Meet the Wood family. The Woods have been fishing in the sleepy Gulf coast town of Port St. Joe, Florida since 1860. Around 1950, Grandpa Wood took up shrimping, with only a small wooden boat and his son Buddy by his side. A decade later, following encouragement from a local seafood processor, Wood built a small freezer operation and began freezing his catch in five-pound boxes. Today, Buddy's son Ed Wood operates a prospering shrimp dock that is the second largest employer in Port St. Joe after the school district. Shrimpers, a fiercely independent breed, go out of their way to dock their boats at Wood's Fisheries, though Ed Wood takes care to only source shrimp caught sustainably and left untouched by chemicals.
The story of this fifth-generation family business is an anomaly in today's seafood industry, where shrimp has become a cheap commodity, a staple at all-you-can-eat buffets and fast food restaurants. Shrimp is America's favorite seafood, but the dirty truth is that 90% of the shrimp we consume in the United States comes from overseas, where most is raised in the aquatic equivalent of factory farms. Asian-farmed shrimp contains high levels of antibiotics and chemicals, is damaging to the environment, and runs on abusive labor conditions. What is more, the influx of imported shrimp to the marketplace has endangered traditional American shrimping communities, a group that has had its fair share of challenges in recent years.
Sustainably raised animals and vegetables have had their moment in the sun, but shrimp hasn't garnered the respect it deserves. Wild shrimp possess a unique flavor profile that originates from its habitat and living conditions. Like wine, oysters, or cheese, wild shrimp have terroir. Shrimp aficionados even claim to taste a difference in the flavor of a shrimp depending on the depth of ocean in which it lived. Antibiotic-infused shrimp just can't compare.
Wild shrimp is better for our environment, our health, and our taste buds. But by choosing to eat wild American shrimp instead of its farmed foreign cousin, we're also helping to sustain American fishing communities and jobs. At Wood's, shrimp isn't just something on your plate - it's a livelihood. Traditional independent fishermen are a dying breed, and they need our support. Just as we support small farmers with each bite of a heritage breed pig or heirloom vegetable, we can support the future of our working waterfronts by eating better shrimp.
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