La Frasca/Shrimping in the Estuary

We had a FANTASTIC afternoon and evening learning about shrimping with a cast net/atarraya in the estuaries of Agua Verde, which is between Caimanero and El Rosario. We returned home with heartfelt smiles, new friends, 5 kilos of huge fresh shrimp (for which we paid about 7 bucks), a bunch of fresh crab (which our new fishermen friends gave us for free), and a bucketload of end-of-season mangoes ($4 for a crate full). ¡¡Viva Sinaloa y los Sinaloenses!!!!!!

We set out late Saturday afternoon with our compadres, Jorge and Silvia, to attend the first annual “Festival de la Frasca.” While Jorge told me “frasca” is not a word, and that I surely must be trying to say “zafra” or “open season,” local people tell us it is a southern Sinaloan term meaning “to capture shrimp from the estuary.”

The Festival de la Frasca was supposed to be a food fest with live music. But as usual they were running late setting up, and before we could really get into the party we found much more exciting things calling us.

Just one month ago we had driven this very same road, but shrimp season is now open, and it was an even more wonderful place! I HIGHLY recommend you visit during shrimping season! While the season lasts 6 months, the first few weeks are supposedly the best, as the shrimp and the shrimpers are the most plentiful.

As we drove in we saw men with cast nets (atarrayas) everywhere.  Though mango season has finished, it is now the height of the shrimping season, and they have already planted tomatoes. After tomato season will come chile season, and so goes the year here.

Shrimp season is huge. We were told that opening day is like Carnaval—wall-to-wall people everywhere, with families fishing, picnicking and partying all night long. Family members come from all over the region back to Caimanero and Agua Verde to help with the shrimping, and to perform their obligations under the cooperativa(to work a minimum of so many hours and to capture a minimum of so many kilos). Women and children hang out with the fishermen, so it feels like life transfers from town to the estuary during this time.

Beside the road that just two weeks ago looked so very different we saw little houses or shelters, many of them housing the shrimpers. A standard shelter like the one shown here has one or two lights powered by a propane tank, a plastic shelter for rain, chairs, a way to cook (usually a fire pit), a radio and a cell phone. As you can see, they sit just off the road. Can you imagine spending the night there with cars, trucks, and motorcycles coming by a few feet away from you all night?

We greeted one of these guys, Rodolfo, at one of the stands, and he urged us to pull over and join him. So we did. The night crew, including Marco (who lives in Mazatlán but returns home for shrimp season), his 8 year old son and his 17 year old nephew, plus one other man, were just pulling up as we arrived.

Rodolfo proceeded to feed us a whole mess of fresh crab and shrimp, beside the road, in the fresh breeze, looking out over the estuary. La vida dura. While I well know, from living in Japan, how to crack open a fresh crab, scrape out the lungs, and eat the juicy brain and meat, this fisherman really enjoyed teaching us, and my comadre, Silvia, really enjoyed learning.

Here we also ate shrimp crudo with salt and lime (my all-time favorite—huge prawns, still wiggling; oh yum!), but he also cooked some for Silvia in a pot of broth.

We stayed here about an hour, chatting, feasting and just generally relaxing. We bought our first few kilos of shrimp, as well as receiving a huge bagful of cooked crab.

There were also many changueros, who we’ve heard about since arriving in Mazatlán, but this was the first time we met a few. They are estuary shrimpers who are not members of a cooperativa. They catch shrimp but legally are not supposed to be doing so. Many of the changueros used purina (shrimp chow) to get the shrimp up to the surface. None of the cooperativa fishermen we met used purina. They were very proud to explain to us that their shrimp were the purest.

Below is a video of one shrimper casting a net, and his wife helping him take out the shrimp and put them into a bucket.

After getting back in the car, we made the rounds of several cooperativas. At the first one the view was spectacular.

Rodrigo, a man we met there, sold us some more live shrimp. At left is his photo, and below a video of some of the shrimp wishing they could run away.

We had arrived here just in time for sunset. The sky and the water glowed. People were all so friendly, open and hospitable that it was amazing. Everyone was eager to talk, to explain this long Sinaloan shrimping tradition, and to share their catch of the day with us. To me this frasca tradition is soooo important; it’s Sinaloa’s history, and the if not some of the best shrimp in the world. And tons of it are harvested BY HAND here each year and shipped worldwide. I know such shrimping used to happen right here in Mazatlán; even next to Hotel Playa was an estuary (no wonder Zona Dorada floods).

The fishermen brought out packets of salt, fresh limes and bottles of salsa, and urged us to eat from their catch to our hearts’ content. Alfresco dining overlooking the estuary with friendly, happy, relaxed, knowledgable people; it was a wonderful afternoon. Every boy we met knew how to cast a net. They seem to start as young as seven or eight.



“Girls just wanna have fun…”

We also sat here for quite a long time, again feasting on raw shrimp (no cooked ones this time), and watching the guys cast their nets in the scenic little harbor.

The video below shows a guy casting his net from a panga, so you can see that as well as the earth-bound approach shown above.

The pangas or small fishing boats go out with two guys normally, one remero or rower, and one atarrayero or net caster. Most of the estuary is only hip- or waist-deep, so the remero carries a long stick or remo and basically pushes the panga along, similar to the movement of the gondolas in Venice.

Below is a short clip of the gentleman at left rowing.

There are various cooperativas to which the shrimpers belong. This drive out to one of them was really something — estuary on either side of the road, with loads of lit pangas all around.

Below is a video, so you can get a better feel for this road-with-water-on-both-sides drive.

After visiting some very cool places and meeting lots of wonderful people, we ended up spending another couple of hours sitting with Marco and his family. It was so peaceful there, and so very pleasant. Excuse the poorer quality of the photos from here on. The batteries on our camera died, so the remaining photos are taken with our phone.

On the way out we stopped at one last cooperative, this one the largest we’d seen. Here they had a large building or warehouse, surrounded by dozens of pangasfishing. Families were sitting and standing everywhere, waiting for their husbands, fathers, boyfriends and brothers to come in with their catch.

A semi-truck full of ice was waiting nearby.

A group of men with a scale and ledgers was registering incoming shrimp.

After dipping the bins full of shrimp into ice water, they placed the bins in the refrigerated truck where they are covered with ice and then taken to Mazatlán for sorting, packing and export.

It was at this last cooperative that we also saw our youngest atarrayero, this boy of about eight, at left.

We kept telling our friends that this was an otro mundo, or other world, that most guests in Mazatlán don’t know anything about or understand. We learned a lot about how the cooperativas function and about the life of a shrimper. We all got to eat live shrimp and enjoy some great company. The festival probably happened, but we know we had a lot more fun hanging out with our friends and meeting new ones. We already have plans to go back. We will definitely go opening night next year for the carnaval de cameron, and will head out some month just before the full moon when the really large shrimp are said to be much more plentiful and easier to catch. To be able to find Rodolfo and Marco’s shelter, we put their spot into our GPS and got their cell phone number. Stay tuned.
UPDATE:

About Dianne Hofner Saphiere

There are loads of talented people in this gorgeous world of ours. We all have a unique contribution to make, and if we collaborate, I am confident we have all the pieces we need to solve any problem we face. I have been an intercultural organizational effectiveness consultant since 1979, working primarily with for-profit multinational corporations. I lived and worked in Japan in the late 70s through the 80s, and currently live in and work from México, where with a wonderful partner we've raised a bicultural, global-minded son. I have worked with organizations and people from over 100 nations in my career. What's your story?

9 thoughts on “La Frasca/Shrimping in the Estuary

  1. What an interesting story…thanks so much for writing about this and all the great pictures! The picture with the styrofoam platter with shrimp and limes and a bottle of hot sauce was beautiful. Made me so hungry for shrimp. I envy you for living in such a great place with all this delicious seafood.

  2. So glad you enjoyed the post, Michael! Today we ate a HUGE bunch of the shrimp we got yesterday for our main meal. THEY WERE SO GOOD! Less than 24 hours after those shrimp were removed from the water. Of course, the ones we ate yesterday were direct from the water to our mouths and bellies. I take it you don't live near a coast, so I'll send you some virtually! I hope you'll be able to get to Mazatlán and Agua Verde to experience some of this live and in person some day soon.

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  4. Reblogged this on ¡VidaMaz! and commented:

    My heart goes out to all the fresh water shrimpers and shrimp farmers in our fair state. As you have no doubt read, “Early Mortality Syndrome” has killed 90%-98% of the estuary shrimp in Sinaloa, robbing so many local families of their livelihoods. It is heartbreaking. This is the same disease that has decimated shrimp populations in much of Southeast Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam) as well as Sonora and Nayarit.
    In their honor, below I reblog our post, “La Frasca,” or Shrimping in the Estuary in southern Sinaloa near Agua Verde.

    Sinaloa has a long and proud history of both deep water and estuary shrimping. Our state produced 50 thousand tons of shrimp in 2011, making us the main producer of shellfish in Mexico.
    I found an AWESOME online report of the history of shrimping in the Mexican Pacific, 1940-1950, the decade our shrimping industry exploded, with over 40 photos, histories of the main players, and loads of good stories. Be sure to check it out!

    This is not the first time such a disaster has occurred. White Spot Syndrome and Taura Syndrome are two diseases that have previously wiped out the year’s shrimp harvest, and such aquaculture diseases seem to be increasingly common worldwide.
    Let’s hope the deep water shrimpers do better! I know we all thoroughly enjoyed the “necklace on the bay” when all the boats headed out to sea on Friday night.

  5. Pingback: Our Heart Goes Out to Estuary Shrimpers | ¡VidaMaz!

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