By Veronica Del Bianco
Breton Sound Marina is straight down Louisiana Highway 624, a two-lane road that stretches toward the water until the firm land ends and gives way to thousands of acres of fertile wetlands. A complex of trailers and sheet-metal buildings, rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina, the marina is the modest gateway to the fishing spots that give Louisiana its nickname — “sportsman’s paradise.”
And when sportsman arrive, they want only one kind of shrimp — Boogie’s. No, it’s not a different species of shrimp. Boogie is a different kind of fishermen.
While most commercial fishermen are catching the fish for your next meal, “Boogie” Barrios, 60, is busy catching the next meal for your fish. His harvest of live shrimp is the bait beloved by anglers venturing out from Breton Sound Marina.
Commercial fishermen like Barrios are the backbone of the recreational fishing industry, which contributes substantially to Louisiana’s economy. Sport fishing generated almost $49.9 million dollars in state and local sales tax revenue in 2006. During that same year, anglers spent more than $472 million on saltwater recreational fishing in Louisiana supporting approximately 7,700 jobs.
Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, Barrios and a deckhand head out into the vast bayou in search of shrimp. For Barrios, it doesn’t matter how much he catches. It matters how much he keeps alive.
Why are live shrimp better?
“You got to ask the fish that,” says Barrios. “All I know is that it works.”
Barrios, better known along the bayou as simply Boogie, stays busy on his boat hand-straining the shrimp for jellyfish. The almost invisible creatures can clog the pumps in his bait well, the pool-like compartment on the front of his boat that holds the live shrimp. He built the one-of-a-kind filtration system himself through trial-and-error over three decades.
“That’s the one thing I hate,” says Barrios, “Jellyfish!”’
Years ago, more fishermen were here fishing for bait shrimp, but Barrios fills the niche now. His only loss in market share is to the seagulls that follow his boat and are brave enough to dive down for the tiny shrimp and minnows that fall through the nets onto the boat’s deck — a paltry few, thanks to Barrios’ vigilance.
“In fishing,” he says, “if you don’t produce something, you don’t make nothing.”