by Ed Lallo/Louisiana Seafood News
At first glance, you’d never think Shawn Sigur, a lanky butcher from Delcambre, Louisiana, and Vui Nguyen, a petite Vietnamese woman in the shrimp business, have anything in common.
Well, you’d be wrong.
That’s because they are part of a new program, where a local businessman such as Sigur, can now sell some of the tastiest shrimp from the waters of Louisiana – Vermilion Bay Sweet, which is harvested by Nguyen.
“Vermilion Bay Sweet is a demonstration project,” said Thomas Hymel of the Louisiana State University (LSU) Agricultural Center (AgCenter) and Louisiana Sea Grant.
“We wanted to show the industry we could produce a uniquely local, high-quality pack, where we took into consideration quality assurance every step of the way – from the boat, to the processor, to packaging, to point of sale.”
Known For Being Different
Delcambre is the shrimp capital of the world, Hymel said. “However, the industry is changing, and we are starting to do things a little different.”
That only makes sense since the Port of Delcambre and its shrimpers already are known for “doing things a little different” in the industry.
In 2010, shrimpers there began selling directly to consumers, via the Internet, the large Gulf shrimp they catch. Buyers visit the website – www.portofdelcambre.com – to find when a boat is headed for the docks with seafood.
Initially, more than 20 boats were registered in the program to sell their catches direct.
The port also is known for a special white shrimp in the Vermilion Bay area. Local shrimpers have long touted the sweeter taste, compared to the brown shrimp harvested in the rest of Louisiana.
Nguyen’s Shrimp Operations
The shrimp for the pilot project are being peeled and packed at the docks of Nguyen’s Gulf South, Inc. in Intracoastal City – about 30 miles southeast of Delcambre. They are peeled by hand, deveined and vacuum-packed.
Nguyen’s operations have about 20 to 25 large shrimp boats that stay on the Louisiana waters for weeks at a time. Her shrimpers are trained in quality assurance to guarantee the harvested white shrimp are frozen quickly after being sorted for size.
Once on her docks, Nguyen says she “has four of my best people assigned strictly to handling, sorting, deveining and packaging the shrimp for Vermilion Bay.”
Thu Bui, another agent with the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant, said that consumers, local business people, such as Nguyen, and her fishermen all benefit from the project.
The process starts with brine-frozen, IQF 16/18 count white shrimp, which then are hand-peeled and deveined, yielding a 26/30 tail. The product is packaged immediately and frozen fresh.
This method is similar to the one used with frozen-crawfish tail meat, which has widespread acceptance with consumers in south Louisiana – the target market for Vermilion Bay Sweet.
“The shrimp selected for packaging run 16 to 18 count before peeling,” Hymel explained. “You look at them and they look like a chicken leg.”
Featured at Local Festivals
The first thousand packages of 1.5-pound, frozen Vermilion Bay Sweet debuted at the Delcambre Shrimp Festival in late August. They also will be featured at the BP booth at the Gumbo Festival held in New Iberia in October.
This project, conceived by LSU AgCenter/Louisiana Sea Grant marine advisory agents, is designed to bring a locally branded product to the marketplace – all done with hand labor.
The idea is that small “boutique” processors across the state might benefit from the farm-to-market movement, where local products are sought. The next planned project is a “gumbo pack” of smaller shrimp under the same brand.
“We also wanted to develop a model where all in the production chain – from fisher to dock, processor and retailer – could participate and profit from the effort,” said Hymel.
“We also wanted to demonstrate a concept that could be reproduced in small processing plants, where expensive machinery and equipment does not exist.”
Dr. Jon Bell, a seafood specialist with LSU AgCenter, developed the quality assurance and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification plan for project.
“The end result is a 1.5-pound, frozen vacuum pack – with nothing added but shrimp,” Hymel said. “This is as close to buying off the boats and peeling it yourself as you can get. The product is simply awesome.”
Shawn Sigur knows the product is awesome. Since Hurricane Rita, he has operated the only grocery store left in Delcambre, located on the main highway two blocks from the city’s drawbridge.
Shawn’s Cajun Meats – Plus Vermilion Bay Sweet
“Before they came to me with the idea of selling Vermilion Sweet shrimp, I carried a frozen shrimp that was prepared in a glazing solution,” which causes them “to look unnatural,” said Sigur, whose store Shawn’s Cajun Meats Too is filled mainly with fresh cuts of all varieties.
The difference between the previous shrimp product and the new Vermilion Bay Sweet is dramatic.
“If you defrost a bag of Vermilion Sweet shrimp you would have a difficult time telling it from an unfrozen cousin,” said Sigur, who can’t wait to try and ship the product outside Louisiana. “They are as close to fresh as you can get, and the taste every bit as good.”
The partnership among the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Sea Grant, Nguyen and Sigur is both innovative – and perhaps more important, profitable.
“Because of the quality assurance of the product, the shrimper is getting more at the dock, the processer can charge more and the retailer also has a nice profit,” Hymel pointed out.
“Most of all, the consumer gets a safe, quality-trusted product,” said Hymel. “Vermilion Bay Sweet shrimp is win, win, win and win – for everyone.”
Vermilion Bay Sweet Shrimp Available At Shawn’s Cajun Meats, Too
Shawn packs a lot into his little building in Delcambre. This tiny shrimping village is best known for the blessing of the fleet and the shrimp festival, and Shawn’s is bringing something everyone can use more of: Vermilion Bay Sweet Shrimp.
210 W. Hwy 14, Delcambre, LA 70528