By SB Williams

From the sun drenched Aegean coasts of Greece to the arctic North Sea off Scotland, fishermen the world over go out in boats to harvest the fish that are served within hours on tables in Atlanta.

The bounty that reaches our most discriminating restaurants and fish markets is a 21st century miracle in marketing.  While the fisherman’s ancient role is comfortingly and surprisingly unchanged in most cases, the ability to market and distribute their catch, thanks to refrigerated air transport, has transformed Atlanta’s opportunity to discover and enjoy the choice products of the world’s oceans, seas, bays, rivers, lakes and streams.

A moment of reflection is due when we, in our inland city, enjoy a dinner of fresh fish.

While Georgia provides many varieties of edible fresh water fish and excellent shrimp (statistically America’s favorite seafood) from our strip of Atlantic coast, Atlanta’s restaurants and markets scan the world for choices that come from every sea on the globe.

Pano Karatassos, son of the founder of Atlanta’s Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, says that the John Dory and Pink Porgy are fish that come from his most distant source – New Zealand. But even they can arrive here from the sea in 24 hours and the tables in his restaurants a few hours later.

This is possible because the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group includes many restaurants (Atlanta Fish Market, Blue Pointe, Chops Lobster Bar to name a few) and makes orders large enough to satisfy minimum requirements of fishermen. They do not purchase through local suppliers, Karatassos says, because the purveyors need to sell fish that is on hand before selling that which has just arrived.

Fresh fish arriving in Atlanta may be kept on ice a certain amount of time and the chef of a restaurant can decline to accept fish delivered to him that he considers not fresh enough.

Because of their flexibility in buying, Buckhead Life Restaurant Group is able to take advantage of suddenly available species and can alert their chefs to be ready with recipes to prepare that particular fish when it arrives.

Rick Berman, general manager of Boutique Seafood, devotes his time entirely to procuring the best and freshest fish that he can find all over the world for Buckhead Life. He says he finds his dealings with the fish industry fascinating and that he is constantly learning new things about its people and products from the seas

Anne Quatrano and her husband, Clifford, who own and operate three distinguished restaurants in Atlanta (including the renowned Bacchanalia) and Star Provisions, says that, in their restaurants and store, they serve and sell east coast fish and farm raised European fish. They deal with local vendors as well as specific fishermen with the bulk of their fish coming from Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Anne says that there is good competition among seafood vendors in Atlanta, which, with the growing number of fishermen that they deal with directly, makes excellent fish available to them.

At her restaurants, Anne says, the most popular fish, after Georgia Trout, are red snappers, scamp groupers, black grouper, snowy grouper, Maine halibut and tuna. “A fish that is no more than a few days out of the water is considered very fresh,” Anne says.

The Gulf oil disaster has definitely affected the supply of crab, oysters, and shrimp, and Anne and Clifford, like others, are feeling the hurt in price and availability. Gulf shrimp is being replaced by local fishermen from Tybee Island, who deliver shrimp to the Quatranos twice a week. “It’s not the same as gulf shrimp,” Anne says,” but it is very good.”

Also making top quality shrimp available in Atlanta is the Sweet Savannah Shrimp Company. Family owned and operated with their own boats, this family enterprise that began nearly 40 years ago brings uncooked shrimp that is quick frozen as it leaves the sea and is sold at the Peachtree Farmer’s Market held at the Cathedral of St. Philip each Saturday morning.

Buyers should get there at 8:30 a.m. as the shrimp and fresh shrimp salad sell out quickly.

What began as a hobby with one small boat to bring home enough fish for the family Sunday dinner has grown to 10 members of the Dubberly family, who trawl the waters off Savannah.

Harvest amounts vary, according to Nicole Dubberly, who interrupted her hauling of shrimp on the boat to email answers to this writer‘s questions.  “On an average day, the two boats catch around 700 pounds of shrimp with the heads on,” she says.

After the haul is brought on the ship, the shrimp are sorted, washed and bagged. The chosen shrimp are then placed in a brine tank onboard the boat, which individually quick-freezes them within minutes of their harvest.  After ten minutes in the brine tank, they are removed and placed below deck in cold storage.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.