and I still miss it. Times are rough for commercial fishermen and will continue to be with the pressure from farm raised and imported seafood.

  17. My brother was a shrimp boat captain at Ft. Myers Beach. He drowned there one night at the dock getting his boat ready to go out the next day. He truly loved fishing.

    1. I am so sorry. But, as you mentioned, he was doing what he loved. Not many of us can say that.

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