Coastal Day at the Capitol 2016
Shucking oysters under the Gold Dome
Every January, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources organizes the Sportsmen's and Coastal Day at the Capitol building in Atlanta, Ga. It's a few hours for wildlife groups, hunting-focused conservationists, shrimp and shellfishermen, and a few other stakeholders falling under the DNR umbrella, to grab the attention of legislators. Tables full of brochures, banners taller than Manute Bol, and a dude walking around with a baby alligator. A phalanx of armed DNR agents, who look just like Sheriffs if you aren't reading the embroidery. Georgia sure is a beautiful and wild place and is worth protecting: that's what it all tries to say. Here's why you should fund the DNR: that's the point of the circus.
Three of the oystermen I've been getting to know while reporting my High Low Tide project showed up to shuck oysters -- about 500 count in an hour -- during a special lunch for politicians. The wild shrimp folk came, as they always do, cooking up shrimp and grits in giant pans on the Capitol lawn. For an hour and 15 minutes, aides, lobbyists, representatives, senators, those smart enough to smell a free lunch, filed through a conference room off the Capitol Rotunda. And the guys shucked until their hands ached. Luckily, they had the help of Dom Guadagnoli of the DNR's Coastal Resources Division.
Plenty of thanks yous came across the table towards the oystermen, who shucked faster than they'd ever had before (at least since Coastal Day last year). Not much conversation otherwise.
One particular legislator whom oysterman Joe Maley liked jabbing at got more than a you're welcome. "Make sure you remember this next time these guys (meaning the DNR) come asking for money," Joe said. The rep responded: "Check it out. I support those guys more than anybody."
Sounded like bullshit. Joe thought so, too.
To be honest, plenty happened. I sat in a corner just listening, writing down the things I overheard, hearing how city folk responded to trying muddy wild oysters, the witticisms they offered the hard-shucking fishermen, and watching a politicians try his damnedest to open an oyster. It'll be in the book.