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Shrimp Harvesting in Central Virginia

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Sugar Hill Sweetwater Shrimp

A basket of fresh shrimp on shrimp harvesting day

When you think about shrimp harvesting and eating fresh shrimp most people think about the gulf coast states, Central Virginia is probably not on your radar when it comes to shrimp.  After all, it’s a 4 hour drive to get to the ocean.  But just outside the quaint little town of Brookneal (about 45 minutes south of Lynchburg, Virginia) is the Sugar Hill Sweetwater Shrimp farm.  Mark Guthrie’s family has owned the farm since 1908.  He, his father and grandfather grew high quality tobacco on the farm until pressures from government and big tobacco companies caused him to look for a different cash crop.  What made growing shrimp possible was the fact that when his grandfather was looking to buy farm land he wanted a place with a good water supply.  He found a property with a spring fed pond to not only supply water for irrigation of crops but as a good supply of drinking water for the family.  A hundred years later that spring fed pond provides the water source for today’s shrimp ponds.

Water from the shrimp pond flows into this wooden box where the shrimp are collected

Water from the shrimp pond flows into this wooden box where the shrimp are collected

Each spring Mark purchases the larva of Giant Malaysian River Prawns.  In the wild, the Giant Malaysian River Prawns lay their eggs in the salty waters at the mouths of rivers.  The larva then make their way upstream to the fresh water of the river and grow.  Mark keeps the larva in a climate controlled environment until the pond water has warmed up sufficiently to move them into the ponds.  A paddleboat type device keeps the water aerated to enable the shrimp to breath.  Like other farm animals, shrimp need to be fed from time to time, but if life gets in the way of farming and you miss feeding them they forage the pond for their own food.  Another advantage to farming shrimp is you are not at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to heat, drought or too much rain, disease, insects, deer and so on.  As summer comes to an end so does the shrimp farming for the year because the shrimp don’t survive if the water temperature drops into the 50’s.

Harvesting shrimp is a relatively simple job.  The shrimp ponds were built with a low spot on one end of the pond and the bottom of the pond is sloped to the low spot.  Think of his pond as a half acre bathtub.  On harvest day, Mark simply pulls the stopper out of the pond and the water runs out the drainage pipe into a large wooden box that catches the shrimp.  The water flows through the box and continues downhill to the large spring fed pond.  The shrimp are then scooped out of the wooden box and put into holding tanks.  This year the shrimp were larger than in previous years because he stocked the pond with fewer larva allowing each shrimp to grow larger.

 

Capturing remaining shrimp net at the pond drainage pipe.

Capturing remaining shrimp net at the pond drainage pipe.

After the pond has been emptied the net around the drain is checked for any shrimp that didn’t get carried out of the pond through the drainage pipe.  After all the shrimp have been collected they are put on ice to bring their temperature down to 40 degrees or lower then they are ready to be sold.

Shrimp Harvesting

Transferring shrimp into holding tanks.

Unless you live on the ocean you probably can’t buy shrimp that are any fresher than these shrimp on harvest day.  The shrimp are textured and colored much like lobster and very low in cholesterol.

A male shrimp

A male shrimp

A female shrimp

A female shrimp

The male shrimp has claws at the end of a long blue colored arm.  The fertile female shrimp have a yellowish colored underside where their eggs are stored.  When preparing freshly caught shrimp it is best to keep the head on the shrimp because it adds flavor.  Shrimp that aren’t sold on harvest day are beheaded because there are enzymes in the head that allow the shrimp to digest their food.  If the head is left on the shrimp, those enzymes can start to digest the meat of the shrimp.  Cooling the shrimp below 40 degrees stops that process, but it is best to remove those enzymes if the shrimp aren’t being consumed right away.  Mark will be flash-freezing any shrimp that haven’t sold on harvest day so if you are interested in buying some fresh shrimp give him a call at 434-376-5375 or communicate with him via his Facebook Page

Shrimp before their ice bath

Shrimp before their ice bath

If you are looking for a unique experience you will definitely want to put harvest day on your calendar next year.  Mark typically harvests the shrimp on the third or fourth Saturday of September.  Directions to his farm from The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast are:

1. Start out going southeast on Cabell Sttoward D St.

0.01 mi
2. Take the 1st right onto D St.

  • If you reach C St you’ve gone a little too far
0.2 mi
3. Turn left onto Rivermont Ave/US-501A. Continue to follow US-501A S.

  • US-501A S is 0.1 miles past Hancock St
0.8 mi
4. US-501A S becomes Church St.

0.2 mi
5. Take the US-29 S ramp.

0.1 mi
6. Merge onto US-29-BR S.

1.0 mi
7. Take the US-460-BUS E/US-501-BUS S  (Campbell Ave.) exit, EXIT 3B.

0.1 mi
8. Merge onto US-460-BR S/US-501-BR S.

2.1 mi
9. Stay straight to go onto US-501 S/Campbell Ave. Continue to follow US-501 S.

7.9 mi
10. In the town of Rustburg, Turn right onto Village Hwy/US-501/VA-24. Continue to follow US-501.

  • US-501 is 0.1 miles past Honeybee Ln
  • Hardee’s is on the corner
20.5 mi
11. Stay straight to go onto Lynchburg Ave/VA-40. Continue to follow VA-40.

3.3 mi
12. Turn slight left onto Sugar Hill Rd.

  • Sugar Hill Rd is 0.5 miles past Swinging Bridge Rd
  • If you reach Mt Calvary Rd you’ve gone about 0.5 miles too far
0.1 mi
13. 179 SUGAR HILL RD is on the right.

  • If you reach Ball Park Rd you’ve gone about 1.1 miles too far
The last step on shrimp harvesting day...Selling to the consumer.

The last step on shrimp harvesting day…Selling to the consumer.

We had thought about serving our guests a shrimp omelet but unfortunately the couple pounds of shrimp we bought didn’t make it past dinner.  Lesson learned….next time, buy more shrimp!