By Jennifer Furber published on April 27, 2017
On the very first Saturday in May, shrimp season opens. It seems to be all Islanders are talking about and “shrimp fever” is a real, excitable state many find themselves in. From corners on the street to lines in the grocery store, people trade stories of gear to personalized bait recipes to pot dropping zones. And soon, once the catches roll in, recipes and cooking tips are traded all around town.
The Season is Almost Here!
The San Juan Island region is known as “7South” and open daily until May 31, 2017. The catch limit is 80 spot shrimp per licensed-fisher, 2 pots per shrimper and only 4 pots per boat. Spot shrimp are the largest of the shrimp species with four white spots on their body. They’re typically 8-12 inches long and rightfully carry the nickname Pink Gold and/or Pacific Gold. Many are certain nothing tastes like a freshly caught spot shrimp. The season is short and when they’re freshly cooked, it’s an otherworldly experience. Spot shrimp are delicious fried, steamed, boiled, served with sauces or mixed with ceviche. Spot prawns are succulent and the season is short, so this special time of year is executed with precision.
Like a true Islander, shrimp act differently on a bright sunny day. When the sun is strong and shining, the shrimp are deeper in the ocean, sometimes as deep as 300 feet. On grey, cloudy days, shrimp are in shallower water and can be caught between 125-250 feet of water. Although the exact GPS locations of good-catch, full-pot zones can’t be shared since secret spots are valuable and passed down to generational islanders and frequent fisherman, tips for gear and process can insure a successful Pacific Gold harvest.
How to Start Prawning
Materials are easy to come by at the local, downtown Friday Harbor King’s Market. First, you need a pot and a yellow buoy to mark your pot with name, address, and telephone number prominently displayed in case your pot drifts away from its drop location. The locals recommend leaded line so it sinks, won’t end up wrapped around someone’s prop and it lasts longer than the ordinary and cheaper yellow floating line. The avid fisherman will be quick to remind you to use at least 25% more line than the total depth you are fishing. Remember to check soaking pots once an hour. If it’s a place with a lot of shrimp yield, it’s a good idea to cluster the pots. Of course, the bait is what really matters. The commercially oiled shrimp bait pellets mixed with fish flavored cat food, like Purina Friskies Ocean Whitefish and Tuna, release a strong scent trail to attract a large catch.
Once you haul in your pot, carefully count the prawns. Remember, it’s 80 per day. A high-quality gallon Zip Lock bag will hold forty spot shrimp. A quick twist with a wrist easily pops off the shrimp’s head. Put the shrimp on ice and they’ll stay alive for 5 hours. Immersing them in melted ice water or simply cold water in a cooler will make them die almost immediately.
Although some would say it’s all in the short season, but spot shrimp are a reason to get excited and get out on the water and harvest. There are hundreds of recipes available after a minute of searching, but the simple steamed spot prawn with a splash of butter wins in simplicity and ease. With proper supplies and a little May planning, the spot shrimp experience that has locals elated with shrimp fever for Pacific Gold can become your next favorite pastime.