The Love of Shrimp: History, Festival

Shrimp Boats at Dock, Fernandina Beach
Shrimp Boats at Dock, Fernandina Beach

Every year, the first weekend in May, Amelia Island celebrates the “Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival,” an event attracting well over 100,000 visitors to this barrier island in northeast Florida. (Get info about Fernandina’s Shrimp Festival here.)

In Fernandina Beach, Florida, the birth place of America’s modern shrimping industry, many folks are shrimp savvy. Some are rooted to the shrimping industry, while others have learned the difference of buying “wild-caught domestic shrimp” versus farmed, Asian imports.

Add to Amelia’s beautiful beaches and quaint historic district in Fernandina, the bonus of shrimp boats here in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia waters. Fresh shrimp, recently swimming in the local waters and on plates in a day or less sometimes. Let’s put another check mark in the “good life” column, here in Fernandina Beach.

Wild-caught shrimp is a real treat! Fresh, crunchy, a culinary delight! (But be careful not to overcook shrimp. It only takes a few minutes).


A seasonal educational Discovery Tour about shrimping is offered by Amelia River Cruises. What better place than the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in USA, to take an educational tour about America’s favorite seafood? The Shrimp Demonstration Tours pull a net and dump the contents to show cruise passengers fresh caught shrimp and other sea critters that live in local waters. What a great learning experience for kids and adults alike!


The American appetite for shrimp is big. Americans love shrimp, as proven by the fact that it’s the most valuable seafood import to the United States (reportedly over $4 billion). Unfortunately, much of the shrimp we eat are Asian imports, farmed shrimp, not the higher quality wild-caught American shrimp.


When shrimp is purchased at the supermarket, or ordered off a restaurant menu, consider the origin. Do you presume it’s shrimp from the sea? The odds are against it, since much of the seafood in U.S. stores and restaurants is farmed, not wild-caught. The aquaculture seafood industry is a huge global industry, and reportedly, 80% of shrimp eaten by Americans is imported.

Asian shrimp in the marketplace has helped the decline of the domestic, wild-caught shrimp industry in the US. Today’s American shrimpers are a waning breed, many coming from a long family history in the business — generations of shrimpers. Those catching shrimp the traditional way, wild-caught, fresh from the sea, have had difficulty competing with the flood of Asian imports.


With cheap Asian labor (there are reports that it’s a slave industry in Asia), the global marketplace has been flooded with aquaculture shrimp, putting some wild-caught shrimpers out of business. Those domestic shrimpers who toil at sea to catch fresh shrimp in U.S. waters, the traditional way, are losing their way to earn a living.

Hopeful Pelicans Wait at Atlantic Seafood, Fernandina Beach


Stop by Atlantic Seafood, located at the Fernandina Harbor public boat ramp (10 Ash Street, just a block from Centre Street), to buy shrimp. You’ll be rewarded with the great tasting wild-caught shrimp. The other seafood market on Fernandina’s docks, at the end of Front Street on the river, has a “CLOSED” sign on the door. The Fernandina Seafood Market had a great reputation here in town. Perhaps another casualty of Asian shrimp imports?


When buying shrimp, know what you’re getting (domestic vs. imported, aquaculture vs. wild-caught). If it costs more for American wild-caught shrimp, isn’t it worth getting a higher-quality product, and at the same time support the American shrimping industry? While the height of the local shrimping season is during the cooler months of the year, wild-caught, domestic shrimp is a product you can buy year round in the U.S.  Also consider FDA alerts regarding Asian imported seafood products.


Many of the finest chefs would agree that wild-caught shrimp is the only type of shrimp to serve discerning diners. For example, Chef Emeril Lagassae of Food Network reportedly uses only wild-caught American shrimp in his restaurants and frozen food products. There’s a certification for Wild American-caught Shrimp. “Certified Wild American” shrimp is a sign of quality — the shrimp harvester or processor has been approved by Wild American Shrimp, Inc. (WASI), having met strict quality standards and passed US environmental and food regulation standards. WASI is the marketing arm of the Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA). WASI and SSA represent harvesters, processors, and distributors.