The Bay Shrimpers of Texas

Rural Fishermen in a Global Economy

Robert Lee Maril

Choice Outstanding Title

Shrimpers who fish the shallow coastal waters of Texas fight a constant battle for survival—contending with shrimpers who fish the deeper gulf waters, competing with weekend sportsmen, wrangling with government regulations, and dodging environmentalists' incriminations. Add competition from the international market, an ominous threat frequently overlooked by bay fishermen, and the shrimpers; chances of winning—at least with their current lifestyle intact—are slim.

“Maril’s study is an exemplary ethnography—or what some sociologists might call a “natural history”—of an occupation. A random sample survey, historical analysis, and participant observation provide the methodological foundation for an insightful and provocative view of workers and what they do.


“Often reading like a good novel, Maril’s political economy of the Texas shrimp industry is written by someone who knows the inner workings of the industry and the communities that depend upon it.

—Contemporary Sociology
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In The Bay Shrimpers of Texas, Lee Maril explores the successes and failures of the shrimpers who prowl remote bays, rivers, and estuaries for their livelihoods. Through random sample surveys of fishermen, participant observation, and historical analysis, he examines the political, economic, and social realities confronting the shrimpers and their families. Legal and environmental constraints, price instability, work hazards and benefits (only one percent of the shrimpers surveyed had health insurance), rivalry with gulf and sport shrimpers, and conflict with Vietnamese refugees are all factors that affect the outlook for shrimping.

Portraying the shrimpers' lives on land and water, Maril describes their boats, equipment, and various fishing strategies (both legal and illegal) used to survive in an increasingly competitive occupation. He gives an in-depth and personal look at an industry that in many ways has changed little over the last century and in others has haphazardly evolved as it enters into a ruthlessly competitive world marketplace.

The prospects for bay fishing—a vital part of the cultural identity and tradition of many small coastal towns—are uncertain. By examining the past and clearing up misperceptions and myths, Maril provides valuable insight into not just the future survival or demise of one industry in a global economy, but the future of small business as a whole.

Additional Titles in the Rural America Series