September 2007

Honk if you Like it Wild: Go Local for a Better Tasting Shrimp

Author: Lindsey Hawkins

Ladies and gents, it’s time to educate ourselves on some local shrimp deception. Even though we live on an island, eighty-five percent of the shrimp you are ordering at restaurants and buying in stores is pond-raised and shipped from overseas, not fresh from the dock.

According to the Georgia Shrimp Association (GSA), the shrimp industry’s past impact on local economics has been approximately $200 million annually, but has recently suffered rapid decline due to “foreign-farmed and antibiotic-treated shrimp” taking over the American market.

So how is this relevant to us? For starters, most people are unaware that their shrimp is not coming from the shrimp boats they see at various docks around Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, because it makes sense to assume that most restaurants and stores would sell the freshest catch possible. Unfortunately, very few people know to ask where their shrimp is coming from, and don’t know the differences between local and imported shrimp.

But never fear; the GSA along with Wild American Shrimp Inc., WASI, have made it their mission to educate and encourage local consumers and restaurant chefs to use the quality wild shrimp over pond-raised, frozen and shipped shrimp for two main reasons. One, Georgia docks harvest over five million pounds of shrimp from our local waters annually. These shrimp, when sold, are a $20 million value to our area boats. Two, with shrimp being the number one consumed seafood in America, there is no reason not to have the healthiest, freshest tasting shrimp available to our communities, no antibiotics or preservatives added, while ensuring the survival of our own local economy.

Let us start with the product at hand. Did you know that just a three ounce portion of Wild American Shrimp has 18 grams of protein, less than one gram of fat and one gram of carbohydrates, and only 84 calories? In addition, wild shrimp is a healthy alternative to fattier entrées such as red meat. It is loaded with cardio-protective omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins D and B12, according to the GSA.

Imported shrimp is not fresh. It is farm-raised and frozen, which affects flavor, texture, size and nutritional value.

“Local shrimp is sweeter because it has a much lower iodine content, which affects the smell and the way the shell slides off,” said Andrew Carmines of Hudson’s Seafood According to Carmines, fresh shrimp have a natural coating on the outside that keeps the moisture locked in, giving them a translucent appearance. Lengthy freezing of shrimp breaks down this coating and causes dehydration, which dramatically affects the texture and taste.

Local establishments, such as Hudson’s Seafood and the Bluffton Oyster Co., carry WASI-approved local shrimp and work to help educate our community. It isn’t always easy to get the word out, however.

Hudson’s was established in 1912 as an oyster packing plant and gradually got into the shrimp industry in the 1960s. The Carmines family, owners of Hudson’s since 1975, has caught local seafood for years and watched the supply and demand fluctuate over the years.

It is important for our community to understand that fuel prices, season and shrimp boat equipment can drive local shrimp prices up a little, but the differences in quality are unmistakable. When more consumers and distributors become local shrimp advocates, the better the market price will become and the more our communities will benefit.

“Local shrimpers will go out as far as Florida, for seven to ten days, to ensure the demand is met,” said Carmines.

The Bluffton Oyster Co. has been around since 1913, and they, too, have joined the WASI.

“We take pride in educating our community about wild shrimp,” said Tina Toomer of Bluffton Oyster Co., “We are trying to make a living based on our American products.”

Toomer agrees that the quality difference between foreign and local shrimp is dramatic, from taste to texture, and hopes that locals in the industry will learn more about the benefits of using local shrimp in their restaurants.

Not only are these shrimpers eager to do their job, but they are definite marine conservationists. A balanced environment equals a sufficient harvest and Wild American Shrimpers follow environmental regulations and work to educate others about the importance of the ocean’s ecosystem.

Consumers can avoid being duped by restaurants and grocers who claim to have “fresh” from the dock shrimp by simply asking if it is WASI certified, as well as looking for the plump, firm texture difference. Warm-water wild shrimp will smell like fresh salt water, not ammonia. One can easily identify the difference in appearance and taste, not to mention products purchased from WASI have certified labels which guarantee quality standards.

WASI advocates generally sport the new promotional bumper stickers to encourage us to ask about wild shrimp. So keep a look out for slogans like, “Honk if you like it wild,” and “Friends don’t let friends eat imported shrimp.”

Education is power, and for our seafood communities, it will make a world of economic difference. And let’s not forget the endless, tasty treats to enjoy.

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