Even though the movie “Forrest Gump” is based on a fictional character, the setting in and around Bayou La Batre, Alabama with its thriving shrimping industry is as real as it gets. Bayou La Batre, a tiny but very real town, goes several steps beyond shrimp to also harvest and process tons of oysters, crabs and fish for consumers on the Gulf Coast and beyond.
Abundant Seafood in Bayou La Batre
The importance of seafood gathered from the Pacific Ocean, the Atlanta Ocean and even the Gulf of Mexico is duly noted by everyone in the States, but very few recognize the contribution made from the 60 miles of Gulf frontage proudly claimed by the State of Alabama.
As a participant in the Food Bloggers Summit held in Orange Beach, Alabama recently, I spent a day observing and sampling the wonderful fruits of intense labor and research that have brought this minuscule section of Alabama into the spotlight. It is inspiring to see what they have accomplished in such a small space.
There are dozens of commercial fishermen and seafood processing plants in Bayou La Batre, but we only had time to focus on three of them: Murder Point Oyster Farm, Graham Shrimp Company and Olympic Shellfish.
Murder Point Oyster Farm
Murder Point got its name from the fact that an actual murder took place over oyster rights years ago leading to the graphic phrase used to describe the objects of all their work, “oysters worth killing for.”
At Murder Point Oyster Farm, the Zirlatt family uses a long line method first developed in Australia for farming their oysters. With this technique, oysters don’t grow on the bottom of the ocean but are placed in canisters that hang just below the surface of the water.
These canisters receive regular shakings so that barnacles aren’t allowed to form and the shells stay uncharacterically smooth. The taste of Murder Point oysters, in MY opinion, was creamy, almost buttery, with a slightly metallic tinge and a hint of salt.
The Zirlatt family is very impressive with their strong bond and commitment to excellence. We were introduced to son Lane who talked with great pride about their farm and its various components. He demonstrated his shucking expertise much to our delight as we sampled oysters fresh from the water.
His mom, Rosa, showed us the baby oysters. Rosa shared that she cooks Sunday lunch for the whole group, which includes 11 grandchildren. No wonder they are such a close-knit family!
Dr. Bill Walton, affectionately known as “Dr. Oyster,” has been a valuable resource for the Zirlatts in perfecting their farming methods. He represents the Shellfish Lab at Auburn University.
The blogger group then visited Olympic Shellfish where we were hosted by John Grevenitis.
The careful attention to cleanliness and safety regulations was evident everywhere we looked. Skilled workers coaxed beautiful crabmeat from the baskets and baskets of whole fresh crabs waiting to be processed.
The work we saw displayed provides complete justification for the price diners pay in restaurants. This company has existed for over two decades and provides crabs throughout the United States.
Graham Shrimp Company
Our next stop was the Graham Shrimp Company, currently owned and managed by Ernie Anderson.
From the beautiful shrimp boats bobbing in the bay to the owner and skilled workers, we saw healthy, robust seafood combined with lots of labor to bring large quantities of seafood to consumers throughout the Gulf Coast.
It was fascinating to watch how the shrimp were sized, then decapitated or left intact. Customized automation increased the speed of the process. In minutes boxes of shrimp were frozen, sealed and made ready for shipment.
After seeing all of the great seafood, we were STARVING. Once again, the people of Bayou La Batre hosted us graciously and deliciously with abundant seafood.
Lunch was hosted by Graham Shrimp Company and members of Organized Seafood Association of Alabama (OSAA). They did a magnificent job. We left completely satisfied.