Georgia’s shrimp season opened on June 1. It’s regulated by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The official season determines the date commercial food shrimp trawlers can operate in the state’s territorial waters extending three miles offshore. They can shrimp further out than that any time of the year, but can only use their boats closer to shore during the state-approved season.
Hunter Forsyth has been a commercial shrimper almost all his life. “I first went out with my daddy and uncles when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Forsyth said. “I went in the Navy in 1965 and when I got out, I bought a boat from my uncle. From then on I’ve owned one boat after another.”
While he was actively shrimping, his wife Suzanne ran the family shrimp dock near the Altamaha River near Darien. About 10 years ago, his wife began to work in real estate and Forsyth decided to sell off his boats and devote his time to running the dock. He says that keeps him as involved in the shrimping business as if he was going off in a boat every day.
The Forsyth family dock accommodates nine boats. Forsyth’s cousin Clifford Watson explained how the system works. “The other boat owners ‘rent’ space to dock there, Watson said. “There’s no actual rent money exchanged. The boats just purchase their fuel and oil there and there’s a fee per 100-pound box of shrimp processed which is deducted from the selling price to cover the dock’s expenses. The dock ‘pools’ the shrimp from all the boats to have more negotiating power with the wholesalers.”
Shrimping is a tough, physical way to earn a living, and the price the shrimpers get for their work isn’t on the rise. “The price of shrimp today at the dock is not as good as it was in 1979. Then we were getting $7 a pound for ‘21-25’ shrimp, the ones called ‘jumbo select.’ Today, 37 years later, the price on those same shrimp is less than $5,” Forsyth said.
So the shrimpers work a long year, going out for as many as 11 months out of the year. Rather than wait for the Georgia season to open, they can take their boats to Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula, then come up to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. Then they travel down to the Dry Tortugas, around the Keys and then on up to North Carolina.
“It’s a lot of roaming around,” Forsyth said. “But if you got boat payments to make, it’s not a matter of if you want to go to work – you’ve got to go to work.”
But in season, the boats can stay closer to home. It’s a matter of principle with Forsyth that shrimpers honor the season and the ban on shrimping within state waters at other times of the year.
“Inside the 3-mile line is what I call the ‘shrimp bank,’” Forsyth said. “Everybody’s shrimp is on deposit in there. Everybody’s got an equal share. When somebody goes in and helps himself to those shrimp, they’re stealing. Those shrimp can’t be eaten but one time.”
The shrimp harvested off Georgia’s coast are either white shrimp or brown. “White shrimp have long whiskers and they’re snow white with a green tail, almost transparent when they’re young,” Forsyth said. “Brown shrimp are brown with a reddish tail and short whiskers. I think white shrimp are a little more tender, but in some dishes people prefer the brown shrimp because they have a more solid texture. In shrimp perlow or shrimp with brown gravy, you want a medium-size brown shrimp. If you’re going to fry them, then Georgia wild-caught white shrimp are what you want. But pink shrimp from the Gulf or Yucatan, they’re delicious, too.”
Forsyth never met a shrimp he didn’t like. “I love seafood. Period. Living right here on the Intracoastal, or close to it, we catch our own trout, bass and whiting. They’re all real good eating fish. But everybody on the coast eats shrimp. You eat what you got. We got shrimp, so we catch them and eat them.”
You might think shrimpers and their families would get quite tired of eating shrimp, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Clifford Watson, son of a shrimper and cousin of Hunter Forsyth, grew up on the Altamaha River and shares this family recipe.
There may be as many ways to spell the name of this traditional Southern dish as there are cooks. Perloo, purloo, or as Watson spells it, “perlow.”
Shrimping was a livelihood that involved everyone in the family. “At the end my father’s career he owned two shrimp boats, the Three Cees and the MarGin. There were five kids in my family: Cathy, Carol, Cliff (Three Cees), Margaret and Ginny (MarGin). I spent much of my childhood at the family dock. When I was smaller, I helped ‘head’ the shrimp for 25 cents a bucket and as a teenager helped unload the boats, fuel them and load ice. Those were truly fun times.”
1 pound bacon
1 large Vidalia onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 (16-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 1/2 pounds peeled Georgia shrimp
Salt, black pepper and hot sauce
Cooked rice, for serving
In a large skillet, fry bacon until crisp. Remove from fat and drain. Set aside.
Pour off 1/2-inch bacon fat and leave remaining bacon fat in skillet. Add onion, bell pepper and celery and saute until onion becomes translucent. Crumble reserved bacon and add to skillet. Add tomatoes, including juice, and simmer for a few minutes to heat through. Add shrimp, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste and stir to combine. Cover skillet and simmer 5 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through. Do not overcook the shrimp. Remove from heat and serve immediately over rice. Serves: 6
Per serving, without rice: 609 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 47 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 39 grams fat (13 grams saturated), 237 milligrams cholesterol, 1,733 milligrams sodium.
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