Fort Myers Beach/San Carlos Island's backyard shrimping industry has been suffering for some time now. Its sustainability has been threatened, and it faces other challenges for our independent shrimpers and working waterfront officials to overcome.
Price competition has come from an invasion of low-priced Asian (some call it "tasteless") shrimp and other imports as well as farm-raised product. The rising cost of fuel has also financially hampered the long journeys of local shrimp boats.
WGCU Community Funding Director Terry Brennan hopes to make an impact with a TV documentary on "Pink Gold Rush," a film about the past 40 years of the shrimp industry on our islands. The local shrimp industry is part of only 23 working waterfronts left in the state of Florida.
The shrimp ‘fleet’ on Fort Myers Beach.
"We wanted to do a story on Pink Gold, really the best tasting shrimp anywhere, that comes from here," said Brennan. "The object of this documentary is to promote the product and, of course, where that industry is located. We want to tell about other pressures that are on the local industry."
The documentary will feature shrimping families and explore "shifting realities that reflect our waning American tradition of independent fishing even in a thriving, healthy fishery" as well as investigate why so few local restaurants and markets serve or sell Gulf Pinks, how international shrimp are raised "with fewer environmental and processing standards" and how the ecological health of the Gulf is important to the crustaceans.
While filming has begun on the one-hour chronicled story, Brennan spoke to business members of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce at Charley's Boathouse Grill rcently in hopes to raise funds for the final $12,000 of the $36,000 cost it takes to make the public TV show a reality.
Recently, the Beach Council unanimously approved to give WGCU $6,000 (taken out of a budgeted line item for cultural events/Arts) to support the production of the "Pink Gold Rush" video, leaving only $6,000 more to raise. In turn, WGCU will give the Town public service announcement credits.
Before that approval, West Coast Inland Navigation District (through grants) and the Lee County Tourist Development Council pitched in to the cause as well.
"Everything for us is about differentiating ourselves from other sun and sand destinations in Florida," said Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau Executive Director Tamara Pigott. "Anytime we have something unique to our community that we can use as a leverage point, we are going to find a way to do that. We know this story will get picked up in Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando and, hopefully, all over the country."
Besides the documentary, the project will produce short videos for schools, museums and various websites like the Lee VCB to show how the local shrimping industry works.
"We thought this was a wonderful opportunity to look at it and see how this industry has changed since it began," Brennan said. "We have already been out on shrimp boats and plan to go out several more times before the shooting is completed."
At the Monday Council meeting, a WGCU official said a crew is currently aboard a shrimp boat in the Dry Tortugas shooting coverage for the documentary.
While it is projected to air on WGCU channels (the broadcast service for Florida Gulf Coast University) several times, Brennan stated the documentary will be offered to community cable channels in Southwest Florida and to PBS stations throughout the country. WGCU is the PBS and eNPR station for Southwest Florida and is currently ranked No. 1 in ratings out of 360 PBS stations nationwide. It has consistently maintained a top-5 placing in that market.
Brennan likes the chances that "Pink Gold Rush" will make an impact nationally. Twenty of the 200 documentary-style programs that WGCU has produced has gone to national PBS, including a historical documentary on Fort Myers Beach in 2006.
"We intend to offer this program to PBS stations across America, and we are pretty convinced it will be picked up across the nation," he said.
"Silver King: The Birth of Big Game Fishing" was a non-fiction award-winning book that was written by Randy Wayne White and Carlene Brennan (Terry's wife and sister of Joanne Semmer and Bill Semmer). It was transformed into a documentary that is now playing in 172 cities.
"So, there is an opportunity for Fort Myers Beach to get quite a bit of exposure," said Brennan.
If interested in corporate sponsorship or other form of monetary contribution to aid in making "Pink Gold Rush" a reality, give Brennan a call at 590-2366.
"We will make media credits available, and you will be recognized in the documentary credits," he said. "That recognition will remain with the program forever."