Shrimping

Feeling a little down after the loss of a loved one, we treated ourselves to lunch at our favorite outdoor restaurant on the beach. The weather in northern Florida can be chilly at this time of year, but this day  was mild and bright as we gazed over the dunes to the wide expanse of the sea. A stiff breeze ruffled the palm trees, gulls called overhead, terns skittered across the sand, and and the tang of salt floated in the air. Inevitably, we ordered the local delicacy, shrimp.

You learn a lot about shrimp when you live in these parts, the home of the modern shrimping industry. Coming to America I learned years ago that even the largest of these crustaceans are referred to as shrimp, not prawn as in the UK and across the former British Commonwealth. I discovered there are many other interesting tidbits about shrimp fishing and the more than two thousand species of shrimp. Not much more than a century ago, very few of us would have sampled shrimp, only those who caught them locally, using cast nets or, perhaps, in the inns of coastal towns where heavily brined shrimp were handed out as free snacks to whet the appetite. Currently, more than 3.5 million tons of shrimp are fished every year, resulting in an industry projected to be worth 85 billion US dollars by 2030. Most of these are farmed shrimp, grown on land, often in artificial pools or paddies. I have to confess that over the years I have enjoyed this type of shrimp, considering it a delicacy. Now, I know better! Wild caught local shrimp are infinitely superior. You can surely taste the difference!

Shrimp are remarkable creatures, prevalent in all the world’s oceans and in freshwater lakes and streams. They range in size from about half an inch to  eight inches. Our local wild caught shrimp are fished in the shallow and deep waters of the Atlantic by fishermen piloting traditional shrimp boats.

In about 1912, Greek and Italian immigrants settled nearby and designed boats similar to the sardine fleets of the Mediterranean. Hitherto, row boats had dragged nets in ever decreasing circles, to capture the shrimp. With the introduction of powered boats, the shrimp fishermen could venture further and drag more and larger nets resulting in a vastly increased and reliable catch. Improved railroad connections and refrigeration technology allowed the shrimp to be taken as far afield as New York’s Fulton market. Further improvements including the auto drag net, powered winches and freezing, precipitated an industry boom bringing prosperity in its wake with the associated demand for boat builders, repairers, ice companies, and net makers. The desire for shrimp was and is seemingly insatiable.

Since the late sixties there have been few further innovations impacting the local shrimp industry, with the exception of redesigned nets to ensure the release of sea turtles and other by-catch fish. It’s sad to note that, as the industry is flooded with imported farmed shrimp, the number of shrimp boats has decreased dramatically. They were often family run vessels, the current generation finds it challenging to make a living in the face of rising fuel prices, increased regulation and competition from countries where labor costs are low. Indeed, the colorful shrimping industry has been eclipsed here by less romantic paper production, (note the demand for cardboard boxes as home deliveries have exploded) and, in a largely post-Covid situation, tourism.

Our spirits lifted as my meal arrived – a plate of ‘peel and eat’ succulent  shrimp, served warm, cooked in a broth spiced with Old Bay seasoning, and accompanied  by buffalo butter and remoulade sauce. Delicious.

Shrimp Dinner

We raise our glasses to our departed relative, trusting that he has moved on to whatever he experiences as “heaven,” grateful that in this lifetime, a dish of our local, wild caught shrimp, affords us a tiny foretaste of heaven too!

 

News Flash!

My gift to you is a new excerpt from
A Glass Darkly.

End Notes

Reading

Listening

Mass in Blue  Benedictus
Will Todd

Songbird
Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac)

Poetry

Still I Rise
Maya Angelou

 

Viewing

The Wonder 

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