The food and drink industry in the U.S. is worth nearly $8 billion, and a great deal of this is made up of seafood restaurants. The Gulf Coast has arguably the largest variety of seafood with its many species of shellfish and fin fish. In fact, the Gulf Coast fishery extends about 200 miles into the Gulf of Mexico along the coastlines of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Under U.S. law, a fishery council is tasked with conserving and managing fish stocks by balancing the needs of fishermen with the need to sustain fish populations. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council follows plans for preserving fish habitats, coral reefs, and aquaculture. The council also has plans that manage populations of red drum, shrimp, spiny lobster, stone crab, and reef fish, including snapper, grouper, and sea bass species that inhabit the Gulf Coast region. Not coincidentally, these fish are make up some of the best known Gulf Coast seafood. Here is an overview of four of these species:
Gulf shrimp is the most popular seafood in fresh seafood markets and seafood restaurants along the Gulf Coast. In fact, the majority of shrimp sold and eaten throughout the U.S. are gulf shrimp. The term “gulf shrimp” encompasses four species: pink shrimp, white shrimp, brown shrimp, and royal red shrimp. The term “gulf shrimp” arises because all four of these species are caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf shrimp range in size from seven inches (brown shrimp) to 11 inches (pink shrimp).
Although all four species are referred to as gulf shrimp, each species has a slightly different taste. For example, pink shrimp are tender and sweet, white shrimp are firm and sweet, and brown shrimp are firm and salty. Even though the species names include colors, all three species turn white with red or pink coloring when cooked.
Gulf Stone Crab
Gulf coast seafood includes a few varieties of crab, including the gulf stone crab and the blue crab. Gulf stone crabs live at the bottom of bays and oyster reefs, feeding on oysters, worms, and other crabs. A gulf stone crab has two claws: a large crusher claw and a small pincer claw. The gulf stone crab has adapted to regrow the crusher claw if it is lost to predators or the environment. Fishery management takes advantage of this adaptation, dictating that fishermen are only allowed to keep the crusher claw and are required to return the crab, minus the harvested claw, back to the water. The crusher claw grows back in about one year, making gulf stone crab a sustainable Gulf Coast seafood source. When cooked, gulf stone crab meat turns white and has a flavor reminiscent of lobster.
Red drum, also called redfish, live in shallow coastal waters. Red drum fish are bottom feeders, eating crab, shrimp, and small fish. Red drum are a popular sport fish and can be caught using bait, lures, or flies. The largest red drum caught in Texas weighed 59.5 pounds and the largest red drum caught in the U.S. was caught in North Carolina and weighed 94 pounds. The name “red drum” comes from a thumping sound that the fish makes to attract a mate. Red drum has a moist, firm, sweet taste when cooked. Some favorably compare the taste and texture of red drum to red snapper though these two species share no relation.
Unlike other Gulf Coast seafood, spiny lobster is more commonly fished outside the Gulf of Mexico than inside the Gulf of Mexico. Nevertheless, spiny lobster can be found in deeper waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Outside the Gulf of Mexico, spiny lobster lives in shallow waters near mangrove trees, piers, and pilings. Spiny lobster eat mollusks and dead plants and animals found on the ocean bottom. Spiny lobster are nocturnal to avoid predators. When cooked, spiny lobster tail meat tastes similar to Maine lobster. However, spiny lobster lack the large claws associated with Maine lobster.
In sum, Gulf Coast seafood will have any seafood lover searching for “seafood restaurants near me” when on the Gulf Coast. Seafood found in the Gulf of Mexico include shellfish, such as gulf shrimp, spiny lobster, and gulf stone crab, and fin fish, such as red drum, snapper, grouper, and sea bass.