History Items of the Canal Zone

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Shrimp Boats

An anecdote I never told concerns artificial reefs... My dad -- I guess most dads -- in the 50's shrimp get rich quick fad, invested as a partner in a shrimp boat... My dad, being a shipwright went down often to watch the construction.. I remember being there when the keel was laid. It was a huge amalgamation of hardwood timbers tenon and mortised and bolted together... I remember when the ribs began to be laid out and then attached to the keel... I remember the smell of the cedro amargo (sp) as they cut and machined the wood... The end result was magnificent...

 

Soon it joined the growing flotilla of hunters who plied the shrimp grounds. Get rich quick with the abundant shrimp. No thought of management or limits... My father and some of the more educated partners warned the rabi blanco moneymen about what had happened to the industries in the US... They said it wouldn't happen here -- the tropics were to strong... As the huge Panama shrimp began to dwindle under the onslaught, trawler captains went further and further into the breeding grounds. Those breeding grounds were shared by corbina and pargo rojo, dog tooth snapper and grouper. These, as fingerlings, were killed by the zillions and dumped when the shrimp nets were cleaned. The captains swore they weren't doing it...

 

Desperate to stop the poaching which would eventually kill both the shrimp industry and sport fishing, my dad and some friends took action. They bought old cars striped of engines, seats, glass, and gas tanks from automobile row. The cars just had to roll so they could be towed... Each night for several weeks they would tow a couple of cars through Amador out to the launching ramp past Amador beach. Inside each car were 2 or 3 55 gal drums. An X had been torched through the metal roof of each car from doorpost to doorpost but not quite connecting in the center of the X. They then rolled the cars down the launch ramp into the water at high tide. They the floated just below the water. One of the team with their outboard boat then towed the car to the breeding grounds. The center of the X was cut out releasing the 55 gallon drums and opening up the car roof like a baked potato as it sunk to the bottom.

 

The captains who WERE poaching were out of business for several weeks while they procured new $40,000 nets -- the former ones being entwined on car reefs...

 

One of the rabi blancos paid off the Patrulla Costal (sp) who began patrolling to stop the dumping of cars... Over 40 cars were dumped before they knew what was happening however... Several were pulled out by the Patrol but as soon as they stopped being there nightly more went in... Amador stopped allowing the cars in the gate once it was reported which meant they had to come all the way from Laboca or Diablo ramp... I heard that one of the ecologically minded trawler captains actually stood off shore on the other side of panama city and hauled some wrecks down the beach using a 1/4 mile long cable.

 

Later years saw red tide and that killed off the weakened shrimp schools... It was sad to see all those majestic trawlers rotting at anchor off Panama.


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Author Dale C. Clarke.
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