Last spring, I had the privilege of going on a shrimp boat to learn about shrimp and other marine life on the barrier islands of Georgia. The boat was named Lady Jane, and is a U.S. Coast Guard certified passenger steel hull vessel. It was recently retired after years of loyal service to the shrimping industry, and refurbished to be a teaching platform. More information about the boating services offered by this company, can be found at www.shrimpcruise.com .
The excursion was part of a week long program situated on the Golden Isles of Georgia, and operated by Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ). Our group made their way down the steep ramp ( it was low tide), and onto the deck of the boat.
Once we were all on the boat, we had the mandatory safety talk by the captain. He assured us that since the cruise is in the protected waters of St. Simon Sound, it was highly unlikely we would encounter any rough waters, or have any need to wear our life vests while on board.
The crew member standing in front of the nets is a biologist who was on board to sort through the marine critters brought up by the dredging nets. The two Road Scholar ladies on the left were strangers at the beginning of the program, but by the end of the program were already making plans to meet again at a different Road Scholar program the following year! This brings up one of the best things about a Road Scholar program---the interesting people you meet!
As the boat slowly headed away from the dock, the biologist explained the process of lowering the nets, then dredging the shallow waters with the nets open, so that the fish, etc., would be swept into the nets, then later lifted up, and spread out on the viewing platform in front of him.
The graceful lines of the bridge to the mainland was in view throughout most of our time on the water.
Our boat was not the only one on the waters that day. This REAL fishing boat sped past us to bring in a fresh catch of seafood, probably to be sold to the local restaurants for their menus that evening.
Besides getting to observe creatures from below the surface of the water, we also enjoyed seeing the birds above the surface.
After a few minutes of dredging, the crew pulled up the net, and its contents were dumped out onto the platform for us to examine.
This collage shows the "touching" guidelines the biologist outlined for us. Rule #1 was to first let him sort through the catch to determine which animals to talk about first. Rule #2 was to let him touch the critter first. Rule #3 was to let him explain about how the animal kills its prey, and Rule #4 said that after complying with Rules #1, #2, and #3---THEN, it was okay for us to touch and examine the species. The photos show a bonnet head shark, which is a member of the hammerhead shark family. It feeds on crustaceans like blue crabs and shrimp, moving its head in an arc pattern, like a metal detector. We were able to see (and feel, if desired) its small, sharp teeth in front, and flat broad molars in back.
The viewing platform had an "escape corridor" so that critters we pulled up that were "ambulatory", could amble their way off the platform, and back into the water.
This collage shows a horseshoe crab that had crawled to the edge of the escape corridor (left photo), and then the splash in the water (right photo), as it took the plunge back into the sea.
When the biologist had gone through all of the interesting fish that were brought up, he would clear it off, and bring up another net full of bottom feeders.
This photo shows that the biologist had a microphone (and each Road Scholar participant had ear phones), so that we could hear what he was saying, even though we might not be directly next to him. This arrangement also helped his voice project over the sound of the boat engine, and the pulleys operating the fishing nets.
This photo shows our teacher with a member of the ray family. He is very carefully pointing out the stinger, that the animal can deploy to protect itself against threats.
This photo shows the biologist pointing out interesting facts about both the top side of the ray (left), and the bottom side of the same animal (right).
This crew member with a pipe reminded me of the stereotypical depiction of the "ancient mariner". He told me he had been working in the fishing industry for over half a century! He explained that he started using the pipe tobacco smoke when he was a teenager working on the boats, as a way to ward off gnats and mosquitoes. I finally understood why I had seen so many paintings of commercial fishermen with pipes! The photo on the right shows him operating the series of pulleys, levers, and gears that control the raising and lowering of the fishing nets.
All of our group stayed topside for our excursion, but the Mary Jane does have an enclosed cabin, complete with a "head" (aka, restroom), for those who need a break from the approximately two hour cruise.
This photo shows one of the shrimp that our nets pulled up. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources does not allow the consumption of the fresh shrimp we caught on board. However, if a group wants to eat shrimp while on the excursion, it is permitted, as along as there is a sales receipt showing the shrimp was not caught on the boat that day.
Notice the bird Que on the line that is attached to the nets. They must know that if the passengers can not eat the shrimp that was caught, there may be a chance the birds could pick up a piece of the delicacy, if they make their move at just the right moment!
It was interesting to see this blue crab that the nets pulled in, which definitely stood out from the rest of the catch, with its vibrant azure hues!
We have fish that look like this one in Arkansas, where we call them "gar". I learned that "gar" is an old English word for "spear", and I can see why the name is appropriate!
The shrimp boat's website says that guests can help sort the catch of horseshoe crab, blue crab, sharks (bonnet head, black tip, sand), puffer fish, amber jack, spot croakers, whiting, and skate that may be pulled up. However, I liked my fingers too much to stick them in to that writhing mass of biological specimens!
I was quite content to stand back and listen to the interesting facts that the biologist told us about what we were seeing!
When the two hours were over, we headed back to the dock, and the biologist and pipe smoker worked to secure the big boat to the dock where it is moored.
Our group climbed up the ramp, with a new sense of appreciation of all of God's creatures!
As our boat returned to the dock, and I reflected on this fishing experience, my mind recalled the Bible verse ( Matthew 4:20) that my mother said was the first one she ever learned by memory, when she was a youngster. She said she viewed it as a "premonition" that the man she would someday marry would be a fisherman---which he was! Of course, she learned it in the King James version and it reads like this: "And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him." Even when she was over 90 years old, she would recite that verse to me, along with the reminder of how it was the first verse she ever memorized. I am glad she told me that story, and likewise, I am glad I had the opportunity to tell this "fish story". It is about an experience that gave me "MILES OF SMILES"! Tricia