I’ve been to Alabama’s Gulf Coast at least a dozen times. Those waves, that dazzling white sand, and the fresh seafood draw me back over and over. I’ve also been to Mobile and spots along Mobile Bay, but I had never visited Bayou la Batre until last month. All of the food bloggers who were gathered in Orange Beach for a conference were loaded on a bus early one morning, and we made the 1 1/2 hour trip to the tiny town that has such an incredible impact on the seafood industry for our state.
The population boasts a whopping 2500 +/- mix of Asians, whites, blacks, native Americans, Hispanics, Creoles and Cajuns, and out of that there are 829 shrimpers, oystermen and fishermen who make up the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama. Try to imagine the economic, physical and psychological damage caused by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005 and then the BP oil spill in 2010. You have to truly love that life and be dedicated to it to survive and continue year after year. Yet, they do, and somehow God’s providence as seen in nature replenishes what is lost, and the seafood production goes on.
A quick review of the plot of the movie “Forrest Gump” will remind you of why Forrest entered the shrimping business after his tour of duty in Vietnam. His friend Bubba Blue talked non-stop of his dream of owning a shrimp boat and of making his living by hauling in catch after catch. When Bubba was killed, Forrest left his own hometown, fictional Greenbow, AL, for Bubba’s hometown, the very real town of Bayou la Batre, to fulfill that dream for his friend. He and his beloved Lt. Dan went into business together. Lt. Dan invested some of the profits into a “fruit company” that turned out to be Apple, Inc. and both of them became multi-millionaires. Along the way, viewers got a great glimpse of the shrimping process and its highs and lows.
Those images were in my mind as we rode into Bayou la Batre, and what we saw made the mental pictures even more vivid.
Our group got a closeup look at Olympic Shellfish Company, owned by John Grevenitis which processes tons and tons of crabs. And, we visited Graham Shrimp Company, owned by Ernie Anderson. Both were gracious hosts who spoke with justified pride about the work done by their companies.
We got to Olympic Shellfish in time to see a number of Asian workers finishing up for the day.
And at Graham Shrimp Company, we saw several shrimp boats conveniently docked, having just unloaded their catch. Then, we went inside to watch the sorting/deheading/flash-freezing process.
In both places, we were completely impressed with the efficiency and cleanliness of the plants. I can very comfortably recommend shrimp and crabs caught and processed in Alabama. Happy eating!