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Cast your net and catch enough for dinner

Tom Robinson, along with grandsons “Indy”, left, and Zach, demonstrates net casting. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Net casting is art and science. Tom Robinson uses the right amount of “whipping action” to make the net open up and hit the water in a circle. The weights on the net’s end pull it under water. Pulling the handline brings in the edges forming a bag with the catch.
Dinner time!

by Tom Chillemi

White shrimp have been known to occur in Chesapeake Bay as far as back as the late 1800s, explained Troy Tuckey, PhD, an associate research scientist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

The increase of Bay white shrimp really started around 1991 and that is when the VIMS trawl survey began to keep track of them, said Tuckey. “The survey captured them occasionally prior to 1991, but in very low numbers.” 

The increase in shrimp over the years peaked last summer with 2016 showing the greatest numbers thus far, said Tuckey. The most common species is white shrimp, found primarily in the rivers. Brown shrimp and pink shrimp are found in the Bay and rivers. “We do not trawl in the creeks, but I heard from folks that live on the water along creeks that they were able to cast net for shrimp off their docks.”

Net caster
Tom and Dale Robinson of Mathews “netted” a good amount of shrimp by floating along the shore and hurling a cast net over underwater eel grass in shallow water at the edge of marsh grass in Billups Creek. “I learned the shrimp were closer to shore,” said Tom, who in 2016 was a rookie net caster but mastered the art of making the net land in a circle on the water. He’s optimistic the shrimp will return this summer.

Last summer he learned shrimp were in the area from a local newspaper story late in the season. In September, Tom bought the last casting net in stock at Ocean Products in Mathews.

After watching You Tube videos and three days of practice, he could cast the net, using the right amount of “whipping action” to make it open up and hit the water in a circle. “It’s not as easy as it looks,” he said. The weights on the net’s end pull it under water.

Once he perfected his technique, in three casts from the end of his dock Tom caught 20 pounds of assorted fish, including some shrimp. “When the net is full, it turns silver.”

Tom had become a hunting and gathering alpha male. The tribe ate well that night.

Shrimp migrate and follow warm water. They have been tagged in North Carolina and later found off Georgia’s coast, said Tuckey.

White shrimp are susceptible to cold temperatures, which can be fatal. “Winters north of North Carolina, are typically too cold to allow them to survive,” said Tuckey, adding that there have been instances where very cold winters resulted in high mortality and low catches of shrimp as far south as Georgia and South Carolina. 

In the last decade the shrimp have occasionally followed the warm water into the Chesapeake Bay. The VIMS Juvenile Fish Trawl Survey indicates shrimp peaks occurred in 2008, 2013 and 2016, said Tuckey. “VIMS has a standardized method of sampling each time we put the net in the water, and that way we can compare catches from one year to the next,” he explained.

The VIMS shrimp survey found quite a few shrimp in the York River and Rappahannock River, said Tuckey. “Our sampling of rivers stops with the Rappahannock, so shrimp may be further north, but we do not sample there and cannot verify where their distribution stops.”

Life cycle
VIMS professor Jeffery Shields said shrimp breed in high-salinity waters and their larvae survive well in high salinities. “As with the blue crab, the post-larvae enter estuaries usually in early spring to feed, grow, and mature. The warming conditions over the last two years has brought them into the Chesapeake Bay, probably as a few waves of post-larvae from North Carolina,” said Sheilds. “Last year people were able to cast net for them and catch enough for dinner.”

The Bay has three regular shrimp inhabitants—Penaeus aztecus, P. setiferus, and P. duorarum. “I think P. aztecus is the most common in the area, and I’ve seen them annually in the lagoons on the Eastern Shore as well as in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Shields.
Shrimp are not harvested commercially in the Bay, said Laurie Naismith of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which does not regulate shrimp.

So cast your fate upon the waters.

Dinner time!
After netting shrimp last season in their creek Tom and Dale Robinson of Mathews said they sautéed smaller shrimp in butter and Old Bay Seasoning, which made them crispy. The larger shrimp were steamed. Both were cooked with the heads on.

The website wikiHow gives the following suggestions for preparation.

Rinse the shrimp in cold water only. Shrimp cook quickly and using warm water will make them rubbery.

The head, legs and shell can be left on during cooking. Some folks say the heads are edible. However, to remove, pinch the head and twist.

The legs come off with a twist, then shell can be peeled back. Or, you can leave the legs and shell on.

Remove the black “vein” that runs down the back using a knife to loosen it, then pull it with your fingers.

Discard shrimp that smell “fishy,” a sign of spoilage.

Steamed Shrimp Recipe

½ cup cider vinegar or beer
½ cup water
2 tablespoons OLD BAY® Seasoning
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, leaving tails on
1 cup OLD BAY® Cocktail Sauce

In a medium saucepan, mix vinegar, water and Old Bay Seasoning. Bring to boil on medium heat. Gently stir in shrimp, then cover.

Steam 2 to 3 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Drain well.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until hungry guests arrive. Best served with cocktail sauce.

posted 07.27.2017

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