National Geographic : 1957 May
707 The tester then turns to the cooked samples, each boiled exactly four minutes with a meas ured amount of salt. He will chew thought fully for a time, perhaps murmur a noncom mittal "Hm-m," then put down his score silently. He sips a little tepid water to re condition his taste buds and moves on to the next sample. Such constant and close association with one particular food, some of which is decidedly not fresh, is not the only hazard of our work. All of us make regular voyages with the shrimp boats and have suffered misadven- tures. Biologist Bob Ellis, for one, was standing with one foot inside a coil of rope when a trawl was dropped overboard. Only a fast jump saved him from following the net to the bottom of the Gulf. Shrimpers themselves face many hazards. Sudden violent storms sweep the Gulf of Mex ico, sometimes reaching hurricane velocity. And ever since United States boats began trawling off the Mexican coast in the late 1940's, the "shrimp war" has kept the fleet on edge. Mexico claims sovereignty stretching nine nautical miles (about ten and a half land miles) from shore, while the United States recognizes territorial limits of no more than three sea miles. For ten years, "Yanqui" shrimpers have had to face Mexican seizure of their boats, fines, and an occasional shot across the bow. Another problem is navigation. Older fish ermen coming south to the new deepwater shrimping grounds have been jolted out of their comfortable ways. To get out of sight of shore was a frightening experience, and trawling at night made it worse. Giant Deepwater Shrimp Discovered In the early days many boats could get to the Tortugas grounds only by following some body else who knew the way. One February day in 1950 six trawlers followed another shrimper over a shoal near the Marquesas Keys east of the Dry Tortugas, and all seven hung up their nets on the bottom. Electronic depth finders and automatic pilots are coming into the shrimp fleet. But only experience-and luck-can fend off dis aster when a shark, sawfish, or big sting ray tangles with the net. A fighting-mad sawfish with its vicious, sharp-toothed blade can tear a $300 trawl to uselessness in minutes. Changes in the shrimpers' world are not over. Only recently, promising new types of shrimp have been found in very deep waters. Wine-red giants, tasting much like lobster, have come up in test trawls 1,000 to 5,000 feet down. Some of them are nearly a foot long and weigh a third of a pound each. So long as otter boards and questing nets stir the bottom in new regions, the story of shrimping will change. How much more of this rich sea treasure exists under the keels of fishing boats, no one really knows. The searching out and tapping of this; living bounty holds a promise far greater than find ing all the pirate treasures ever lost in history and legend.