Your eyes scan the restaurant at a frenzied pace. You see your waiter walking toward your table as your mouth begins to water in anticipation of the meal to come. They arrive at your side and place a piping-hot bowl of shrimp and grits in front of you.
Before you dig in, have you ever considered where those little shrimp might’ve come from? If they’re not obviously labeled as Mayport caught, they could be something you don’t want to support.
Shrimp is the most popular crustacean of the sea, and you probably don’t even know where most of it is coming from. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and fresh caught shrimp is an option, but what about the shrimp that’s not freshly caught and sold here in the U.S.? It comes from the ocean or farms (duh), but more specifically … who’s handling it? Who’s peeling, deveining and prepping all those shrimp?
It’s safe to say that it’s probably not coming fresh off a boat to the kitchen at the restaurant you’re sitting in or straight from the nets to your local grocery store. A lot of your favorite places (and we won’t point any fingers) could be serving or selling you shrimp that has been peeled and gutted by what can only be referred to as slaves. According to NOAA, shrimp is the leading fresh or frozen product imported into the U.S. accounting for about 33 percent of all imported seafood, so to say this is a bit of a problem is an understatement.
In Thailand (where most of this problem shrimp comes from), the Guardian revealed in a six-month investigation that people who worked to prepare shrimp for export were subject to torture, wage-theft and beatings. To make things worse, the U.S. is guilty of buying half the shrimp the country harvested.
Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, told the Guardian, “If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labor.”
Imagine a small room packed with beaten down people peeling pounds and pounds of shrimp a day for less than $10 in conditions you wouldn’t want to be in for even one second. Are these the places you want your shrimp coming from? From people who can’t even afford to eat the shrimp they painstakingly provide for you?
One way we can make a difference is by consciously making the decision to seek out local seafood and continue to support their efforts. Chris Wooten, owner of Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant, suggests a few ways in which to get fresh, local seafood, including Safe Harbor, Fisherman’s dock in Orange Park, Seafood Shoppe in St. Augustine and Bar Harbor in Orlando.
“We’re known for offshore fishing … what’s offshore here (in North Florida) is truly the best … it supports families … these are guys who have to pay house payments, boat payments and putting clothes on their children’s backs,” Wooten said. Local seafood is an industry, something people spend their whole lives doing that’s been passed on from generation to generation. Supporting them is supporting the local economy and providing jobs. “What we do at Safe Harbor requires us to really know our sources, and we’ll get on a plane to do so … it takes years to know who to buy from,” he said. “If the surf’s good, the fishing isn’t. That’s why we have to buy from other trusted sources sometimes.”
There are many other restaurants (such as the Fish Company) you should give your business to outside just the ones named above. Just remember, the next time you order that shrimp and grits, consider where that shrimp came from.