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Life on a Cameronera (Shrimp Farm)

Life on a Cameronera (Shrimp Farm)

Jama-Manabi-Ecuador  – July 2014

The shrimp ponds along Rio Jama are owned by a handful of families, and each one has a modest headquarters where pumps, feed and supplies are stored. Life is usually quiet on these cameroneras;  the pumps run when fresh ocean water ebbs upriver each day, and they are quiet when the river is low.

P7150817 quadrado shrimp harvest july 2014 Many times a modest living area is located on the second floor above the bodega. (My house is this type of design.)  Having someone watching over the ponds day and night helps protect against theft (yes- thieves sneak in at night and steal shrimp!).   The employee also turns the pumps on and keeps an ear tuned for signs of mechanical problems.  When the river water levels get low, the pumps are turned off.

P7100345 storks  CROPPED

Storks clean up the leftovers after a harvest!

The health of the ponds is closely monitored from the time the tiny larvae are delivered to a small nursery pond until the day of harvest.    Oxygen levels are important, and sunny conditions produce healthier ponds than cloudy ones.   The ponds are deep enough that herons and egrets are not tempted by the shrimp that stay near the bottom.  If the birds line the edges, it’s a sign that something’s wrong – perhaps the shrimp need more oxygen, and they’re coming to the surface.     Each day an employee paddles across the ponds in a canoe and feeds the shrimp at the feeding stations.  (Note sticks in pond below.)

The day before harvest...

The day before harvest…

A shrimp harvest requires more labor, and the men release the water through an outlet pipe, one board at a time.  Starting with the highest board, the water level slowly lowers and more boards are removed.   Sensing the change in water level, the shrimp instinctively go to the deepest part of the pond, which is near the outlet pipe.  Netting prevents the shrimp from escaping too soon!

Preparing to open the discharge gate, one board at a time...

Preparing to open the discharge gate, one board at a time…

When most of the water has drained, the men prepare the tube net, which will catch the shrimp as they come through the discharge pipes.   Using a system that dates back to Roman times, the men pass the shrimp from net to crate, along an assembly line up the canal bank then into a vat of ice water.   Kersplash! P1640189 shrimp harvest outgoing water

Shrimp Harvest: CLOSE THE GATES!

Shrimp Harvest: CLOSE THE GATES!

P1370791 shrimp harvest A few weeks ago Dady Quadrado invited my friends and me to come watch the harvest.   We drove to their ponds and were greeted by lovely Dady.  They had just finished harvesting one pond, and the second was about to begin.

Let's follow Dady!

Let’s follow Dady!

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Always-smiling Dady has a few serious moments; she’s in pay-attention-to-work mode!

We walked to the rear of the harvest truck to say, “Hello” to the very-busy boss:

What a classy boss!

What a classy boss!

P7150903 quadrado shrimp harvest july 2014 How refreshing it is to see a mother-daughter team totally comfortable in their leadership roles!   Dady’s mother, Letty, was gracious and attentive, yet she kept a close eye on all aspects of the harvest.  (Dady has two equally-beautiful sisters who often help, but they were out of town.) P7150900 quadrado shrimp harvest july 2014

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Waiting…

Fresh water is added to the tanks, then ice is transferred from the nearby truck to the tanks.  The shrimp are poured into the ice water, and random species are discarded by hand. (Crab, small fish, sometimes small harmless snakes.)

The harvest appeared to be a success.

The harvest appeared to be a success.

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P7150871 quadrado shrimp harvest july 2014 Here come the shrimp!!!! P7150907 quadrado shrimp harvest july 2014

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P7150930 quadrado shrimp harvest july 2014

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Letty asked us to bring a container for some shrimp, and when she saw the medium-sized container, she asked, ‘Don’t you have something larger?” Poised, witty, intelligent and beautiful! They filled the container and then a grocery bag with enough shrimp to feed a futbol team!

The ice-cold shrimp are transferred in crates to the truck then delivered to the processing plant.

The ice-cold shrimp are transferred in crates to the truck then delivered to the processing plant.

Leaving the lovely ladies to their work, we slowly drove away as I captured a final image of the harvest scene.    (Above)

After the harvest, the feathered feast begins!

After the harvest, the feathered feast begins!

"Catch of the Day!" (They call this a chamy fish.)

“Catch of the Day!”
(They call this a chamy fish.)

Letty and Dady invited us to come again.   You betcha!

 (Is anyone hungry for shrimp?!)

Z

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