Published on 04/26/07

Shrimp distributor finds help, gives back on coast

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Jamie Barr knows gourmet mushrooms. He’s carted them from Kentucky to Georgia for years. But finding something to haul back was a bit trickier until he called the University of Georgia.

Through UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, he found contacts along the Georgia coastline, and a shrimp distributing business was born.

“Our main role in this was talking to him and putting him in contact with some people down there who were willing to supply him with shrimp,” said Kent Wolfe, a marketing analyst with the center.

UGA is both a land-grant and sea grant university. It’s responsible for helping and teaching Georgians whether they work with a tractor, commute through 20 lanes of traffic or pull in shrimp off the coast.

With the phone numbers Wolfe provided him in hand, Barr started dialing. Several shrimpers’ numbers had been disconnected, and half of them just hung up. But he finally found one person who didn’t think he was crazy.

Two years later, his product is certified as Wild Georgia Shrimp. He’s dreaming of soon moving beyond restaurants and markets by building a Web site to provide Georgia shrimp to individuals.

He’s even thinking of applying for an organic certification, because the shrimp are caught in the wild and preserved on ice, not with sulfites. No antibiotics are used. Barr said antibiotics are used on much of the farm-raised shrimp shipped in from overseas.

Throughout the years, Wolfe said he’s learned that not every person who calls can move beyond a dream. Of every five phone calls he gets at the CAED, Wolfe visits one or two, and one actually goes into some kind of business.

“When I’m talking to people, I can tell who has the energy, the drive to make something work,” he said.

After focusing each person on what their core business will be, Wolfe and others from CAED do a feasibility study to see whether that business would be viable.

“A lot of people spend chunks of money only to realize that something will not work,” he said.

Barr wasn’t one of those. Thanks to 25 years in the restaurant business, he knows that market. In fact, of the shrimp sold in restaurants in Hilton Head Island, S.C., 80 percent are his Wild Georgia Shrimp, he said.

“The flavor’s there,” he said, “and there’s not much difference in price. I don’t want to get emotional, but dump them out and they’re beautiful. They’re translucent. You can almost see through them.”

The see-through seafood Barr is marketing isn’t just adding to his bottom line. Through his business, he’s helped add income to a floundering Georgia shrimp industry.

“I’m motivated to see what we can do for these guys,” he said. “If we don’t, the mariculture industry will go away. It’s halfway gone already.”

According to the Georgia Shrimp Association, the shrimping industry has faced hits mainly due to imported shrimp. In the 1970s, Georgia issued close to 1,300 shrimp trawl licenses each year. In the 1990s, that number was down to 500.

Now, Georgia shrimpers harvest 5 million pounds of shrimp every year. The impact of the industry on the state’s economy has been estimated at more than $200 million.

“We concentrate on one thing,” Barr said, “getting shrimp out of the water and into someone’s hands. We can get them to the market directly in a couple of hours.”

With the season starting back in April, Barr’s shrimp will be headed to restaurants across Georgia and to market in Kentucky.

“Fishermen work hard, and someone needs to treat them well,” he said. “It feels good to do something that makes money and helps others as well.”

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.