Transforming the Shrimping Industry for Five Generations
According to Bubba from Forrest Gump, “Shrimp is the fruit of the sea” and America’s favorite seafood. For five generations, the Wood family continues to produce a steady supply of native wild shrimp originating out of the Gulf Coast of Florida for wholesalers and retailers across the country.
Developing the Entrepreneurial Spirit
In the late 1800’s, the Wood family settled in Port St. Joe where they caught fish and built fishing vessels. By the 1950’s, the family ventured into shrimping. Owning one wooden boat, the family caught shrimp by the masses. The Woods sold the fresh catch to unloading docks and on the side of Highway 98 to seafood trucks bound for New Orleans. “My father sat in his truck on Highway 98 with no money – not even enough for a phone call,” Edward Wood, Sr., CEO of Wood’s Fisheries, recalled. “He would be tired from shrimping through the night but knew better than to dose off. If he did, the trucks would pass by and there would be no sale.”
Our geographical location in Florida’s panhandle is an important factor for producing great seafood products.
In the 1960’s, the family earned a profit of two cents on fresh shrimp. Eventually, the Woods began freezing and boxing the shrimp in five pound containers producing more than 30 cents per pound. Today, Wood’s Fisheries has evolved from a shrimping boat and truck on Highway 98 to a prevalent, reputable shrimping company.
Beating the Odds
When the recession hit in 2008, many independent and corporate shrimp wholesalers and retailers suffered a financial beating. Many entities closed due to high regulation costs and cheaper imports; Wood’s Fisheries not only continued but emerged as a viable force within the industry.
“We grew Wood’s Fisheries on passion, commitment and integrity,” Reese Antley, Vice President of Operations, said. “We provide top-quality products and deliver a consistent supply stream. Wood’s Fisheries proudly stands behind every case of shrimp produced.” Today, they are the region’s only commercial aquatic farming facility and one of 10 in the U.S. specializing in fresh, domestic shrimp.
Sustainability and Traceability
“Our geographical location in Florida’s panhandle is an important factor for producing great seafood products,” Antley said. “The water is rich and fertile.”
Wood’s Fisheries believes shrimping habitats must be kept unharmed, preserved, respected and intact. In 2014, Wood’s Fisheries embarked on new, innovative and ground-breaking traceability and sustainability initiatives to guarantee customers of the origin and quality of its products. These initiatives and advances offer complete transparency and authenticity to customers pertaining to supply chain, freeze time, freeze temperatures, brine salinity and water change frequency. Detailed reports disclose data from quality assurance checkpoints including additive levels and percentages of black spot (melanosis), heat damage, glaze and freezer burn.
On the state level, Wood’s Fisheries receives marketing support from the “Fresh from Florida” program conducted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Members associated with this program portray Florida agriculture’s worldwide image of excellence. “The promotion board is amazing and helps our company on a regional, state and national level,” Antley said.
Additionally, Wood’s Fisheries proudly carries and sustains a “Green” rating by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium and FishWise for their farmed shrimp and a “Yellow” rating for their wild-caught shrimp. “These national organizations have the largest voice in state and federal government regarding traceability and sustainability efforts,” Antley said. “The ‘Go Green Movement’ is huge; we are environmentally conscious and try to stay ahead of environmental concerns. Our quality specs, food safety practices and product standards rank higher than industry standards.”
Providing a Livelihood
Ninety percent of shrimp is imported from other countries and chemically processed within farming facilities. “We were the first to develop a chemical-free shrimp,” Antley said.
The shrimping industry is cut-throat and the traditional independent fisherman is becoming a dying breed. “Choosing to eat wild, chemical-free shrimp is better for our environment, our health and our taste buds,” Antley said. “Antibiotic-infused shrimp from foreign countries cannot compare. Buying domestically sustains U.S. fishing communities and American jobs. At Wood’s Fisheries, shrimp is not something just to be put on a plate. It is a livelihood.”
“Most shrimpers hire part-time employees on visas for six to nine months of the year,” Antley said. “We are different. We are the largest employer in our rural area with approximately 60 to 100 employees. We hire full-time, locally and year-round. On average, we pay the highest rate in the industry for general labor.”
Building Local and National Relationships
Wood’s Fisheries believes a good product is only the beginning to a viable business relationship. Good communication, expert product knowledge, high quality standards and year-round sources collectively shape strong business bonds with customers.
Wood’s Fisheries has partner docks along the East Coast and in every state on the Gulf Coast. Additionally, it processes and sells frozen shrimp to retailers in the U.S., Canada and England. “Without these partnerships, we would not be able to supply and distribute chemical-free shrimp,” Antley said.
Progressing, evolving and advancing for more than 150 years through five generations, Wood’s Fisheries positions Florida shrimping on a national level. It is a thriving and successful tradition of American entrepreneurialism.