Gallery: Snapshots from the Gulf of Mexico: How Shrimp Goes from Tide to Table

Gulf of Mexico, as Seen From Land
Gulf of Mexico, as Seen From Land
Just as the sun was setting over the Alabama coast, and we were settling in for a little supper, the shrimp boats headed out to make their nightly catch.
Shrimp Boat
Shrimp Boat
The shrimp boat ‘Innovation’, one of a few we saw, is based in Bayou La Batre, which you may recognize as the hometown of Bubba, from Forrest Gump.
Shrimp Boat, Side View
Shrimp Boat, Side View
A slightly better view of all the intricate netting and contraptions required to make a shrimp boat work. Tangled up in there are turtle excluders: square grills that are designed to let the shrimp into the net, but keep the turtles out.
Bon Secour River
Bon Secour River
This is the view of the back of the boat, following the route a shrimp boat might take to get from the Gulf back inland on the Bon Secour River to drop off at a shrimp processor.
Billy's Entrance
Billy's Entrance
At the processor, the shrimp will be sorted and packaged for sale. One such processor, also a retail spot for all kinds of seafood, is Billy’s (slogan: “If it swims, we got it”).
Arrival Bin
Arrival Bin
The shrimp arrive and are kept in this little holding pen until they’re ready for their next move.
Shrimp Size Variety
Shrimp Size Variety
Here you can see the size difference among three shrimp randomly plucked from the bin. In order to be sold by official size, they’ll have to be sorted.
Shrimp Sorter
Shrimp Sorter
The first step in sorting is dumping them into this machine. The shrimp travel one by one down the ramp, which has a gap for the shrimp to fall through. The openings the shrimp fall through get progressively larger, so the smaller shrimp drop first, while the largest ones make it all the way to the last of the five baskets.
Shrimp Weighing and Packaging
Shrimp Weighing and Packaging
Each size-sorted basket is then emptied onto the scale. The shrimp are weighed and placed into a color-coded (to denote size) mesh bag.
Shrimp for Sale
Shrimp for Sale
Or, they skip that last step and end up on the ice inside Billy’s retail location. The shrimp at the front, the bright red ones, are Royal Reds, a deepwater variety that only a few boats go after.
Billy and Son
Billy and Son
The eponymous Billy and his son, Austin, working at the retail counter.
Hurricane Heights
Hurricane Heights
Billy showed us where they marked the levels of various hurricanes. On the left you can see Katrina at about halfway up, but Ivan, on the right, is almost to the top of the door.
Shrimp To Eat
Shrimp To Eat
After showing us all about the shrimping process, Billy boiled up two varieties of shrimp, the wild brown on the right and the Royal Reds on the left.