Biloxi shrimp king "honored" to serve his community - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi shrimp king "honored" to serve his community

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - Sherman Canaan of Biloxi grew up in the seafood industry, shucking oysters and working in the canning factories. The 71-year-old is proud to serve as this year's Shrimp King for the annual blessing of the fleet.

Shrimp and oyster boats have been harvesting area waters for many generations. Sherman Canaan's family is a part of that proud heritage.

Despite hurricanes, rising fuel prices and now a threatening oil spill, he's confident the seafood industry will survive.

"And they said, 'We'd like for you to be Shrimp King.'  And I said, 'I didn't realize I was that old!'" said Canaan with a laugh and a grin.

Canaan grew up in the Biloxi seafood industry. He recalls shucking oysters before school and working in the seafood factories.  It was hard work with an unexpected fringe benefit.

"You could always get the best seat in the show in the afternoon, cause once you left cleaning fish or handling shrimp, no matter how many baths or showers you took, it didn't matter. When you went to the show, it just cleared out around you," he said.

Canaan knows what it takes for fishermen to endure uncertain seasons. Determination is just the start.

"It's a tough way to make a living, but it's an honest living," he explained.

Years ago, most every family in East Biloxi had someone working the waters or sweating inside the canning factory. His mom was among the factory crew.

"Each factory had a different whistle. So, when worked for like Dunbar-Dukate. So that whistle was different. So when that whistle went off, she knew. She got up and she'd go to work," said Canaan.

"One thing that helped the shrimp industry was the Vietnamese coming. And the second thing was refrigeration on trucks; being able to haul frozen shrimp," he said.

Katrina nearly destroyed the industry, but in the end, Canaan said those who survived were stronger.

"After Katrina, once you almost got half the fleet out, then your slice got this big. So, where the boats were struggling to make a living, even with imports and prices going down, they could catch much more shrimp so they were able to overcome expenses," Canaan said.

He believes this proud industry will also survive the oil crisis.

"I think it will survive if they get this thing capped in the next 15 to 20 days. I think we're going to survive, but I don't know if everyone is going to survive with it."

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