cajun shrimpers

All men and women find themselves at a point in life where their path in life seems clear and they are given the opportunity to make peace with destiny. Cajun Shrimpers (particularly these)… are undeniably at peace with the world they have been born into. They use the ship and seas as an inexhaustible resource from the modern, the material - vacations to their own personal heaven. They are from Chauvin, Louisiana, a short trip from Cocodrie where they dock the boat and offload their shrimp. The phrase “family first” seems to be written in their blood - and “everyone is family” carved atop their veins. They dismiss the common, material, and everyday realities most of us so easily absorb ourselves into, and seem to be - as a default - unconcerned. They are packed into a small neighborhood where almost everyone is family. And those that aren’t are treated as such. I rant about family because the very word spills out of their pores and infects the air you breathe. You feel it. 

I recently returned from a voyage on a Cajun shrimp boat. Louisiana accounts for the majority of all fished shrimp in the United States - I wanted to get close and personal with some of the men that put food on so many of our tables. I departed from Cocodrie, Louisiana with a 4th generation Cajun Shrimper. I spent four days on the boat. It was a breath of fresh air to be removed from the commotion of our usual reality. These thickly accented and self-titled “coonasses” have spent their whole lives fishing shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico - and are more comfortable on a boat than on land. Time moves slow on the boat, and the routine of shrimping is often interrupted by classic bullshitting. 

 

The land the shrimpers were used to seeing on their way out to sea is no longer there. Miles upon miles of marshes and even large islands have disappeared throughout the years. If that weren’t enough - the shrimpers are disappearing as well. While shrimp populations decline at a slow but very apparent rate decade to decade - Captain Jesse Jr. Lecompte only keeps business going because there aren’t nearly as many shrimpers as there used to be. He remembers being surrounded by hundreds of shrimp trawlers in the late 80’s. Now, he mostly sees the same handful of friends and his son Jetty - a 5th generation shrimper - is always close by.

And yet while struggle surmounts from all angles, Jesse Jr. seems blissfully and distinctly separate from any problems. He transmutes what would make anyone suffer into a quiet spirituality. His nonchalant and friendly cajun nature is almost unbelievable - I’ve never felt so welcome. His first mate and co-captain, Will Chauvin has been a deckhand on the boat for 13 years - since he was 15 years old. Together, they are a mix between father and son and brothers, always playing around and teasing each other, but their love and respect for each other is more apparent than most biological pairs. The boat was both military and casual, everyone was extremely disciplined and hard-working but the boat also seemed to lack any rules or formality. There is something to be learned from Cajun shrimpers, I can’t put it in to words - but our country could use a little more of what they have. Their way of life must be protected, preserved, and appreciated. I don’t know if they will successfully continue shrimping or be run off by behemoth commercial fishery fleets. But I pray the former, as should we all. I hope you enjoy the photographs from my time on the boat. Thanks for reading.

Cole Davis