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Is It Still Safe to Eat Gulf of Mexico Shrimp?

Shrimp has been a Gulf Coast staple for hundreds of years. This seafood mainstay is popular for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But many are wary of where their shellfish come from. Pollution from oil spills and toxins from red tides have people thinking twice about what to order. 

Today we’ll look into whether or not it’s safe to eat shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Let’s dive in!

High angle view of fresh shrimps in a cast iron cooking pan shot on rustic wooden table. Gulf shrimp are extremely popular at dinner tables around the South.
Gulf shrimp are extremely popular at dinner tables around the South.

What’s Special About Gulf Shrimp?

Gulf shrimp grow in warmer waters, which greatly affects their flavor and texture. Many people argue that they’re significantly tastier than their Atlantic cousins. They come in several colors, each with a distinct flavor and texture.

The pink variety is sweeter and best served with sauce or a dip. White ones have a subtle flavor and are best for deep frying. The most popular are the brown catches. They carry a bold taste and are perfect for Southern classics like jambalaya. 

Juvenile catches are typically referred to as Bay Shrimp and are generally more tender with a natural sweetness. But since these are harder to catch, you’ll have a more challenging time finding them in restaurants.

But the most prized are the Royal Reds, which are only available seasonally in late summer. They’re large and, like lobster, best served off the grill with butter and maybe garlic.

Where is Most Gulf Shrimp Caught?

While fisheries operate across the Atlantic, most shrimp in the US come from the Gulf of Mexico. They’re generally found within 100 feet of the shore along the coast and in coastal bays. 

For decades, Biloxi, Mississippi, was the seafood capital of the world. While the casino industry has since shifted the economy, it’s still a significant part of the industry. Canneries and fishing boats worked year-round to provide a taste of the South. 

These days, most brown and white varieties come from Texas and Louisiana. And the pink ones are generally found in Florida. 

Fishing boats use special winged nets called trawls. They drag along the ocean floor and scoop the catch into a narrow end for easy retrieval. 

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Are Shrimp Healthy?

Shrimp is the most common shellfish people eat in the US. It’s low in calories and packed with protein, iodine, and other important nutrients. It’s also a good source of Omega-3, which is essential for brain and eye health. 

In addition, because they’re lower on the food chain, they have lower mercury concentrations than tuna or salmon. Unfortunately, they’re high in cholesterol, so some people avoid them. But newer research on cardiovascular health suggests that saturated fat is a bigger concern, and shrimp are a healthy choice. 

The main thing to consider is how you’re preparing them. If you prefer Gulf shrimp deep-fried or with a fatty sauce, the unhealthy aspects overshadow the benefits. Additionally, there is a risk of foodborne illness in contaminated seafood. If it smells off, it’s not worth the risk. 

On the other hand, shellfish are also a very common allergen, and most people have their first reaction as adults. Some people are so sensitive that they need to avoid any food prepared in the same kitchen.

Sprinkle some Spice Colony Gulf Coast Seafood Seasoning on your shrimp.

Some People Avoid Gulf Shrimp

You’re not alone if you have concerns about seafood caught in the Gulf. The 2010 Blackwater oil spill sparked a lot of anxiety about chemical contaminants. 

Plus, algae blooms are becoming much more common thanks to sewage, storm runoff, and excess fertilizer in the ocean. Also known as red tide, these growths add a lot of toxins to the water. 

However, commercially caught fish go through rigorous safety testing. Studies from various environmental organizations have found no evidence of danger in catches from fisheries. Additionally, they’ve tested people who eat a lot of Gulf shrimp and saw no red flags. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s all safe. It’s better to buy from professionals than catch anything yourself. Restaurants and grocery stores are still the best places to get your fix.

A person holding a shrimp in hand. Is it safe to eat if it's from the Gulf of Mexico?
Better safe than sorry with Gulf Shrimp – purchase them commercially

What’s the Difference Between Wild and Farmed Shrimp

The difference in quality between wild and farmed shrimp is a major source of debate. Whether it’s quality, sustainability, or the threat of contaminants, many people have strong opinions about it. 

Farming shrimp is sometimes more environmentally sustainable because it protects other fish. Bycatch is a significant problem in the industry. The nets catch a lot of different species, which are generally killed and tossed in the process. 

However, fish and crustaceans raised on a natural diet typically have less saturated fat. They also usually taste better and are leaner since they swim more. 

Some people claim that industrial-raised seafood isn’t safe to eat. The truth is that both types have to meet strict regulations before consumers can buy them. 

Of course, farmed seafood is more likely to have contaminants and diseases because of the living conditions. But they also have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and undergo rigorous testing before they hit the market.

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Gulf Shrimp Can Be Safe to Eat – and Tasty

Not only are Gulf shrimp the tastiest variety, but they’ve also got lots of vital health benefits. They’ve been an American staple for hundreds of years. And some of the best Southern dishes wouldn’t be the same without them.

So next time you get a craving, don’t hesitate to treat yourself, especially if you can get fresh Royal Reds at the peak of their summer season.

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