TAMPA, Fla. - Maybe you've passed by the Tampa shrimp docks off of Causeway Boulevard. But did you know they're still active? Anyone can go in there and buy shrimp right from the businesses at the port.
The Versaggi family has been shrimping since 1912. Versaggi Shrimp now has six boats that spend as much as 30 days at a time at sea in the Gulf of Mexico.
Their boats head out from Tampa in the evening to begin their search for shrimp, under the cover of darkness.
“The shrimp typically don’t like the light. If you’ve got a full moon, they’re going to bury down into the sand and you’re going to have a tough time catching them,” explained Justin Versaggi, a fourth-generation shrimper. “The darker the night, the better.”
The boats lower a try-net that’s regularly checked to see where the shrimp are. When the nets are full, the shrimp are dumped on deck to be sorted by hand from the crabs and anything else that got snagged, too.
“We hope for a clean drag, meaning primarily shrimp, but you kind of get what you get when you’re fishing,” Versaggi continued.
From there, the shrimp head into a brine tank to flash-freeze, then get moved into a freezer hole for the trip back to shore. Then, crews get to work unloading the haul, like the 12,000 to 13,000 pounds of shrimp recently brought back by their shrimper Warrior.
Most of that shrimp is headed for one of Tampa’s two main seafood distributors.
“They’ll buy whatever we bring back,” Versaggi said. “Any size, tail, head-on, rock shrimp; they have a price for all that, pre-determined, and they’ll take it.”
They do keep some of their fresh catch in small freezers inside the “fishhouse” to sell to the public, cash-only. Versaggi said they offer 2-pound and 5-pound boxes, year-round.
“Come on out. We’ve got shrimp, we’ve got scallops, we’ve got lobster tails all the time,” he said, encouraging people to stop by and see how the operation works. “Shrimp is the core business, though. We’re really proud of that. It’s wild caught, right off the boat, right into the fishhouse.”
INFO: The Versaggi Shrimp shop is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 6 a.m. and on Saturdays, from 9 to 3.
LOCATION: 2633 Causeway Blvd, Tampa, FL 33619