Shrimping Season Begins With a Blessing

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Shrimping Season Begins With a Blessing

The Rev. Mark Watters blessing the trawler at the Brownsville Shrimp Basin
The Rev. Mark Watters blessing the trawler at the Brownsville Shrimp Basin

Shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico has been a way of life for thousands from the Brownsville/Port Isabel area to the Texas upper coast.  It’s also been the livelihood for hundreds of others who come from as far as Mexico and Central America.

Each new shrimp season usually starts on July 15, or a month and a half after hurricane season begins. But just as the farmers of the land face uncertainties, these farmers of the sea are in the same boat. Fluctuation in prices and foreign imports have an impact on the U.S. shrimp crop year in and year out.

Area queens and a puppet shrimp during the July 9 Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.
Area queens and a puppet shrimp during the July 9 Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.

So for 14 years, a ceremony wishing shrimpers the best of luck has become an area tradition. It’s the known as the Blessing of the Fleet with its presiding officer Rev. Mark Watters.

“It’s good to be here once again,” he said before hopping on a boat to spray holy water on the vessels in the docks at the Brownsville Shrimp Basin. “We are expecting an excellent year, and expansion (not a constriction) of the shrimp fleet, larger and more shrimp, and a higher demand.”

His comment about the size of the fleet refers to the numbers of trawlers in the area. It has decreased in 50 years from a peak of more than 500 to about 180 today. In the way things are going, the numbers will keep shrinking unless a miracle occurs.

The latest report by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration expects the harvest of brown shrimp in the western Gulf of Mexico to be 49.2 million pounds for the 2018-19 season. The figure is below the 57-year average of 55.8 million pounds.

Area shrimpers said the new season forecast remains the same, or below average. Foreign imports, particularly from farm-raised shrimp, government regulations and higher cost of supplies have been taking its toll on the U.S. shrimping season as well.

Shrimp vessels waiting for Monday, July 15, of the 2019-20 season.
Shrimp vessels waiting for Monday, July 15, of the 2019-20 season.

Andrea Hance, the executive director with the Texas Shrimp Association, says the industry is trying to get a disaster declaration. Extreme high fresh water flow into the gulf due to recent rains is plaguing the industry.

Area shrimpers land one-third of the U.S. crop estimated at 45 million pounds – that is about 15 million pounds. Hance said the industry generates hundreds of jobs and has an economic impact of $750 million in Texas.

For Eduardo Pasos of Tampico, Mexico, and Luis Gomez on El Bluff, Nicaragua, shrimping is their source of income.

“I have been coming to work here for the last 19 years – four months during the season,” Gomez said. “Thank God I have a job and that I had never had problems with my temporary visa so I can work on shrimp boats.”

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