Alabama has had all kinds of official state things for many, many years.
State nut, state reptile, state fossil, state horse. (That’s the pecan, the Alabama Red-Bellied Turtle, the Basilosaurus, and the Racking Horse, if you’re keeping score at home.) But we’ve never had a state crustacean.
Until now. Presenting Alabama’s Official State Crustacean: the Brown Shrimp.
But the journey to state recognition didn’t start in a legislative meeting—it started in an elementary school.
Back in 2000, a group of teachers at Fairhope Elementary School (FES) came up with an excellent way for their students to get some hands-on government experience.
“We decided our third grade students needed some excitement and real-world experience with the legislative process and our environment,” said Susan Sims, the project’s team leader. “Writing a bill for a state symbol seemed to be the best way to accomplish our task.”
The students’ first venture into the legislative process resulted in Alabama’s Official State Amphibian, the Red Hill Salamander. Then in 2004, their second foray gave us Alabama’s Official State Fruit, the blackberry.
When it came time for their next official state thing, Sims, along with teammates Ann Agerton, Amy Smith, and Kacie Hardman, encouraged these young coastal citizens to look toward Alabama’s waters.
“We chose to wrote a bill for a state crustacean, first because we didn’t have one, and second because who doesn’t like shrimp!” said Sims.
And give these students credit, because the Brown Shrimp is actually the perfect choice. According to Kevin Anson with the Alabama Marine Resources Division, the Brown Shrimp has the highest landings and generates the largest value of any marine species in the state (including finfish).
“Alabama’s shrimping fleet lands approximately 17 million pounds of shrimp and processes an additional 30 million pounds in a given year,” said Ernie Anderson, proprietor of Graham Shrimp Co. in Bayou La Batre. “Also, you will not find a Brown Shrimp produced in a pond.”
The bill recently passed in the Alabama House of Representatives, but the FES students have already been studying these fascinating creatures all year.
The students took a trip to Pelican’s Nest Science Lab to observe them up close. Kindergarten and first grade lessons focused on creatures that make their home in Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, while second grade lessons focused on brackish water, salt marshes, and estuaries. Third grade students used preserved Brown Shrimp specimens to complete an in-lab lesson on classification.
“Our students have been up close and personal with our slimy little specimens,” said Sims. “Every student at FES had the opportunity to touch and observe a real Brown Shrimp! We have over 1,000 students at our K-3 school, and every one of them participated in the process.”
And as a result, the State of Alabama is now well represented in the kingdom of crustaceans.
If you’re wondering how you should celebrate this news, we’ve got a fairly obvious suggestion: Eat some Brown Shrimp.
“For those who enjoy a more robust flavor, you will find this in the Brown Shrimp,” said Anderson. “The shell is generally firmer and has a tendency to peel easier. The Brown Shrimp will give back more than you give in any recipe.”
For Brown Shrimp recipe suggestions, check out these Gulf shrimp dishes in our recipes section.