Captain Jimmy Dyson of Cameron calls himself a "sunshine fisherman.” While others work in offices from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Dyson begins his day the moment the sun rises. He rides his boat, the Captain Hunter, along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from the Louisiana/Texas state line to Vermillion Bay, filling his 55-foot trawl nets with the day’s catch. He’ll come back home as the sun sets and deliver to the fish house a boat-full of fresh shrimp. From there, Dyson’s shrimp is sent to area restaurants, where they grace the plates of customers hungry for a genuine piece of Louisiana.
Shrimp is big business in the Bayou State. According to the Louisiana Seafood Commission, the industry accounts for 15,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of $1.3 billion for the state. The big commercial boats also share the waters with anyone who brings a cast net and is looking to catch a few for themselves. And with an ample supply close at hand, shrimp is woven into the rich culinary culture of Louisiana as a staple of the Cajun diet.
For Dyson, shrimp is a way of life, one he’s lead for 49 years.
"If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it,” he said. "I’ve been my boss almost all my life. I think shrimping has been a real good life.”
Since the age of 14, Dyson has ridden five of his own boats while working in in the commercial shrimping industry, riding along the Gulf coast and passing his trawl nets through inlets and waterways. He makes his own nets and maintains his boat along with a couple of crew members.
As a commercial shrimp boat captain, there’s much Dyson has to manage in order to continue operating the Captain Hunter.
"On this job you’ve got to be a net man, a mechanic, a carpenter, a painter, you have to be it all,” Dyson said.
Dyson will sell his catch to a local fish house like Cameron Seafood. He needs to sell enough shrimp to cover the cost of fuel for his boat to scratch even, which can be up to $500 for a single day.
The price of shrimp can vary throughout the year, depending on the market and external circumstances. For instance, due to concerns over quality, shrimp was difficult to sell just after the Deepwater Horizon spill, according to Dyson.
Different sizes will also have different prices. Shrimp are measured based on how many individual shrimp are needed to make up one pound. For a single pound of 21-25 shrimp, buyers can expect there to be between 21 and 25 individual shrimp. Larger sizes, such as U-10s, in which there are 10 shrimp per pound, are significantly more expensive and are used for fine shrimp dishes by restaurants.
According to Dyson, Shrimp can be caught year round by big offshore boats, but some types are only available during the appropriate season in inland waters. Brown shrimp are usually open for fishing from late May to about June or July, with white shrimp usually available afterwards up to August and September. Smaller seabob shrimp can be caught from November to January.
Large boats aren’t always required to catch shrimp. With a cast net, anyone can fish up their own catch. Shallow waters, such as around banks or areas with docks and piers, are great places to catch shrimp with a net.
But sometimes shrimping on a boat is an experience like no other.
"I think there ought to be a law, especially in Louisiana, that every person at least one day in their life should go shrimping on a shrimp boat.” Dyson said.