Every April through October, Oregon shrimpers head out to capture one of the region's specialties: Pacific pink shrimp — aka Pandalus jordani. And although commercial fishing is never a cakewalk, at least local shrimpers work in slightly more civilized weather.
The season is designed to avoid the reproductive period of shrimp stocks. Even so, and for reasons not completely understood, the annual harvest varies on a roller-coaster cycle, from as many as 57 million pounds to as few as 4 million.
According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2011 was a fantastic season, weighing in at 48.3 million pounds — almost 17 million pounds more than 2010 — the highest catch total since 1989. As far as how that measures up over the long haul, the 2011 total was the fourth-highest season on record. If you'd like to take a look at the Annual Pink Shrimp Review by ODFW researchers Bob Hannah and Steve Jones, go to www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/publications/#Shrimp.
Will 2012 be as good? Keeping in mind that it's unpredictable, the prognosis seems good for another above-average harvest. For one thing, speculate Hannah and Jones, there's been a shift in populations of adult hake, major predators of pink shrimp. Hake seem to be heading away from the southern shrimp beds toward deeper waters.
Shrimp trawlers are double-rigged, meaning they use two nets, as opposed to the single-rigged trawlers fishing for groundfish. The nets ride at depths ranging from 60 to 600 feet, depending how far out to sea they are.
Although the mesh size is small, they are equipped with bycatch-reduction devices (BRDs). Mandatory in Oregon since April 2003, BRDs are designed to dramatically reduce the catch of other fish.
My all-time favorite shrimp concoction is the cocktail. And the most fun form of said dish is a make-your-own shrimp-cocktail bar, an arrangement that lets diners assemble their own from an array of chopped celery and colorful peppers, diced avocado, two different cocktail sauces and a big bowl of Pacific pink shrimp. I've done this in the casual, outdoor settings of campgrounds and picnics (just put out the clear plastic cups and bowls), as well as more formal events where my loveliest crystal martini glasses are employed.
I never tire of shrimp cocktails. But eventually, I explore all the other wonderful approaches to enjoying this Pacific Northwest treat.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.