Learn About Southwest Florida’s Shrimping Industry with a Working Waterfront Tour

Shrimp Boats Docked in San Carlos Island, Ft. Myers Beach, Fla., March 2022

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“I need someone to help,” the shrimper yelled from the boat as it eased to the dock. He pointed in my direction, and I assumed he was specifically pointing to someone behind me. I was part of a tour learning about the Southwest Florida shrimping industry and there were plenty of curious people so why would he choose me?

Oh, Yes. I’m a Greenhorn.

“You, greenhorn! This is a door and when it’s parallel to this post, tell me,” He instructed while motioning his arms like an airport worker on the tarmac.

As he spoke, I nodded in agreement. Earlier in the day and at the beginning of the tour, a guide with the Ostego Bay Foundation Marine Science Center provided an overview of the area’s shrimping industry. This included the major components of a shrimp net, including the doors. I impressed myself knowing what he was referring to.

At the bow of the boat, the bearded shrimper tied to another post and pulled the boat forward. Fascinated watching the craft inch forward, I looked around and was standing alone. I then realized he was providing me with instructions. I was the greenhorn.

“No pressure,” I told myself, and wondered, how precise does it need to be to the piling? Should I anticipate that it’ll drift a little into place and should I notify him when it’s really two inches away? Or does it really need to be exactly parallel?

“It’s parallel!” I yelled as the door was exactly parallel.

The shrimper secured the bow at the port side and a couple of other shrimpers tied up the stern.

“That greenhorn over there helped me,” the shrimper yelled while pointing to me.

How Many Days Were Those Shrimpers on That Boat?

I wasn’t sure if being called a “greenhorn” was a good thing or bad thing. At the beginning of the tour, the guide warned language by the dock may be salty. So, I decided to own my new job title. My role in helping the shrimp boat dock seemed minimal but it was an important one.

While rubbing his fuzzy white beard, the shrimper said the crew had been out for at least 30 days harvesting shrimp. Florida pink shrimp, to be exact. Sometimes called Key West pinks. It’s a nocturnal shrimp that sparked the Pink Gold Rush during the mid-twentieth century and reason the small fishing village on San Carlos Island in Ft. Myers Beach still exists.

I then realized if this boat with a captain and handful of shrimpers have been out for more than a month, I’m one of the first people they’ve seen in a very long time and that reinforced my appreciation of Florida’s shrimping industry.

Working Waterfront Tour with the Ostego Bay Foundation

The Ostego Bay Foundation offers the three-hour Working Waterfront tour to learn about Southwest Florida’s pink shrimp industry Wednesdays during the winter and spring season. This shrimping fleet is the largest commercial fishing fleet in the Gulf of Mexico.

The tour was excellent and began with an overview of the area’s marine life, history, why Florida pink shrimp are desirable and tour of the working waterfront beginning at Shrimp Boat Lane. We walked through mangroves to learn more about the aquatic ecosystem and walked along the docks where I spied sparks flying from a welder’s torch in a welding shop.

Shrimp nets are handsewn and we watched two men working on nets. The group walked through the marina store, equipped with all the essentials for a shrimp boat. Large spools of line. Nets. And other gadgets and bits I have no clue their purpose.

Yum! Fresh, Delicious Florida Pink Shrimp.

The guide led us into Trico Shrimp Company and reaching around the counter, he pulled out a pink shrimp larger than the palm of my hand.

“See the pink dots,” the guide asked, “Those are God’s fingerprints from picking up the shrimp and placing it in the water.”

Sure enough, I saw one pink dot on either side of the shrimp.

Harvested shrimp are flash-frozen almost immediately aboard the boat to preserve their freshness. According to the guide, the shrimp can be defrosted and frozen again without losing quality.

We met a member of the family-owned Erickson & Jensen Seafood who brought out bags of frozen shrimp. If I had cash, a small bag would have gone home with me.

After tempting the group with how sweet the Florida pink shrimp are, the food truck ShrimpHer welcomed us back from the tour with samples of pink shrimp. The teaser was a reason to stick around for something more, a shrimp taco to be exact.

As described, they are firm, sweet, and delicious. And remember, they are pink in their raw, natural state, and remain pink after being cooked.

Although all the walking worked up an appetite, I’m pretty sure learning the San Carlos Island legacy made these pink shrimp all the more delectable.

Nuts & Bolts About the Ostego Bay Working Waterfront Tour

Ostego Bay Foundation, Inc.
718 Fisherman’s Wharf
Fort Myers Beach, Fla. 33931
Tel: (239) 765-8101
http://www.ostegobay.org

Cost: Contact the Ostego Bay Foundation for current costs.

The three-hour tour is offered seasonally from late winter to early spring. The tours usually book up so make your reservations as soon as possible. Although the GPS/map on your phone will let you know the drive time, add an extra half hour due to local traffic.

The tour begins with an overview of the local shrimping and seafood industry and ecology including a video. After that, participants drive to Shrimp Boat Lane to begin the walking tour.

Wear comfortable shoes, sunglasses, and hat and apply sunscreen. Stay hydrated by bringing your own water. After the tour, walk through the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center to learn more about the local aquatic system.

While I’m on the topic of Florida seafood, have you visited the old Florida fishing village of Cortez?

View More Photos on Flickr: Click Photo Below

San Carlos Island
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Solo Travel Girl

Jennifer A. Huber is the voice behind Solo Travel Girl. She's an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, SoloTravelGirl.com with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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