Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Under the Bridge

Happy New Year! How are you celebrating? Are you celebrating all the things that happened in 2013 or the things yet to come in 2014?

David and I are still in southern Florida, enjoying the warm weather and are not at all sad to be missing the sub zero temperatures up home. We will be ringing in the new year with prime rib, spiny lobster tails, and David's family.

For us, the end of 2013 will also mark the beginning of the end of our trip to the south. In the next few days we plan to start the trip north.

2013 has been a big year for us. David and I quit our jobs, took over Soper Ocean Services from my dad, and created Gurnet Trading Co.'s online store. We also added our little Nemo to the family.

The last few weeks have really put a cherry on the top of the year. We dived and snorkeled the keys, enjoyed days at the beach, trips on the boat, and even two dives at the top ranked dive in North America.

Sport Diver Magazine named the Blue Heron Bridge Dive the best in North America and called it the secret mecca of muck. To those of you who are not up on dive lingo and terminology, being called a mecca of much is a big deal and honor. Muck diving is a unique style that skips the pretty reefs and pristine water. Instead divers hunt in the cracks and crevices for shy and rare critters. They hide in plain sight with incredible disguises and camouflage. Top muck diving locations include Thailand, Indonesia, Bali, the Philippines, and apparently Palm Beach Florida.

As it turns out this fantastic dive is just down the road from David's parent's house. David and I threw our gear in the back of the Jeep and headed 30 minutes south, not once but twice.

We dived the west end of the bridge during the day time high tide on December 22. It lasted nearly 90 minutes with a maximum depth of 15 feet. Muck diving takes practice, not because it is technically challenging, but because it takes practice to slow down enough to hunt for camouflaged creatures. It takes even more practice to not be distracted by the vibrant and flamboyant angelfish, parrotfish, and butterfly fish that abound.

How many species can you count? Yellowline arrow crabs, spiny lobsters, sea urchins, lizardfish, porcupinefish, flounder, trunk fish, cowfish, starfish, scorpionfish, jellyfish, remora, queen angelfish, grey angelfish, and many many more.

We dived the east end of the bridge during the night time high tide on December 30th. It lasted 70 minutes with a maximum depth of 22 feet and yielded even more creatures than its daytime counterpart. In addition the aforementioned species we also saw banded shrimp, stingrays, octopus, squid, frogfish, and the largest hermit crabs I have ever seen.

This night dive was particularly special because it was hosted by Stuart Scuba, who provide refreshments and entertainment after the dive. It was great to meet some of the local bubbleheads and learn a little about their stomping grounds. So I would like to give special shout out to the Stuart Scuba dive staff. Thanks for a great dive and for keeping our tanks topped off during our trip.

Having dived the bridge twice during the day and once at night, I can easily say this is my favorite dive site. It has never disappointed and I look forward to diving it again in the future. This night dive was a hell of a way to end 2013, I can only hope that 2014 yields such dives.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Other Lobster

As you know, I am in southern Florida, visiting family for the holidays and working from the road. Well, last week we were down in the Keys enjoying the sun and sea.

David's aunt and uncle have a killer place right on a canal on the Gulf side of Key Largo. Shortly after we arrived, we were lounging under the tiki hut when we noticed a pile of manatees congregating. We snatched up our Contour+2, plopped it in the water and caught them in action. We definitely do not have these guys up home and they are a real treat to see. There were lots of jokes about us adding them to our menu as sea cow steaks.

David and I dived with his dad two days in a row. The first day we dived Molasses Reef located in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park located off from Key Largo Florida. It was a little rough and windy but we made due. The visibility was decent and, as usual, Molasses was a worth while dive.

Some of the species we saw were: trigger fish, spiny lobster, trumpetfish, cowfish, parrotfish, barracuda, trunkfish.

The second day we had been hoping to dive the wreck of the Duane or the Spiegel Grove, but the wind had really piped up and we decided to stick to gulf side of the Keys and search for spiny lobster.

Lobstering in Florida is a little different than up home. Here is a quick run down of some of the differences:

                                                                             Maine                                            Florida
Can dive for them recreationally            No                                                 Yes
Can trap them recreationally                  Yes                                                No
Can dive for them commercially             No                                                 Yes
Can trap them commercially                   Yes                                                 Yes
Recreational catch limit                          5 traps - unlimited lobsters              5 lobsters/day in season
Season                                                     year round                                       multiple split seasons
Recreational License Required             lobster specific license                     Florida fishing license

While David has dived for Florida lobsters many times in the past, this was a first for me. It was a great experience to see the differences between the southern and northern lobsters. Florida lobsters tend to be skittish while Maine lobsters can be incredibly aggressive. While diving up home, I have literally been attacked by lobsters defending the mud holes and hunting territory. Next summer I hope to post a video of some of our lobsters in action.

I wish we could dive for lobsters recreationally. I think a diving charter to see lobsters in their natural environment would be very successful, especially if the customer could take one home with them for dinner.

With the water temperature only 72 degrees and the air temperature 75 it was a little chilly with the wind blowing. After hunting for a couple hours we called it quits, shivering with blue lips and one lonely lobster.

The lobster was just large enough for me and David to share for dinner. We sliced the lobster in half while it was still alive.

Then we drizzled it with butter and garlic powder and broiled it in the oven for a few minutes until brown and cooked. We served it over buttered pasta and it was quite tasty.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our New Ad Campaign

So as you all know, David and I said good-bye to the corporate lifestyle back in March. One of the biggest reason we took the plunge into self-employment was the issue of flexibility. For 5 years we had worked hard a respectable jobs that paid well and provided good economic benefits. But what we found was we were making money but did not have the time to spend it.

What good is money without time? We decided that life is short and time is more important to us than racing through life waiting for weekends and climbing a ladder that could collapse beneath you at any moment. When we quit the man, we took on two jobs that would hopefully provide us with enough income to cover living expenses and provide us with more time to spend with our friends and family. 

Soper Ocean Services is a seasonal business. It is insanely busy from April - June; it mellows out June - September; gets super busy again October and November; and then is virtually non-existent from December - March.  

Managing Gurnet Trading's online sales and distribution is a virtual job. Theoretically, all I need is my laptop, an internet connection, and my smart phone. 

On paper it seems like these two businesses would allow us to spend more time traveling and less time at home. Well, we are currently putting that theory to the test. Last week we packed our dive gear, my home office, and our corgi dog into our 13 foot Scamp and hit the road. 

Our new advertising campaign targets the East Coast, from Maine to Florida

Our 4 day drive from Maine to Southern Florida doubled as an advertising campaign and our first test of flexibility. Our first night was dry, but dipped into the low teens and our little electric heater was working overtime. Our second night began at 2 pm, when the falling snow forced us to pull off into a Wal-Mart parking lot in Maryland. Without electrical hook-up we snuggled into bed with our corgi and waited out the storm that dropped a foot of snow and a half inch of ice on us. By the third night we had finally escaped the icy grasp of the North East and we basked in rainy humid glory of the South. By the fourth night we had arrived at our prime destination, David's parents house. 

We had arrived not a moment too soon. I had barely logged onto the local network before the Christmas orders started to roll in. Hopefully they keep coming and I will have proof that I can support Gurnet Trading from Florida just as well as I can from Maine. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ode to Shrimp

Though Bubba was talking about shrimp out of the Gulf of Mexico, the same can be said of our delicious little shrimp that come out of the Gulf of Maine. They are truly a staple here in Maine and can be found on just about every restaurant menu in the state. Even the pizza places put them on their pizza.

So it is a sad thing to announce that the 2014 Maine Shrimp Season has been cancelled. To those of us who grew up with shrimp in our bellies, it is like a member of the family has gone missing and we don't know when or if he will be coming home.

Here is my ode to Maine shrimp and a look inside my relationship with my FAVORITE crustacean and quite possibly my favorite food of all time. Please note that when I talk about shrimp, there is no question about what type of shrimp. To me, the Maine Shrimp is the only one that matters.

  1. When Gurnet Trading Co. first opened, I picked shrimp. I picked them for hours and hours and hours after school. I picked until my fingers were numb and sore from stabbing myself with the shrimp spines. I stayed up until 1 AM cleaning and packing shrimp. 
  2. Though I haven't had them since she passed, my grandmother's shrimp bars are my most favorite party appetizer ever. They are like dense little quiche squares with no crust. They are made of shrimp, broccoli, and cheddar cheese. They are best served cold, though I would always snag one before it had "set up" because I was so impatient. When my grandmother would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, the answer was always shrimp bars. If and when the season opens again, I will hunt down her recipe and post it for you. 
  3. Shrimp are super easy to cook with and therefore regularly save my hide when I don't have a plan for dinner.
  4. My favorite way to eat Maine Shrimp is fried. I call it seafood candy. It is the only food I have eaten to the point of being ill. And I have done it on multiple occasions. It's the only food I have found my self capable of "binge eating." Perhaps closing the shrimp season is a good thing? No never! I condemn myself to 20 lashes for heretical speech. 
  5. When I was in college my mom once packaged up a box of live shrimp and shipped them to Maine Maritime Academy. Most kids get cookies and ramen in their care packages. I got 8 pounds of live crustaceans. 
  6. This next one might be considered a little improper, so you might want to skip it if you don't sometimes giggle at bathroom humor. Another time at school, David and I put on a "u-peel-em" feed with our friends. We ate mass amounts of shrimp and consumed cases of beer. The next morning we got up and drove to Sugarloaf to do some skiing. Once we reached the top of the mountain, David comments that he feels a bit gaseous. Then seeping out through layers and layers of long underwear, ski pants, and jackets comes the foulest rotten shrimp stench ever. It enveloped us and crept in through even our ski masks. We laughed so hard that we collapsed in the snow. More than 6 years later we still remember that fart and laugh about it, joking that his ski pants still retain their rotten shrimp stench. 
  7. I remember very little from elementary school. But I do remember going on a field trip to shrimp boat. Mountains and mountains of tiny shrimp flip flopping on deck. Great big nets. A slippery deck on big steel boat. Squid and other little critters that came up with the shrimp.  
Shrimp invoke some of my strongest memories. It's strange to think that simply the loss of a food source can bring up such strong emotions. 

But to some it is not just the loss of a favorite food. It is not just the emotional impact. There will be very real economic consequences as well. Those fishermen who rely on the industry to feed their families will be scrambling and struggling during already difficult times. 

Then there are the retail impacts. In the winter, Gurnet Trading usually employs 2-3 seasonal but full time employees to clean and package shrimp. That is two jobs gone in just one small market. We are just one market in many that will not be able to employ shrimp pickers this winter.

Our menu, like many others in the state, is going to be demolished by this closure. We will have to remove some of our most popular products. Here is a look into how our menu will be impacted. 

Our Fish Market
  • Frozen Shimp - gone
  • Live Shrimp - gone
  • Fresh Shrimp - gone
  • Stuffed Scallops - modified (the stuffing contains shrimp)
Our Take-Out
  • Fried Shrimp (pint) - gone
  • Fried Shrimp (basket) - gone
  • Fried Shrimp (dinner) - gone
  • Fried Shrimp Roll - gone
  • Shrimp Salad Roll - gone
  • Shrimp Stew - gone
  • Fisherman's Platter - modified
  • Seafood Chowder - modified

So let us all have a moment of silence for the 2014 shrimp season. Let us hope the we can get the fishery on track to sustainability, else we loose yet another industry and source of income. 

Tonight I will leave you with two questions.

What is your favorite shrimp dish?

How will the closure impact you?