Every April-through-October Oregon shrimpers head out to capture one of my favorite regional specialties: Pacific pink shrimp, aka, Pandalus jordani. It’s the only shrimp species found off Oregon’s shores in quantities large enough for commercial harvest.
The season is designed to avoid interfering in the typical December to March reproductive cycle of the shrimp stock. Even so, and for reasons not completely understood, the annual harvest varies on a roller-coaster cycle, from as much as 57 million pounds in the mid-1970s to as little as 4 million back in the 1960s.
Ocean and climate conditions are two known factors affecting the abundance of harvestable pink shrimp, which have a four-year life span. This species of shrimp thrive in cold water and conversely, seem to fare poorly during warm years, especially strong El Nino years.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2018 was a successful season, weighing in at 35.8 million pounds, making it the third most valuable season of all time, with a bottom line figure of 26.9 million dollars. Predictions for 2019 remain optimistic.
It’s worth noting that Oregon’s pink shrimp fishery is managed as a sustainable fishery. Industry and government oversight, such as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, have worked together to develop fishing methods which maximize catch while protecting the spawning potential of the stock, so that the long term viability of the stock is assured.
One clear example where Oregon’s pink shrimp industry has also shown leadership in clean fishing is the implementation of technologies which minimize bycatch. As the word implies, bycatch is the act of inadvertently catching other fish species along with the pink shrimp. By reducing bycatch, threatened species known as eulachon are given a greater chance to recover.
The first of two important technologies became mandatory in 2003: the use of highly sophisticated nets equipped with bycatch reduction devices (BRDs or “shrimp grates”). The second important innovation which reduces bycatch — and is more effective than BRDs at protecting the eulachon population — is the use of footrope lighting (LED fishing lights). In fact, studies have shown that when used properly LEDs reduce the bycatch of eulachon in shrimp nets by up to 90 percent.
All of this adds up to an industry that has been certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2007.
That makes the celebration of the glorious harvest all the sweeter.
My all-time favorite way to celebrate this delectable harvest is the shrimp cocktail. And my most fun form of said cocktail is a make-your-own shrimp cocktail bar, an arrangement in which diners assemble their own from an array of chopped celery and colorful peppers, diced avocado, two or three 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.