Tag Archive: Seafood

So What’s Good with Local Seafood?

So What’s Good with Local Seafood?

Shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo: NOAA

Actually, if you like seafood – it’s all good! However, not everyone does and sometimes when this question is asked they are interested in not how it taste but where the seafood came from.


In recent years, there has been a move across the country to learn more about where their food comes from. Whether that is because they are concerned what the livestock and chickens have been fed, their living conditions, or whether they came outside the United States – more people are asking and it is affecting how they purchase their food.  Is it the same for seafood?


In some cases, yes. Several years ago, I ran the marine science program at Washington High School.  We were discussing whether, with a growing human population, the ocean could sustain the demand for seafood.  Would we need to focus our production on aquaculture?  We decided to survey locals to see whether (a) they liked seafood, and (b) if so, would it matter whether the product came from the ocean or a farm.  Over a 10-year period, we found that (a) the percentage of locals who did not like seafood increased. (b) Those who did like seafood did not have strong feelings whether it was from a farm or from the sea.   Curious as to why those who did not like seafood felt that way, we followed up with those questions and found it was not as much a concern with seafood safety in that they just did not like the taste of it.  Of course, this was a high school science project and not a formal science investigation, but they did a good job with it and the results were interesting.


That was almost 20 years ago, do people feel the same?  According to Dr. George Baker (Florida Sea Grant), yes… things are about the same.  If they can get access to wild harvested seafood at a good price, they will buy.  If it is not available, or to expensive, they will, purchase farm raised. Moreover, more people do not like seafood.


What about the local issue? In California, there is a program that allows you to find out which boat captain caught your fish.  In Florida, there are studies going on to determine what type of filet you are actually buying.  As with produce and livestock, people seem to be interested in where their seafood comes from – and for many, if effects where and how they buy seafood.

Commercial seafood in Pensacola has a long history.
Photo: Rick O’Connor


So what is local?


Well, we call any seafood product harvested or cultured within 250 miles local. For Pensacola, that would include Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana.  We know that between 80-90% of the seafood you currently purchase is imported from both commercial fishing and aquaculture overseas.  That said, local seafood is still here and available.


The commercial fishing in Pensacola goes WAY back. It was one of the first industries to get off the ground shortly after Florida became a U.S. territory.  According to Dr. Jack E. Davis, in his book The Gulf; The Making of an American Sea, Cuban fishermen harvested seafood from the Gulf coast of peninsula Florida prior to our becoming a territory.  Shortly after becoming a U.S. territory, New England fishermen came to harvest the Gulf, including one by the name of Leonard Destin.  Soon a fishing industry was operating in Pensacola.  They sold a variety of species but in 1840 they found red snapper – and the boom was on.  Shrimp followed but water quality, habitat loss, and overharvesting have plagued the industry over the years.  Fishermen did well for a time, then the landings decreased, the fishermen believed the fish had moved, and so the fleet would move.  This continued until they have literally moved all over the Gulf of Mexico seeking fish.  At this point quotas had to be initiated and regulation has been the norm ever since.  Add to this an increase interest in recreational fishing, increasing the number of fishermen, and increased regulation with this sector.  Today we can include the introduction of invasive species as another stressor.


All that said, local seafood is still available. Some species have become quite pricey, but they are still available.  The Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation created a Gulf Coast Seafood Species Chart.  This chart indicates when selected species are in peak season for commercial harvest.  This chart suggests they are in season year round but there are peak months.  It varies from one state to another, but the list below includes Florida and Alabama.


Species Months in Peak Season Comments
Blue crab No peak season
Blue crab

Soft shell

Mar – Jun
Black drum No peak season
Red drum No peak season Subject to quotas and closures
Clams All year – FL only Clams are now cultured in FL and are available year round
Crawfish Apr – Jun – LA only LA only, but close to us
Flounder Jul – Aug; Oct-Nov Subject to quotas and closures
Grouper No peak season Subject to quotas and closures
King mackerel Jan – Feb; Jul-Sep; Dec Subject to quotas and closures
Mahi-Mahi May – Jun
Mullet Jan; Sep – Dec
Oysters Jan – Apr; Sep – Dec
Pompano Jan – Apr;
Sheepshead No peak season
Brown shrimp May – Sep
Pink shrimp Jan – Jul
Rock shrimp Jun – Sep
White shrimp May – Nov
Snapper Peak season year round Subject to quotas and closures
Yellowtail snapper Mar – Jun
Spanish mackerel Jan – May; Aug – Sep; Dec Subject to quotas and closures
Spiny lobster Aug – Sep; Oct – Nov
Spotted seatrout No peak season Subject to quotas and closures
Stone crab Oct – Dec
Swordfish Sep – Nov
Yellowfin tuna Jun – Oct


The health benefits from consuming seafood are understood. We certainly think it should be part of your of weekly dinner menu.  There are concerns for safety in some seafood products, as in mercury and king mackerel, and we will address that in another article – but the lack of consuming seafood can create health issues as well.  We hope you enjoy local Gulf seafood.

Commercial crab boats docked on Escambia Bay.
Photo: Rick O’Connor




Baker, G. 2017. personal communication.


Davis, J.E. 2017. The Gulf; Making of an American Sea.  Liveright Publishing. New York NY. Pp. 530.


Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation. 2013. Gulf Coast Seafood. www.eatgulfseafood.com


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/08/19/so-whats-good-with-local-seafood/

I’m so confused about seafood!

I’m so confused about seafood!

I’ve spent the past 25 years studying and growing fish. When folks find out I’m a fish head, I often get a lot of questions about the safety and sustainability of many seafood products.  It seems that the media and other groups have done a good job of scaring and confusing the American public to the point that some forgo consuming seafood altogether.  That is such a shame because seafood is great for human health. Seafood is typically high protein, low in fat and calories and bursting with good for you stuff like omega-3s.

Seafood is either wild caught, aquacultured (farm-raised), or both. Both wild fisheries and aquaculture have their pros and cons.  Overfishing, illegal fishing, bycatch, habitat degradation and lack of effective regulation have led to declines in wild fisheries.  Aquaculture has been plagued with claims of pollution, disease and escapees.  With all this negative press, what is the consumer to do?

You can choose your seafood based on its sustainability. Sustainable seafood has been caught or farmed in sustainable ways.  And there are several groups today that make choosing these sustainable product easy.  Once such group is the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  Their Seafood Watch program makes it easy for you to choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.

Using science-based criteria and input from fisheries and aquaculture experts, Seafood Watch has developed standards and guiding principles to develop consumer friendly guides. The guides are specific to each state and there is even one for sushi.  These printable guides fit easily into your wallet so that you can use them anytime you purchase seafood.  The guide shows with seafood items are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives,” and which ones you should “Avoid.”  They also have an app for android and IPhone making it easier than ever to get the latest recommendations for seafood and sushi, learn more about the seafood you eat, and locate or share businesses that serve sustainable seafood.

As consumers, we have a lot of power in the seafood marketplace. With over 75% of the world’s fisheries either fully fished or overfished, we need to make smart choices about the seafood we buy and consume.  By supporting fisheries and fish farms that are working hard to limit their impact on the environment we help protect the seafood we love.  By using the seafood guide for your region, you’re making choices based on the best available information and supporting environmentally friendly fisheries and aquaculture operations.

Brotula's Restaurant in Destin, Florida will cook your fresh catch to perfection.

Brotula’s Restaurant in Destin, Florida will cook your fresh catch to perfection.



Author: Laura Tiu – lgtiu@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent – Okaloosa and Walton Counties

Laura Tiu

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/07/im-so-confused-about-seafood/

Seafood… What’s in Peak Season for October?

Seafood… What’s in Peak Season for October?

It’s October and it feels great outside. Time to fire up the grill and enjoy football with your favorite local seafood.  So what’s in peak season this month?


Clams – cultured Cedar Key clams are always in season and can be purchased at some local markets.

Oysters – they like the cooler months, there are a lot of ways to prepare them but we recommend cooking them

White Shrimp – other varieties of shrimp are not in peak season at this time but still available

Spiny Lobster – the Florida (Spiny) lobster is still in peak season but more available in south Florida

Stone Crab – we are JUST entering peak season for these guys, but like lobster – they are more common in south Florida.

Flounder – a local favorite this time of year – we are in peak of peak season – enjoy.

Mullet – This is a local favorite with those along the Florida panhandle.

Snapper – these are in peak season year round, but harvesting regulations reduce their abundance at the markets – so you will need to check.

Yellowfin Tuna – these have been in peak season for most of the summer; we are on the down side of it.


The Striped Mullet. Image: LSU Extension

The Striped Mullet.
Image: LSU Extension




This is one of those – “either you love them or you hate them” fish. It is not news that these are not a popular food fish in much of the Gulf region.  In some locations that have an oily/muddy taste that does not appeal to many.  In those areas the fish is still abundant but is used as bait.  They are an oily fish and are preferred fried or smoked when fresh.  Mullet that sit too long develop a strong fishy taste.  Mullet roe has its fans… and its enemies.  Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) – did not care for them.  They were very popular in the Orient for a period of time, and the local mullet population suffered for it, but that fad has waned.


We actually have 3 species found in the northern Gulf. There are two that frequent the estuaries – the white and the striped mullet.  As the name implies, striped mullet does have body stripes as adults.  They grow a little larger than the whites and are the one of choice for eating.  At times though, the stripes on the striped mullet are hard to see.  What then?… well – the white mullet has 9 soft rays on their anal fin, the striped have 8… have fun counting those.  Another way is to look at the operculum (the bony plate covering the gills).  On FRESH mullet, the white will have a gold spot here that is missing on the striped.  The iris of the white mullet has a gold stripe that runs vertically… on the striped mullet the entire iris is gold.


Both species are what we call euryhaline – meaning that can tolerate a wide range of salinities. Striped mullet have been found several hundred miles inland and in Baffin Bay TX (where the salinities can reach 70 ppt).  The white mullet prefer saltier habitats and do not frequent the upper estuaries and rivers.  White mullet gather and spawn in the spring, striped mullet spawn in the fall – both spawn offshore on the continental shelf.


If you have not tried fried mullet, or smoked mullet dip, give a chance and see what you think. As always – enjoy our local seafood.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/10/07/seafood-whats-in-peak-season-for-october/

Enjoying Local Seafood; What’s in Peak Season for February?

Enjoying Local Seafood; What’s in Peak Season for February?

There has been an increase interest, from both visitors and residents, in purchasing local seafood.  Here we are going to define local seafood as anything caught or grown within 200 miles of your location.  For Pensacola that includes Alabama, Mississippi, and much of Louisiana; for St. Mark’s that would include the Big Bend and much of Florida’s west coast.

Though some seafood is caught, or grown, year round we will focus on species in peak season each month.  This peak season list is provided by the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation’s Gulf Coast Seafood Program.

Oysterman on Apalachicola Bay. Photo: Sea Grant

Oysterman on Apalachicola Bay.
Photo: Sea Grant

So What’s in Season for February?


Clams and Oysters

Winter is a good time to consume local bivalves.  These creatures are filter feeders and in the warm summer months there is more bacteria in the water.  Clams are a new item for Floridians but we are growing our own in Cedar Key! (see links below). There are many seafood markets providing them so ask for them by name – Cedar Key clams.

Everyone knows the historic oyster beds of Apalachicola have suffered in recent years, but there is an effort to restore oysters to beds all across the northern Gulf coast.  Oysters are a Florida classic and though many like to eat them raw, we do recommend you cook them.  For clams most people grill, roast, or steam them.  To learn more about bivalves and seafood safety visit www.flseagrant.org


Pink Shrimp 

Shrimp is hands down the most popular seafood species in the Gulf region.  There are three species we harvest here, and some are experimenting with culturing, but right now pink shrimp are at peak.  Pink’s are more common in the eastern Gulf, and they may trucked into your area, but local none the less.  If you want to know how to prepare shrimp – watch Forest Gump… there are 1000 ways.

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp. Photo: Mississippi State University

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp.
Photo: Mississippi State University

Mackerel – King and Spanish

Mackerel are members of a family of fish we call “ram letters” meaning they must move in order to flush water over their gills.  Constantly on the move, getting them to bite bait is not the hard part… it is finding them and getting the bait within their range.  This time of year is good for mackerel but king mackerel is one of the species of concern with mercury.  The current recommendation is that if the king is <31” you should not consume more than one meal / month; young children and women of child bearing age should not consume at all.  King mackerel >31” should not be consumed.  For Spanish you should not consume more than one meal/week; for young children and women of child bearing age – no more than one meal/month. Read more about mercury in Florida fish athttp://www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/prevention/healthy-weight/nutrition/seafood-consumption/_documents/advisory-brochure.pdf



This is a Gulf coast favorite anda great tasting fish.  I like mine grilled but there are plenty of other ways to prepare pompano.  This is one fish that many like to blacken.



There are 10 species of snapper in the Gulf but the red snapper is the one most are looking for.  Snapper are in season now but availability of some species is dictated by federal and/or state  quota’s and closures.  This is one of the most popular finfish species in the Gulf.


We’ll let you know what is in Peak Season in March.










Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/02/08/enjoying-local-seafood-whats-in-peak-season-for-february/

National Seafood Month – the future of seafood

National Seafood Month – the future of seafood

So what now?

What lies ahead for the seafood industry in the Florida Panhandle?


Well I will start by saying I do not have a crystal ball… so I truly do not know, but most people plan for the future and many have looked at what COULD happen for Florida seafood.


Shrimping.  Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA


Will the demand for seafood still be there in the future?


In short… yes

Recent reports indicate that Americans are not consuming the recommended 3-6 ounces of seafood a week. Though many Floridians are not consuming this amount either they are consuming above the national average of 3.5 ounces. Seafood is still important to us. Community fish fries are a part of our culture and will be around. The popularity of sushi and other methods of preparing seafood has increased in recent years. There will be a demand for some seafood products. In the Pensacola area there has been recent interest in buying local seafood. Whether they are willing to pay higher prices than the foreign imports is to be seen but there is still a market for seafood products.


Can the seafood industry meet this demand?


That depends…

Several commercially valuable species have been deemed “overfished”. If the demand for these products increases there could be a problem meeting due to either regulations forbidding the industry to do so, or the numbers of fish available may make it prohibitive. For some species they may become part of a smaller higher paying market. There may be new species introduced that could be marketed and meet the demand, lionfish for example. The demand for this fish is growing but the availability is still low due to method of capture. At the moment the most effective method of harvesting lionfish is by spearing. We do not have enough divers to meet the 500 lbs. of fish / week/ restaurant currently requested. But there is another option to consider… aquaculture.



Humans have been growing our food for centuries (agriculture). There are few societies on our planet today they acquire their meat and vegetables solely by hunting and gathering. Aquaculture has also been around for centuries as well, just not in the United States. With the increasing world population, and the need for food along with it, scientists have been working on more efficient ways to produce food for over 100 years. The “green revolution” appeared in the mid 20th century and the impact was huge. The American food machine was churning out products like never before. It did come with a price for the environment around the farms, and there is concern now about the problems with high densities in some livestock operations, but the food is there. Many scientists believe aquaculture will be the method to meet the future seafood demand. Many are not surprised to learn that farm raised fish is common in most supermarkets, but they may be surprised to learn that 80-90% of it is imported from overseas. When we hear “farm raised” we immediately think of Mississippi catfish… which is local right? But in fact much of it is from Asia and Central America.

Indoor aquaculture projects are found throughout Florida.   Photo: Florida Sea Grant

Indoor aquaculture projects are found throughout Florida.
Photo: Florida Sea Grant


Will aquaculture increase in the Florida panhandle and will the public be okay with it?


I do not know.

Many Florida Panhandlers catch their own seafood, and there have been issues between the recreational and commercial fishermen for a few years now. Either way many Panhandlers will seek out fresh local seafood and provide it for their families. Whether they will embrace aquaculture is to be seen.


Either way seafood should be a part of our weekly diet. For many, the post oil spill fear of safety is no longer a concern. There is science that indicates our seafood is safe to eat. The concerns about mercury are real but low consumption of mercury target species (no more than one serving a week) has been deemed safe. For pregnant women (or women trying to become pregnant) this fear has kept them away from all seafood during their pregnancy. A recent study showed that there are important nutrients and vitamins provided in seafood products that are much needed during development and some women are not getting these. The recommendation here is to eat seafood but consume products not high in mercury. There are several agencies who post which species are high in mercury and which are low.


The seafood industry is an important part of panhandle history and culture. Though the industry has fallen on tough times I feel some form of commercial fishing will be around for a few years. We hope you learned something from this series during National Seafood Month and encourage you to ENJOY GULF SEAFOOD!


Additional resources:





mercury list



Florida Department of Health – seafood safety



FWC – mercury



Florida Sea Grant


NOAA-NMFS seafood recommendations




Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/31/national-seafood-month-the-future-of-seafood/

National Seafood Month – Blue Crabs

National Seafood Month – Blue Crabs

Well… we have talked about the “big two”… snapper and shrimp, but there are other popular fin and shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico.  This week we look at my personal favorite… blue crab.


Probably like many of you out there, the very first sea creature I ever caught was a blue crab.  It was with one of those classic basket traps where you baited it, lowered to the bottom where you could see, waited until a crab came for the bait, and pulled her in… GREAT fun.  My parents cooked the crab, saved the shell and dated it.  It sat on the cabinet above our breakfast bar for years.  It was something I did every summer off the dock of the house we rented on Pensacola Beach… good times.


The thin telson beneath this crab indicates it is a male.  Photo: FWC

The thin telson beneath this crab indicates it is a male.
Photo: FWC

As I got older we switched from crab traps to hand-held crab nets.  We would spend hours searching the grass beds around Gulf Breeze collecting and cleaning these guys.  I remember cleaning over 60 of them once until my hands bled, that was about the time I thought I would let the commercial guys do this and I would just buy it from them!

As much fun as I had catching them, I had just as much fun cooking.  My wife and I would make deviled crab and one of my personal favorites of hers, crab meat baked on an English muffin with cheese.  Man o’ man.  What a great creature the crab.


There are about 4500 species of “true crabs” found on our planet and many are valuable as a seafood product.  In the Florida Panhandle it is the Blue Crab most seek out.  In recent years commercial and recreational crabbers have noticed a decline in their numbers.  Landings of blue crab ranged between 8 and 12 million pounds in Florida from 1982-1999 and since 2000 the landings have ranged from 4 to 8 million pounds.  Researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have run several models to determine why the decline in landings has occurred.  Though the decline in the Chesapeake may be due to overfishing, the models do not suggest this for Florida.  They are not sure why the decline has happened but do have data that support the argument that freshwater discharge during heavy rain events does impact their population in a negative way.  Some data suggest the increase in salinity during drought conditions has done the same.  Whatever the reason, many would like to see their numbers rebound to the 12 million lb. landings we had just a few years ago.


Blue crabs typically live to be 1-2 years old, though some have been aged to 5 years.  Males prefer the less saline waters of the upper estuary and the females can be found throughout the bay.  Males reproduce more than once in their lives providing the females with a sack of sperm called a spermatophore.  Females mate only once, just after their last molt.  Once she has received the spermatophore she heads for the mouth of the bay where the water is more saline, she may enter the Gulf of Mexico searching for the right habitat.  When she fertilizers her eggs they remain with her as a mass on her underside; the egg mass resembles a sponge.  The larva hatch from this mass and go through several development stages as they re-enter the estuary and begin the cycle again.

Male blue crab

Whatever the reason for their decline, and recent increase in price, these crustaceans remain a Gulf coast favorite and I for one hope they remain around for a long time.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/23/national-seafood-month-blue-crabs/

National Seafood Month… Red Snapper

National Seafood Month… Red Snapper

If shrimp are king of the shellfish industry, then red snapper are the king of the finfish world. It is arguably the most economically and ecologically important reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico. This fishery began in 1872 with four “snapper smacks” out of Pensacola. By 1890 the fleet had grown to 34 vessels and had extended to other panhandle ports as well as Mobile, AL. They fished local waters for the most part but began to harvest from Campeche MX, where the fish gets its scientific name Lutjanus campechanus. By 1910 the majority of the catch was coming from the Campeche Banks, but by the 1930’s the focus of the fishery was again in U.S. waters. By the mid 20th century a steady decrease in landings began to occur and today the fishery is considered overfished.

A snapper smack from the 19th century. Photo: Brown Marine Pensacola

A snapper smack from the 19th century.
Photo: Brown Marine Pensacola


So what do we know about this “king of finfish”? Well, red snapper begin their lives like most fish, as planktonic larva. The larva first appear in northern Gulf around May and are found through November, with numbers peaking from July through September. Though they settle out from the plankton near hard structure, muddy bottom habitats appear to be very important as foraging grounds. Red snapper seem to stay close the hard structures they settle out near, though some movement does occur, particularly with snapper living deeper than 120 feet. They feed on zooplankton when they are young and move to a diet of small reef fish and crustaceans as adults; mantis shrimp are a particular favorite. Red snapper have been reported to live all most 50 years.




The problems with the fishery began in the mid 20th century. Though snapper were listed as overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service their problems go beyond just overfishing. By-catch in shrimp trawls is a particular problem. Much research and money have been spent to solve this problem. Science has found that young snapper, typically caught in trawls, do not like bright light and experimental trawls with LED lighting have been tested; studies continue.


The king of finfish... the red snapper Photo: Florida Sea Grant

The king of finfish… the red snapper
Photo: Florida Sea Grant

In 1976 the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was passed. By 1984 the first size and bag limits were issued and by 1988 the fishery was officially listed as overfished. Success at increasing numbers with the size and bag limits was low due to the shrimping by-catch issue and because many were not surviving the catch and release methods being used to return undersized fish. Studies show that snapper captured at depth experienced pressure problems as they are reeled to the service. This drastic change in pressure caused their swim bladders to expand, or rupture, a process known as barotrauma. Undersized (or over limit) fish had to be released. Those experiencing barotrauma were not surviving. Their expanded swim bladders would cause some to float – typically called “floaters” – and they were easy targets for sharks and dolphins. Others may descend slowly or reach the bottom but are still under stress and, again, were easy targets. Others still survived the release only to have issues with growth and immune function. Several techniques are used by fishing to reduce barotrauma, such as venting, but their success is debated and is currently under study.


One of the many version of descending devices used by fishermen to return snapper to depth.  Photo: Florida Sea Grant

One of the many version of descending devices used by fishermen to return snapper to depth.
Photo: Florida Sea Grant


Despite management plans the fishery is still considered overfished. Solving the problem will require plans to deal with the by-catch and barotrauma issues but will also have to address the socio-economic issues of the management itself. Many families depend on this fishery for their livelihood and though a complete ban on the species for a period of time may be beneficial to the fish stock, it may not be practical. Researchers, fisheries managers, and others will continue to work on solving this problem and hopefully the “king of finfish” will be with us for a long time.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/17/national-seafood-month-red-snapper/

National Seafood Month – shrimp

National Seafood Month – shrimp

Shrimp… nothing says seafood along the Gulf coast like shrimp. It has been a staple part of our diet for decades; boiled, fried, steamed, stuffed, shish-kabobbed, As Forrest Gump said there are a million ways to cook shrimp and as Jack and Anne Rudloe mention their book, Shrimp, the Endless Quest for Pink Gold, there are many cookbooks dedicated to preparing one of the most popular seafood species.

The book published by jack and Anne Rudloe in 2010.

The book published by jack and Anne Rudloe in 2010.


Growing up in Pensacola I remember the shrimp boats lining Palafox Street at the Bayfront Auditorium. You could drive down with your cooler almost any day and purchase white or brown shrimp for $ 2-3 a pound. The boats were beautifully painted with red and blue colors. Their coolers were full and we would fill ours, take them home, de-head them, and then have to decide how we wanted to prepare them… fry? Shrimp and grits? Boiled? They were college football tail gating food, birthday celebrations, and I cannot remember a wedding reception I went to, including my own, where shrimp was not served in some form or fashion. It’s a great product, taste great, and good for you. Bu things are changing…


Locals along the panhandle might be surprised that shrimping, as we know it, did not begin here. Many who think of “shrimping” immediately think of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Old wooden boats with nets draped everywhere and the familiar sound of the diesel engine in the early morning silence as they bring in the evenings catch. But according to the Rudloe’s commercial shrimping began in California. In their book they describe the evolution of the shrimping industry. Shrimp were in abundance in early human history, and relatively easy to catch. Archeologists assume they consumed large quantities of them but their chitonous shells do not preserve well so we are not sure. There are preserved nets from that time period which probably captured shrimp along with other small nearshore species. They were harvested in Europe, Africa, and certainly Asia using both nets and traps.


As these cultures came to the New World they brought with them the methods of capturing. Native Americans too used weirs and traps to collect. But it was Chinese who came to San Francisco during the gold rush that brought the idea of pulling nets behind their Chinese Junks and small shrimping villages began to pop around the Bay area. Though Cajuns had been shrimping in the Gulf before the Declaration of Independence was signed using beach seines, trawling behind boats did not come until later. At first these earlier shrimpers used sailing schooners and hauled the nets by hand but eventually the internal combustion engine arrived and both boat and winch power made the job easier and they could stay our longer. Dried shrimp was how the product was sold at first but the introduction of refrigeration meant shrimp could be brought in fresh, and the laundry list of how to prepare began. The amount of shrimp demanded stronger vessels, they switched from wood to steel and fiberglass vessels, and stronger power to pull these large nets, and they switched to diesel. With better vessels and power they could drop more than one net, shrimp boats were now seen with double booms and they could move farther offshore.

Shrimping. Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA

There are literally thousands of different species of shrimp in the world’s oceans but only a few are collected for food. In some cultures the small inshore species are the targets. Today some prefer the deep water ruby reds that could be collected only when the technology allowed. But most of us prefer shrimp from the Family Penaidae. White shrimp (gulf shrimp – Litopenaeus setiferus), brown shrimp (bay shrimp, “brownies” – Farfantepennaeus aztectus), and the pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum) are the species locals enjoy. 90% of these three species sold are harvested from the Gulf of Mexico supporting, in some cases, whole communities. Then things began to turn “south”…


According to NOAA’s Fishwatch.gov the fishery is not currently being overfished. The problem with today’s shrimping industry is economic and environmental.


The basic otter trawl used for shrimping. Photo: North Carolina State University

The basic otter trawl used for shrimping.
Photo: North Carolina State University


Economically, the cost of diesel has increased and for a 12,000 gallon vessel can cost the fishermen $ 50,000 per trip.

Bartering with wholesalers, many shrimpers will make 45% of their annual income in the first 45 days of the shrimping season, making tough times down the road – literally a “boom-bust” business.

Aquaculture… farmed raised shrimp has been around for centuries and the increased demand for the product many have turned to farmed shrimp to keep cost down. Many will be surprised to learn that 80-90% of the seafood consumed in the United States is farmed product from overseas. These low prices are difficult for the traditional ocean harvesting shrimper to compete with. You may also not know that a large amount of the product farmed overseas is not allowed to enter into the United States because of their method of using hormones to accelerate growth.



Environmentally, the trawl… As they drag their nets across the bottom they remove a lot of marine life in addition to the target species of shrimp. The otter trawl is opened using wooden doors and is pulled along the bottom using a chain (known as a “tickler”) to force the buried nocturnal shrimp to “pop up”. Trawled over seagrass beds they can do a lot of damage. Some studies have shown that almost 60% of the catch is what has been termed “trash fish” or “by-catch”. The Ocean Conservancy reports that after the World War II, when technology significantly improved for shrimpers, the by-catch to shrimp ratio was 4:1. Pressure from environmental groupers and other fisheries forced regulations on when, where, and how trawling would occur in attempts to reduce by-catch and damage to sensitive bottom habitat.

Sea turtles… one of the by-catch species were the federally protected marine turtles. This forced a change that required a Turtle Excluder Device (TEDS) to be installed into the trawl.

The oil spill… shrimpers certainly suffered from this incident and 10 years later in many parts of the Gulf the problems still exist.

We of course cannot forget “Mother Nature”. Hurricanes can change the ecology of the system enough to decrease available shrimp for several years.

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp. Photo: Mississippi State University

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp.
Photo: Mississippi State University

All in all these economic and environmental issues have forced many out of the business. A few years ago the shrimping fleet in Pensacola numbers between 40 and 50 vessels, today there are about 10. Times are hard on the traditional shrimper… but despite these setbacks it still remains one of the more popular seafood species.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/09/national-seafood-month-shrimp/

National Seafood Month – the state of seafood

National Seafood Month – the state of seafood

While directing the Marine Science Academy for the Escambia County School District I had students conduct small, informal, surveys targeting the popularity of seafood with students, parents, and the community. The purpose of these surveys was to kick start a discussion on the commercial fishing issue. The northern Gulf Coast has been known for several popular seafood products over our history; oysters, blue crab, mullet, snapper to name a few. There are two basic paths a commercial fishery can move as they grow their business. Fish for what they know and is easily harvested and convince the public to purchase – marketing. OR they can find out what the public wants and then develop a fishery to target those species. Hopefully they will find common ground; something that is available, easy to harvest, and popular with the public.

There are about 80 species of commercial seafood products that come from Florida. Photo: Florida Sea Grant

There are about 80 species of commercial seafood products that come from Florida.
Photo: Florida Sea Grant


In those surveys we looked at young and old, male and female. A couple of trends became apparent over the 20+ years we conducted these (remember, low level high school survey… but still interesting). (1) Shrimp was the no.1 favorite with all groups. That’s good, shrimping in the northern Gulf is a do-able product – many will say the best shrimp comes from these waters. But we also know that shrimping has hit hard times; more on this next week.


(2) With males No.2-5 are typically fish, with females it varies from fish to calamari, to sushi, to other. Popular fish of course are grouper and snapper… and we all know the issues with these target species in our area. There are lesser known fish with the general public, though many locals know, such as sheepshead, tilefish, pompano, that are not typically on menus. And of course a local favorite… mullet. With the mix request beyond fish include squid, crab, sushi grade fish, lobster, and others. Some of these are not common in our area and must be transported in. For many where the fish comes from does not really matter – for others it does (more on this in our last addition this month). But as you can see this type of information plays a role on how the seafood business works in the northern Gulf.


(3) The first question on the survey was “do you like seafood?” Of course if the answer was no then it was not necessary to ask further questions. The trend we saw over time was more and more stating they did not like it. Curious… I mean there are things I do not like either – so there is no problem not liking seafood – but we were curious as to why… so we added that to the survey. Our thought as we began was seafood safety. At the time much of the seafood landed was sold at a wholesale or retail market with little or no inspection – did this concern folks? In our survey we found that in most cases it did not. They just did not like the taste… fair enough.

Shrimping. Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA


What do the bigger surveys say? In 2014 an article was posted in the Wall Street Journal discussing this issue and what other surveys found. (1) There was a decline consumption. In 2012 Americans consumed an average of 14.4 lbs of seafood/person. This was down from 15.0 lbs in 2011 and 16.6 lbs in 2004. For comparison, at that time Japanese consumed 120 lbs/person/year and Spain consumed 96 lbs. To compare this with the “big three” at that time Americans consumed 46 lbs of pork, 57 lbs of beef, and 82 lbs of chicken/person/year. Chicken is king… it is a white meat, Americans are trying to eat healthier, but fish is a white meat… so why not fish?


The surveys indicated the top reasons were

  • Do not know how to cook
  • The price of seafood is high
  • Marketing – the seafood industry is fragmented and marketing efforts on the healthy benefits have not happen (or if done, were not done as well as the focused effort of the chicken industry).

To a lesser extent there was concern over safety (particularly mercury) and some concern about genetically modified farm raised fish (salmon in particular was mentioned). Members of the chicken industry highlighted the cost of production for seafood as a barrier for them. It cost more to go to sea and harvest seafood (or raise salmon in ocean pens) than it does to produce the “big three” on farms.

The crab of choice in the northern Gulf of Mexico; blue crab. Photo: FWC

The crab of choice in the northern Gulf of Mexico; blue crab.
Photo: FWC


This year Florida Sea Grant published an article in the September issue of Florida Trends on this issue. Sea Grant pointed out that currently the national consumption of seafood is up to 15 lbs and that Floridians consume 31 lbs/person/year… so there is a trend upwards since the Wall Street Journal’s 2014 article. However 40% of Floridians do not consume 2 servings a week (as suggested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture).


We can state that seafood is healthy for you and it is safe to consume (check out Florida Sea Grant for more on this). What I am finding is that there is a small group of locals now concerned with whether the seafood they are consuming is coming from local fishermen. We will discuss more on these topics in later editions.


Enjoy seafood.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/10/02/national-seafood-month-the-state-of-seafood/

National Estuaries Week! – Seafood

National Estuaries Week! – Seafood

 Yea, seafood… who doesn’t like seafood… actually, based on a small scale survey I conducted with marine science students over the last 28 years I have found a slight increase in the number of those who do not. Curious about this, I followed up by asking whether their concern was seafood safety or other. Almost all said they just did not like the taste. Okay… I can take that… there are something I do not like either BUT I LIKE SEAFOOD. The survey also showed that almost every year with young/old or male/female – shrimp was at the top of their favorite list. After shrimp the next 3-4 choices for males was some type of fish. For females it varied – fish, lobster, calamari, to name a few.

Shrimping. Photo: NOAA

Shrimping depends on healthy estuaries.
Photo: NOAA

So what does this have to do with estuaries…


Well, you may not know this but 90% of the commercial important marine species require estuaries for at least part of their life cycles. Just as humans select a neighborhood to live and raise their kids based on safety and schools – “fish parents” find everything they want for their “kids” in an estuary. They are shallow – allowing light to reach much of the bottom where submerged plants, like seagrasses, can grow. These seagrasses provide hiding places and a place for small algae to attach – which is an important food source for many of them. There are other places for them to hide as well – emergent salt marshes and oyster reefs are biologically very productive habitats. Many of the developing larva and juveniles require lower salinities to begin and complete their life cycles; venturing to the open Gulf only when they have developed a tolerance for the higher salinities. The freshwater discharge not only lowers the salinity it also brings nutrients. These nutrients, along with the sunlight reaching much of the water column, produce an abundance of microscopic plankton – food for the young. The nutrients, thermal mixing, low salinities, and variety of habitats provide a combination for one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet – a great place to grow up… and much of it we enjoy eating.


Most of what we consume in the seafood world is divided into shellfish and finfish. Some of it is harvested and sold commercially, some we collect recreationally. In the shellfish world we are talking mollusk and crustaceans – two of the most popular seafood groups on the planet. The mollusk include snails, oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, and cephalopods like squid and octopus. Many of these species live in our estuaries their entire life cycle. Most are slow moving creatures – if they move at all – and have provided a living for some humans, recreation for many, for decades – though the landings of these species are on the decline… more on this in a later issue.

Oysters are one of the more popular shellfish along the panhandle. Photo: FreshFromFlorida

Oysters are one of the more popular shellfish along the panhandle.
Photo: FreshFromFlorida

Crustaceans include the ever popular gulf shrimp. We actually have three different species of bay shrimp we like – white, brown, and pink shrimp. There are other varieties found offshore we are now consuming, but these have been the big three. Blue crab – my personal favorite – is another popular crustacean. Though these are still harvested commercially, “crabbing” with your kids is a long time popular panhandle activity – and the day always ends well with a great meal. Crustaceans are more mobile and conduct small migrations during their life cycles. Shrimp develop within the estuary and then move offshore for breeding where the incoming tide brings the larva back to the estuary. Blue crabs migrate to the head of the bay for breeding and the females return to the lower end of the estuary for egg development and larva release – they may enter the Gulf during this process but tend to stick to the bays for the entire cycle.


The famous Gulf Coast shrimp. Photo: Mississippi State University

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp.
Photo: Mississippi State University


In the finfish world we are talking drum, snapper, grouper, trout, whiting, mullet, flounder, sheepshead, and many more. These species have provided both a living for the commercial fishermen and recreation for families for years. Many species breed and grow within the estuary while others make trips in and out of the bay to complete their cycles. In addition to commercial and family recreation charter fishing has increased as a business along the Gulf coast.


One of the more popular finfish - the grouper. Photo: Bay County Extension, UF IFAS

One of the more popular finfish – the grouper.
Photo: Bay County Extension, UF IFAS


We hope you and your family enjoy local seafood from our bays. There are several websites and apps, such as Seafood@Your Fingertips, that can help you locate local seafood – or you can go catch some yourselves! If harvesting recreationally be reminded that there are regulations and licenses required. You can read more about those at MyFWC.com.


Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/09/20/national-estuaries-week-seafood/