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.
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.
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.)
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!
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!
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.
We walked to the rear of the harvest truck to say, “Hello” to the very-busy boss:
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.)
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.)
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?” They filled the container and then a grocery bag with enough shrimp to feed a futbol team!
Leaving the lovely ladies to their work, we slowly drove away as I captured a final image of the harvest scene. (Above)
Letty and Dady invited us to come again. You betcha!