Georgia’s commercial harvest of white shrimp started in the late 1940s, when a surplus of powerful diesel engines from WWII became available.
Today the local shrimp fleet is largely made up of boats that are around 50 years old.
Local shrimpers use an inventive way of dragging nets along the sandy ocean floor, called the Otter Trawl. The technique uses two large otter boards that resemble large wooden doors, with a long stainless steel chain stretched between them.
Many frozen shrimp in local supermarkets are shipped over 8,000 miles to compete with those caught only a mile off the Georgia coast.
In Georgia, from the boat to the dock, crews unload their catches where it’s then weighed, rinsed, and boxed to be taken to a processing plant.
At the plant, shrimp are sorted by size and then, if it wasn’t done on the boat, the heads are removed by hand.
Depending on the preference of the buyer, they either have the shells removed or left on.
The shrimp are then packaged or flash-frozen for shipment to major distributors or directly to restaurants, seafood markets, and grocery stores.
Each stop along the supply chain adds to the price per pound to cover overhead costs like labor, power for refrigeration, and transportation.
The end-sale to an individual could range from over $20 in a restaurant to $9 per pound in a seafood market.
With the main purchasers of local shrimp – distributors like the U.S. Foods and Sysco – unable to take more supply, many in the industry have been forced to stay at the dock or get creative.
Capt. Wynn Gale has turned to social media, building a following interested in fresh shrimp and selling directly to the consumer.
He and other captains can bypass the middleman and sell their catch straight off the boat for $6 per pound.
“I peddle 90% of my shrimp to the public…if it weren’t for that I wouldn’t make no money,” said Capt. Reggie Sawyer of Darien, who has been shrimping since 1959. “I know you’ve heard this year’s terrible,” said Sawyer. “With the price of shrimp … if I was selling strictly to the dock, I couldn’t make a living.”