Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy

Every year, a priest blesses hundreds of shrimp boats in Brownsville, Texas before they head onto the water. And this year, the boats need the help more than ever.

For the first time in almost two decades, American shrimpers haven’t been allowed to hire seasonal foreign workers to do one of the industry’s dirtiest jobs: ripping the heads off millions of freshly caught shrimp. And a shrimp with its head still on can lose half its value.

This year, captains only managed to fill a quarter of the low level positions normally held by Mexicans and Nicaraguans during the summer. And the grueling work leads many inexperienced new hires to quit, forcing the boats to turn around. Despite the shortage, some of the more qualified workers across the border, who have built their livelihoods around shrimping, find themselves out of a job.

VICE News boarded a shrimp boat in Brownsville to experience what happens when Americans take over for foreign workers — and how hard de-heading shrimp could possibly be.