Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fish House Opera

Picked up some shrimp at the grocery store this morning, planned to steam and chill them for a neighbor's party.  I was surprised and pleased when I got home to find that they were not farm-raised shrimp from Asia.  These were "caught wild" Carolina shrimp.  
I have nothing against farm-raised shrimp, like anything else they can be fine if raised in a healthy, environmentally sound way.  (Though I wasn't too happy about peeling/deveining six dozen shrimp!)  But I was glad to see I was supporting some of our mid-Atlantic watermen.  Last fall I saw a bunch of shrimp boats trawling the Sound.  This one above was part of a group of three or four boats coming down the Pamlico River.  I tried to call them on channel 16 to see how much room I needed to give them but got no response.  I was later told by a waterman that these captains are usually in a channel up in the 80's making small talk with each other.  I waited until they were well past then cut across their sterns.
Most of the boats were smaller, local operations.  Old wooden boat with just a few people on board.  They docked in the tiny creeks just off the Sound.  I did not get any good photographs of the salty boats, I'll make a point of doing it on this next trip.
Seafood is a complicated issue with no easy answer.  It involves people's lives, tradition, the environment, international trade and working waterfronts.  I don't know what the right answers are, but I do know that over the years I have met many fishermen who were good, hardworking people.  Crabbers, netters, shrimpers and oystermen.  They just wanted to make a living like their fathers and grandfathers did.
For a good look for the watermen's point of view get a copy of Fish House Opera by Susan West and Barbara J. Garrity-Blake.  The book, written in 16 acts, talks about the lives of watermen from Cedar Island, Ocracoke, and - if I remember correctly - Hatteras Island.  The chapters cover both the joy and the frustrations of making a living off the waters of Pamlico Sound. 
A couple of the fishermen in the book went by the name "Fat Boys Fishing Co."  We used to rent a house just across the canal from where they worked in Ocracoke.  We enjoyed sitting on the deck and watching them rigging their nets in the morning, bringing buckets of fish in the evening.  They talked in the unusual island brogue, always laughing and teasing each other.
As for tonight's shrimp, they smelled so good after steaming that a handful of them made their way on to a salad for lunch.  The guests tonight will have to share a few less Carolina Shrimp. 

- Steve

1 comment:

Jim Bob said...

Steve, your blog is well written and I enjoy reading it. Carolina shrimp are great. The few times I have been to Oriental, I make sure I get some.

One day I hope to get a small 16-20 ft. boat for sailing the North Carolina waterways. I thought about building one, but I am not very good at woodworking. So, I keep an eye out in the classifieds for something that strikes me as "the one".