By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Georgia white shrimp rated highest in a University of Georgia consumer survey of six shrimp varieties. That's good news for the state's shrimpers.
"Georgia fishermen have always thought their shrimp were sweeter," said Marilyn Erickson, a food scientist with the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Ga. "But they're having trouble competing with the farm-raised shrimp that are flooding the market from India, China, Ecuador and Thailand."
Imported, farm-raised shrimp make prices cheaper for consumers, but they hurt fishermen who harvest shrimp from the wild, she said. About 85 percent of the shrimp eaten in the U.S. is imported.
The survey says...
The study, funded by the Georgia Sea Grant Program, involved metropolitan Atlanta-area consumers from the $30,000-or-more annual income bracket who eat shrimp at least three times a year.
"We had to select a target group of consumers that could afford to purchase shrimp and who actually do purchase them," said Anna Resurreccion, a UGA food scientist who led the consumer panel portion of the study. "One-third of our panelists reported eating shrimp at least once a month."
Half of the panelists choose large shrimp most often; 46 percent buy deheaded, shelled and deveined shrimp; and 58 percent prefer to eat fried shrimp.
The panel evaluated six shrimp varieties: Georgia white, Gulf brown, Mexico white, Panama white, India tiger and China tiger. The panel was served each variety as a boiled dish and asked to judge each on appearance, color, aroma, moistness, flavor and texture.
Georgia white ranked best overall and best in the aroma category. It was second in appearance and color. Best flavor and texture went to India tiger shrimp. Mexico white ranked best in color, appearance and moistness.
The survey uncovered an unusual feature of Georgia white shrimp: an iridescent tail.
"It became obvious in the fresh shrimp," Erickson said. "The fresher the shrimp, the more iridescent the tails appeared. The Georgia whites also looked more red-orange when they were boiled."
The study also included a storage study of fresh versus frozen shrimp.
"Fresh, of course, was found to be the best for taste," Resurreccion said. "But our study revealed that juiciness and sweetness decrease with time of storage. Even when shrimp are stored in ice, these qualities begin to decrease after just three days."
Overall, Resurreccion says, fresh shrimp are usually best. "If you can't get truly fresh shrimp, you may actually do better buying frozen shrimp," she said. "And, in Georgia, you can get the freshest Georgia shrimp."
Consumers willing to pay
Nearly two-thirds of the panelists were willing to pay more for shrimp that were certified.
"Having shrimp certified would serve as a type of guarantee for consumers," Resurreccion said. "Consumers see certification as a vote of confidence, much like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval."
"The shrimpers can use our study to help market their product and make their industry more profitable," Resurreccion said.
The UGA Marine Extension Service is working closely with the Georgia Shrimp Association on the marketing effort. Georgia wild- harvested shrimp are now officially known as Wild Georgia Shrimp.
"When you control only 15 percent of the market, you don't control the prices," said Keith Gates, associate director of the UGA Marine Extension Service in Brunswick, Ga. "Prices for American shrimp are depressed right now. Our shrimpers are getting less per pound for wild-caught, domestic shrimp than they did in 1977."
Gates along with Richard Vendetti, a fisheries economist with the UGA Marine Extension Service, are active in regional marketing efforts aimed to help shrimpers along what is called "the South Atlantic bight," the area off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and north Florida where wild-caught shrimp are harvested.
"We've developed a quality manual for Wild Georgia Shrimp," Gates said. "And we're working to train fishermen how to control quality during harvest and storage."
Many docks, distributors, restaurants and retailers have signed on with the Wild Georgia Shrimp program. “Georgia shrimpers are optimistic that finding a market niche for their product will help turn the tide for them,” Vendetti said.
Gates says Wild Georgia Shrimp may fit into a high-scale niche market as a product for upscale restaurants. "If the product is handled well, there are no better shrimp than those caught off the Georgia bite," he said.
For more on the Wild Georgia Shrimp Program see the program Web site at www.wildgeorgiashrimp.com.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)