Blessing of the Fleet remembers past, hopes for future

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - From the Biloxi Channel the Blessing of the Fleet began as it always does, by honoring those lost at sea with the dropping of a wreath.

"It means a lot to the fishermen because they had quite a few shrimpers that were lost out at sea, when they were drudging oysters and catching shrimp. A lot of my good friends were lost out there," said boat Captain Pete Skrmetta.

Then the parade of shrimping boats and vessels, adorned with bright flags and streamers all line up for a sacred blessing of safe travel and a good harvest.

"It helps us center and focus on just the rich, rich heritage, legacy, traditions, faith, that was pasted on well over a century ago," said Father Greg Barras of St. Michael Catholic Church.

The roots of the seafood industry run deep in Biloxi. This year's Shrimp Queen, Gabrielle Mosher, comes from a long line of sea food "royalty."

Even the boat that carried Barras and Mosher comes from the Skrmetta's fleet, and is celebrating 75 years on the water. The Skrmettas themselves have made a living off the water for generations, first with shrimping and then with the Ship Island Excursions.

For everyone involved, good luck in the year ahead comes from remembering lessons of the past.

"I think it's really important because it's mostly about our heritage, and Biloxi is such a rich community just built on seafood and it's amazing to be involved in that," said Mosher.

"Even though the economy isn't as vibrant as it once was, it's still vibrant and it's still happening," said Barras. "It is important for us to remember the values that the seafood industry gave to us through these families that came from Europe, settled on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and made a life out of living from the sea."

Around 60 boats participated in the Blessing. Awards were giving to the best decorated boats. The Richard and Melanie won first place and $1,000. The My Sons won second, and the Privateer won a participation award.

Organizers ask the winners to contact St. Michael Catholic Church to claim their prize.

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