Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shrimping Season is here again in Pearl Lagoon

Shrimp drying in the sun
Shrimp fever has hit Pearl Lagoon! How do I know? Well, you can tell by the smell in the air!

Whole families are getting in on the act. The process to prepare the shrimp for sale is simple, but very laborious - so it's a good thing that it only happens twice a year. The financial rewards though are big - especially for a small community like Pearl Lagoon - so many families turn their small homes into "mini shrimp processing plants".

The whole process starts with the local fishermen heading out to sea and coming back to port with boat loads of shrimp. On a good day they will bring in about 100 buckets of raw shrimp. Each bucket holds approximately 35 lbs of shrimp - so they catch about 3500 lb of shrimp that need to be processed as quickly as possible. They either process the shrimp themselves (together with their families) or sell it for others in town to process.

Stirring shrimp - Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua
Shrimp drying in the sun - Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua
Step one in the process is to wash the "buckets" of shrimp which is usually done right there in the lagoon.The next step is to cook the shrimp in a salty brine. They use freshwater to cook the shrimp with lots of salt added so that the liquid is REALLY salty. Once the shrimp is well cooked it is hung to drip dry. Next the shrimp is spread out on plastic sheets to dry in the hot sun. Sheets of shrimp are every where - on the roads, in front yards, back yards, walkways - any available space is taken up with sheets of drying shrimp. As the shrimp is being baked dry by the sun it is necessary to "stir" the shrimp so that there are no "wet" patches that could spoil the quality of the finished product. A batch of shrimp, left in the sun, will be thoroughly dried in about 4-5 hours.

The dried shrimp is gathered up and put into sturdy bags. Now comes the part that most kids really enjoy - "whopping" the shrimp. This is when the bag of shrimp is repeatedly banged onto the ground to separate the shell from the meat. After a good whopping, the shrimp is sieved and sorted in order to remove any shells, stones, leaves or other debris so that you are left with a nice, clean - hopefully bright pink - dried shrimp ready to be packaged and sold to the local buyer for shipment to other parts of the world.

"Whopping" the shrimp - Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua
"Whopping" the shrimp - Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua
What is the going price for top grade dried shrimp? Those who are processing the shrimp hope to receive 50 cordobas a pound for their labors - approximately $2.00 US. One bucket of raw shrimp will yield only 3 lbs of processed shrimp and therefore most families will purchase 20 buckets to process at a time. Their net gain for their labors will be in the neighborhood of $120 US per 20 buckets of raw shrimp. Since the average monthly income for a family in Pearl Lagoon is less than $250 US you can understand why so many families see the processing of shrimp as a terrific way to boost their income.



Sorting dried shrimp - Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua