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Robert Collins is a third-generation shrimp drier in Grand Isle; his son, also named Robert, seems poised to take the company into its fourth generation. Robert inherited the family business, Louisiana Dried Shrimp Co., from his father, who learned to dry shrimp from his father, who learned to dry shrimp from the Chinese shrimp driers who used to corner the dried shrimp market in and around Grand Isle back when a portion of the island was known as China Town.
When Robert was a child, they dried shrimp with sun power, spreading them out on platforms. They used a similar technique with whole speckled trout, which Robert remembers his father learning to dry from a Chinese man only after the man got permission from the “Old Country” to teach him. The drying plant that Robert took over from his father was more modernized than that and somewhat automated. It washed away during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
He got the business up and running again in a new location, with newly acquired equipment, only to hit a poor shrimp season. Robert could not explain why there seemed to be so few of the small shrimp used for drying in the Gulf. Was it an after-effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? Or was it just an off-season, which happens every now and then? When we visited his facility in the fall of 2011, the plant was quiet. Robert awaited an influx of small shrimp with optimism.