By Pat Foster-Turley
September 30, 2022
Lots of my readers probably get the Harris Teeter weekly emails and they have a feature, “Meet our Fishermen.” And when it comes to shrimp specials, lots of the time they feature one Boone or another up in Darien, Georgia. Darien is only about an hour north of us by distance but it is decades away from Fernandina in time frame. It is still a small coastal fishing town, with active shrimp, clam, sturgeon and other fisheries in full operation, if you know where to look and are lucky to time it right.
Well this time we sure timed it right. We were in Darien, celebrating our 45th anniversary. We go there often to get away from the Fernandina Beach hubbub and I have developed a usual routine. After breakfast I go for a walk around the historic district, past old churches and groomed public parks. This time I was on my usual walk when I noticed a number of cars passing me and heading down a small road towards the water—Boone Dock Road. So I decided to follow them. The further I got down this dirt lane the more obvious the sound of machinery was in front of me. When I arrived at the dock I saw why. A shrimp boat was unloading their catch and all hands were on deck to receive it.
The ground crew was fine with my presence there, camera and all. I happily watched many pounds of beheaded shrimp being lifted from the hold of the boat in a large bucket on a pulley and dumped onto a conveyer belt that moved the product to the weighing station, where set amounts were then packaged for shipment. This particular boat was out fishing for six days, and presumably they beheaded the shrimp while still out at sea.
This was Boone’s fish dock, so I asked how many of the guys working there were Boones. And it turned out that most of them were! A regular family operation, the Boones, have been in the fishing business in south Georgia for four generations or more. One brother Greg, was manning the important weighing station, and another, Walter answered my questions. It turns out Walter is the head of Walter’s Caviar, in a nearby building, and he offered to show me his wares too.
And what a tour it was! Walter posed with some cans of his expensive caviar, extracted from wild caught sturgeon. Online the price of a small tin (4 ½ ounces) costs $139, a luxury for sure. Walter has paid up to $10,000 or more for a single large female sturgeon loaded with roe but he can sell the cured and packaged eggs (the caviar) for three or four times that amount.
Walter regaled me with stories about one of his relatives, Sinkey Boone, who in 1967 developed the first turtle extruder net to protect sea turtles from the shrimp trawls. This family also developed a thriving business catching jellyfish in a special net they developed for this purpose. Until recently they dried this catch and shipped tons of it to China, but now, Walter says, shipping is too expensive so they have stopped harvesting them. Inventing apparently runs in the family. Walter himself is a successful inventor and entrepreneur, having invented and marketed the Senoob (Boones spelled backwards) flare launching gun that can shoot arrows, bullets, flares, you name it, with about 120,000 sold per year.
After my interesting morning with the Boones I walked back to the hotel along the water’s edge, past shrimp boats and a few tour boats docked there. Along the way I admired the old tabby building that is being restored at great cost in the historic area.
Back at the hotel the only real decision we had to make is where to head for lunch. There are a number of fish camp/seafood restaurants in the area, all specializing in one type of seafood or another. There is Skippers, right on the water in Darien, which has a great oyster bar with their own take on oysters Rockefeller. Further up the road past Crescent is The Fish Dock at Pelican Point where they process clams. A bit further south of Darien is Mudcat Charlies, the best place ever for fried oysters. All of these places offer fresh wild caught shrimp and fresh fish and, of course, beer!
If you are looking for a quick getaway you can’t go wrong with Darien. Check it out and you won’t be disappointed.
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]