Brad's Blog: Shrimp Season not what it used to be

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The dawn of another shrimp season is here.  Hard working fishermen will fill their freezers with ice, load their vessels with fuel, and head out to the waters south of the Intracoastal Waterway.  Unfortunately, the experts are telling us the shrimp that will be caught when the season opens Thursday will probably be small and hard to find.

Two decades ago, the opening of shrimp season was a big deal.  A thousand boats would trawl the Mississippi Sound.  If you were on Highway 90 in the afternoon and looked south, you were in awe.  Vessels were everywhere.   At night, their lights flickered off the gulf waters.  It was an incredible sight.  For one week every year, south Mississippi was the seafood capital of the world.

The seafood industry's heritage was spotlighted in a museum at Point Cadet.

"Our museum meant so much to the people on the point, and in the entire Biloxi area, because it told so much about who our ancestors were generations before us," said Robin Krohn David.  She's the executive director of the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.

In 2005, the seafood museum was demolished.  Its board members immediately developed a rebuilding strategy.  The initial concept was a $32 million museum at the old Boys and Girls Club location on Highway 90 in Biloxi.  This week, the Biloxi City Council signed off on a much smaller, $7 million museum at the old Tullis Toledano Manor site.

The agreement brought a smile to the museum director's face.

"Now we want to be able to tell the story for the generations to come after us," she said.

That story will showcase the early days of Biloxi's seafood industry, when processing plants dotted the shoreline, and working vessels were everywhere.

Those were the glory days for fishermen.  These are the lean days.

Costs have skyrocketed.  Prices for what fishermen are catching have plummeted.  And foreign competition has every fisherman up in arms.

More and more, we're seeing people give up on the seafood industry.  Fishing boats are for sale.  One was simply abandoned along the east Biloxi beachfront.  Two others were tied up in the Industrial Seaway to ride out recent hurricanes.  They're now sinking.  And their owners can't be found.

The shrimpers who remain say they feel neglected.  The commercial harbor at the Port of Gulfport hasn't been rebuilt.  The docks behind Hard Rock Biloxi still have an assortment of hurricane scars that make walking around that area rather dangerous.

And yet, there's a collection of dedicated men and women in Biloxi and Ocean Springs, in Pass Christian and Waveland, who love being at sea, who love carrying on the traditions their fathers and grandfathers taught them.  They're the reason south Mississippi's seafood heritage still exists.  They'll be the one's who drop their nets in the Mississippi Sound on Thursday morning.  We all hope the shrimp they catch are large and plentiful.

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