A Terrebonne shrimp storyStories by Wilson J. Gaidry, III

10. The Fiberglass Skimmer Net Skiff

At the same time the Federal Government was developing a private fishery made up of super trawlers, the Louisiana Shrimp Fishery was going in the exact opposite direction: developing a small boat fishery with the participation based on democratic principles. The people actually involved in the fishery realized that the cost of harvest was more important that the overall yearly gross income.

Salt water and iron are a bad combination, there is a constant maintenance problem with rust and corrosion. To fish in the deeper offshore waters in the winter require bigger more costly vessels with higher fuel consumption.

Fiberglass skimmer boat
Fiberglass skimmer boat

The small fiberglass skiff was the answer. It required little maintenance and with stainless steel and aluminum rigging there was no corrosion and fitted with modified beam trawls (skimmer nets) developed by the inshore fishermen the fuel consumption was only a fraction of that of a super trawler. There were times in the tidal cycle that skimmer nets could be fished using tidal energy only (no fossil fuel) and raised off the sea bottom so as not to produce any bottom damage. It was ideally suited for the calm inshore waters.

One unanticipated advantage to the skimmer net was that the shrimp could be retrieved without bringing in the entire net. The shrimp in the cod end (bag) of a super trawler were dragged around for hours in a pile of fish, bottom trash, mud, crabs and anything else lying on the bottom that the otter trawl could pick up. The bag of a skimmer boat was emptied every 10 or 15 minutes, resulting in shrimp that were fresher and less damaged.

People in the bayou communities that know high quality shrimp and some shrimp dealers were paying more for the shrimp caught in the skimmer nets.

Fishermen were shifting from steel hull otter trawl boats to fiber glass skimmer net boats, a trend that continues to this day; the majority of Louisiana shrimp fishing boats are fiberglass skimmer net boats and the participation in the fishing is based on the right to fish doctrine of equal opportunity of all citizens.

I am so thankful that in my lifetime I was able to have the opportunity to participate in the Louisiana shrimp fishery; but it saddens me that the political pressure of big money and special interest are gradually taking this opportunity from future generations.

The marine fishery resources of Louisiana’s vast coastline that were once a public resource free to all are slowly becoming a private resource for a privileged few.