The Fish Story

Micro Bloodsuckers Among Us; ‘Ho Chi Shrimp’ Farmers Await Rising Sea

By JAY MANN | Jun 13, 2017

BLOOD FLOWS, MICROSCOPICALLY: I did a load of outback time this past torridacious weekend and I must re-up a warning to anyone venturing near the woods. We’re going through some sort of tick upsurge from hell. In fact, folks who have even thought about taking a trail walk have ended up pulling a couple virtual ticks off their legs. That’s how bad it has become. Just in case you think I’m overstating it, I recently read this worrisome post: “Mayor Gary is down with very bad head cold and tick bites, Lyme...”

Now that I’ve got your skin crawling a bit, I need to bring up another notorious bloodsucker, this one borderline microscopic – though I guess anything can be microscopic if you have a big enough microscope. But I digress, which I shouldn’t, since I need to seriously bring up chiggers, bringers of insanely itchy bites despite their low visual presentation.

An initial upside when talking chiggers in the same columnistic breath as ticks is their lack of disease-carrying capacities – as ticks add new diseases to their saliva on a seemingly monthly basis.

This year, chiggers are out in what might be called typical numbers, meaning there are about a trillion too many for comfort.

While I have an oddish immunity to ticks, diabolically biting chiggers are drawn to me as if my skin has some sort of blinking “Blood Donor” sign.

On the factoid side, chiggers are the miniscule larvae of harvest mites. They’re the best/worst known members of the Trombiculidae family. To their low-invasiveness credit, they’re exclusively outdoors oriented. Not only can’t they live on humans, they won’t survive long indoors; far less inclined to do their dirty work inside, unlike ticks which, well, just keep on ticking.

I’ll doubly emphasize the point that our regional chiggers are not known to transmit diseases. That comfort offered, the same innocuousness can’t be said of their Far East relatives, which evokes the itch-despising hypochondriac in me. There’s no distancing my overall chigger paranoia from a nasty disease called scrub typhus. It is transmitted by an Asian chigger that looks and acts just like ours but in a different language. The potentially crippling disease is a World Health Organization worry.

Count me in, worrying-wise. And don’t give me that half-way-around-the-world tripe. Like many others, I’ve developed a chronic case of Asiaphobia, fostered by the crawling assortment of exotic viral and bacterial things that have worked their way here from there.

Egged on by my hypochondria, I’m certain I’ll be the first red-blooded American bitten by a typhoided chigger. The bugger will get to me by parachuting out of a commercial airliner, as it flies over the Pines toward New York City. It will have transferred three times after taking off from China, waiting out a multi-hour holdover at O’Hare … all just to get at me. Hey, hypochondria – and chiggers –know no limits. Hell, growing up I was once instantly worried sick that I had an ovarian cyst, having tuned into a radio talk show just as the symptoms were being given. “Why me? And at such a young age.”

Back to our hereabout chiggers. I’m currently and viciously scratching away at a couple weekend bites on the back of my hand. The blisters have taken the form of a heart, indicating the truly sick sense of humor common among chiggers. I’m tempted to include a gouged-skin photo in here but seeing it’s a time when the paper gets all summery and bright, I’m betting the publisher will opt for something less weepy.

By the by, there remains a misconception that chiggers are tick-like in their bloodsucking mannerisms. Nope. They do not burrow in, headfirst, and stay put, filling up like at a gas pump. Chiggers are far crueler. They literally eat out a path across the surface of the skin, while spitting out an acidic enzyme, which rots the exposed skin’s surface into a juicy digestibility. Nice, huh?

What’s worse, they don’t need to find a proper burrowing point, like ticks. They can get down to their skin-rotting business as soon as they light on a host, i.e. me. And they’ll stay the rotten-path course, if not furiously scratched upon.

Here’s a read from “A common myth about chiggers is that they burrow into and remain inside the skin. This is not true. Chiggers insert their feeding structures into the skin and inject enzymes that cause destruction of host tissue. Hardening of the surrounding skin results in the formation of a feeding tube called a stylostome. Chigger larvae then feed upon the destroyed tissue. If they are not disturbed (which is rarely the case because they cause substantial itching) they may feed through the stylostome for a few days.”

By the by, for those of us with hair-trigger skin, it is fully possible to feel – not see – chiggers, especially the ones that stomp around … all 0.008 inches worth of them – an entire community worth of chiggers on the head of an unusually small pin. Still, a lone skin-walker can offer a crawly sensation strong enough to get you nervously looking for it … though seeing squat.

The instant I feel ghostly crawling sensations on my skin, I reach for my every-ready bottle of hand sanitizer. Chiggers might be tough but being doused with pure ethyl alcohol knocks the mick out of them real fast. Do I also derive some microscopic pleasure in dissolving their bodies in a “turnabout is fair play” way? You can venture a guess at that answer.

HO CHI SHRIMP: If the atmosphere gives you lemons … make shrimp. Tell me that doesn’t need some explaining.

I’ll do a quick-start by zooming over to the now-relatively peaceful nation of Việt Nam. In the planet’s most “whatever, dude” response to sea rise, that Asian nation is nonchalantly making plans to fully repurpose its far-reaching rice paddy real estate.

In a profoundly creative anticipation of rising sea levels, the nation’s Directorate of Fisheries (DoF) recently called together all its coastal rice growers. The meet-up began with “Can you say ‘shrimp’?”

Despite mainly hearing “chrimp” and “stimp,” the DoF felt that was close enough to move on to bigger things, which it did. In a Ho Chi Minh minute, the nothing-surprises-us farmers were guided from agriculture to aquaculture.

In a nutshell: What do you do if a rising ocean might soon corrupt your freshwater rice paddies? Grow shrimp. That was the aim of the meeting … farm on, gentlemen, just trade rice for shrimp. No biggy.

Sorry, but that’s a damn-near genius handling of a lemony atmosphere.

DoF official Ngô Thế Anh said, “Currently, brackish shrimp is a leader in the seafood sector, accounting for about 45 percent of the sector’s export turnover. It’s seen as a product with significant advantage and potential in the context of global climate change.”

He added, “We have to develop shrimp farming on a large scale using modern technology; this will not only be environmentally friendly but also create high-quality products.”

So, if you can’t beat the sky and sea, join them, kinda.

This anticipatory concept hit me like a cooling shower on a 100-degree, globally warmed day. What a life-relief. I no longer need to constantly battle numbnuts incessantly and aggravatingly warning me to leave the shore, that sea rise will surely be ruinous for shore lovers. “Are you quite sure about that?” … now asked by me, in Vietnamese.

Akin to the rise of sudden shrimp paddies, I now realize that wherever the sea moves next, there will always be a shoreline … and folks of my ilk will be there, having a ball. Does it really make a difference if it’s Long Beach Island or Long Stafford Island?

There will even be recurring shoreline questions, like, the pressing need for a consolidated Route 9 beach, as opposed to everyone springing for separate badges to cover sunbathing on the oceanfront towns of Mayetta, West Creek, Parkertown, Tuckerton, Little Egg Harbor. Despite the badge requirements, it’ll remain free to watch the likes of amazing Manahawkin Shores sunrises, taking in distant fishing boats working the sunken Long Beach Island Lumps, some illegally tying up to the railing at the peak of a nearly fully submerged Old Barney.

Personally, I can all but hear far-future surfing grommets talking about catching the Route 539 sandbar firing off – both rights and lefts.

One last insight: Take some time to let good-old sea rise work for you. Young investors should buy into heavily wooded lands west of the Parkway. You can bet your bottom dollar these are destined to become prime oceanfront properties. Don’t be like me, as I read olden newspapers showing 1954 Loveladies lots selling for $1,900. Your laughable reads could be old ads for billion-dollar Pinewoods Estates lots having once sold for $100,000 – before was renamed the Pinewoods Oceanfront Estates.

RUNDOWN: Ocean water temps have been yo-yoing from downwelled (warmer) to upwelled (colder). Generally, beachfront water temps in the lower 60s are prevailing.

Cooler air moving in out of the west and north could hike up water temps. This time of year, it’s hot south winds that can knock the ocean water through the cellar, even back into the low 50s.

Water temps loom large right about now. Stripers hold firmly in place, hereabouts, as long as mid-50s to mid-60s waters prevail.

Though I haven’t had nearly the time to write down data on all the fine bass now being caught (see, striper hookups seem decent enough, i.e. usual-ish for this active part of the late-spring run.

The current striped bass keeper rate is high, though the majority aren’t kept. As I always note, we have one of the highest catch-and-release rates anywhere along the entire Eastern Seaboard, at least those ES areas where bass roam.

Coming next for bassers will be passages of northbound schoolies, with some bass peeling off to oversummer here. Schoolies should show strongly from now through the end of the month, though cooler temps could keep them around a tad longer.

The new jig craze, which I sorta helped foster, aligns perfectly with schoolie times. Jigs are ideal for kindly catch-and-release unhookings. Don’t forget to try all-white jigs. I still think that’s the color of choice for stripers.

Bluefishing remains good, but not torrid. Many/most anglers prefer an occasional eater-sized blue, as opposed to blitzing, eat-everything bluefish hoards. Bluefish in overload numbers can screw things up if anglers are targeting fluke, stripers and weakies. At the same time, I’ll persist with my belief that blues save many a fishing day, by offering at least some take-home meat. Bays and inlets are holding the best blues.

Large rays are also in the bay, mostly cow-nosed rays but an occasional larger model. Ship Bottom fishing pier folks have hooked into some massive ones.

While I rarely give details on fluking – a total mercenary, meat-oriented fishery – there has recently been astounding fluking in the surf, one angler depicting the flattie hooking as blitz-like.

Shark fishing, though only now getting under way, could be epic this summer, based on conservation and biomass indicators. While you legally can’t target some of the more common beachline species, there’s no accounting for their tastes – if you just happen to have big chunks of bait out there for other more allowable targets. More on sharking as the season moves in.

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