While most people are still snuggled in their beds, Hank Groover is busy checking equipment on his 50-foot boat, heading out in the predawn darkness. For nearly 40 years, Groover has trawled for white and brown shrimp in the waterways around Tybee Island, one of the many islands off the coast of Georgia. “Shrimping is a way of life,” he explains. “Unfortunately, it’s disappearing.”
Lured by the independence and the beauty of the sea, Groover was just 15-years-old when he started shrimping and was the only one in his family to hear the call of the sea. “Most are family-run businesses, third or fourth generation shrimpers,” he says.
“It used to be that 90 percent of the shrimp we ate were wild domestics and 10 percent were pond-raised imports from Asia,” says Eddie Gordon, executive director of Wild American Shrimp. “Now it’s the opposite. Most people don’t know that, but you have a choice.”
Back on the boat, Groover and his crew empty their nets, taking the heads off the shrimp and putting them on ice until they return to the dock in the afternoon. On a good day, he’ll haul 500 to 600 pounds of shrimp, selling them to local restaurants and retailers. An hour or so after dawn, Groover’s crew boils up some of their catch with a bit of Old Bay seasoning. The shrimp is sweet, meaty and delicious. Dipped in butter or eaten plain, it tastes heavenly. Outside pelicans and seagulls squawk and a school of dolphin follows the boat.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” says Groover, pointing to the shrimp in hand.
—By Diane Welland, a food writer in Springfield, Va.