Shrimp Tales Local authors document Port Isabel, Brownsville shrimping history in new book

Shrimp boats near Garriga Elementary in the evening. Photo by Gaige Davila.

Local authors document Port Isabel, Brownsville shrimping history in new book


By GAIGE DAVILA
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

The degrees of separation between a person and a shrimper in the Laguna Madre area are few. And though the Laguna Madre’s shrimping industry has slowed considerably, it still exists, and carries with it generations of stories. Local authors Rudy H. Garcia and Pat McGrath Avery have collected several of these stories in their new book, Shrimp Tales: Port Isabel and Brownsville Shrimping History. 

Pat McGrath Avery.

Rudy Garcia.

The book is a two-year project by Garcia and Avery, chronicling the stories of retired and working shrimpers from Port Isabel and Brownsville, along with meditations on the industry itself, and the arc of shrimp processing, detailing each step from port to packaging. Both have said their book might be the first to document the Laguna Madre area’s shrimping history, with the last book, likely, to document the industry being Port of Drifting Men: A Saga of a Texas Sea Town and Its People, written in 1945. The book, by Leonard King, chronicled the history and stories of Port Isabel and its residents.

Garcia said Shrimp Tales was a project nearly a lifetime in the making. After meeting Avery at one of his book signings at Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard book store on South Padre Island, a mutual friend suggested they write a book together, documenting the Laguna Madre area shrimping industry’s history. 

Avery researched online and at local public and college libraries, and worked with the Texas Sea Grant program, a joint collaborative of the State of Texas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and universities, for her work in the book. Garcia’s network of retired and working shrimpers, many of whom he and Avery interviewed for Shrimp Tales, stems from his own shrimping experience, working from high school to the summer after his first year in college.

“I didn’t like it one bit,” Garcia said. “But it was something every young man did when they were in high school here.”

Shrimping has changed since Garcia’s time in the industry, the authors found: the industry has declined due to increased regulation, lack of workers, fuel and insurance costs, and competing with imported shrimp from Indochinese countries.

Avery, who first visited Port Isabel in 1974, moving to the Rio Grande Valley twenty years later, when the shrimping industry was still at a high, said learning the industry’s history was “amazing,” particularly when the authors found that there was virtually no unemployment in Port Isabel in the 1960s and 1970s, because of the city’s labor support of the industry. 

Garcia and Avery said the writing process was enjoyable. 

“We did most of the interviews together, and we worked together as much as possible,” Avery said. “Our styles are totally different: he’s a poet and I’m a nonfiction writer, so we had to mesh our styles of writing.”

“But we blended very well together,” Garcia quipped.

“We did, it worked really well,” Avery replied. “It’s been an interesting project and I’ve learned so much.” 

Some of the featured interviewees include late Museums of Port Isabel board member Mike Cateora, who died this past December, who captained shrimping boats in his youth. Also included is Manuel Barroso, owner of Manuel’s Restaurant in Port Isabel, who shrimped a few summers. 

In collaboration with the Museums of Port Isabel’s “Telling Our Stories” event, Shrimp Tale’s launch is on January 23, 2020, at the Port Isabel Event & Cultural Center, 309 E Railroad Ave, in Port Isabel. The event starts at 7:00 p.m., with books for sale. 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2020/01/10/shrimp-tales-local-authors-document-port-isabel-brownsville-shrimping-history-in-new-book/

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