Boats blessed for safe and bountiful season in 85th Blessing of the Fleet

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Shrimping season in Mississippi waters is just around the corner and to prepare for any fishing season fishermen take part in the annual Blessing of the Fleet in Biloxi.

Sunday marked the 85th year of the event which is one of the oldest blessing ceremonies in the country.

WLOX News was aboard the Pan American Clipper with this year's Shrimp King and Queen as well as Father Gregory Barras who was blessing the boats.

Fifty-seven decorated working and pleasure boats cruised the channel slowly passing the Pan American Clipper to greet the 2014 Shrimp King and Queen and receive a blessing for a safe and abundant fishing season from Father Gregory Barras of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Biloxi.

"Praying for each of them to have safety out into the water and then back and that they have a good catch and able to sustain their lives with that," said Barras.

"It was a great day, turned out to be wonderful. We had plenty of boats. We were kind of nervous with the weather, but the weather held out," said Blessing of the Fleet chair Wendy Fayard.

Just like the fishermen they waive to, the royals come from a long line of fishing, who have all contributed to Biloxi's seafood industry.

"My great-great grandfather owned a seafood factory in old Biloxi. My family has worked in the factories for years," said 2014 Shrimp Queen Bailey Stokes.

"I've been doing this all my life. I've been participating in the Blessing of the Fleet for over 40 years and it's just a heritage. It's in my blood. It's what I love to do," said 2014 Shrimp King Randy Lesso.

Lesso, who is also the Captain of the Captain Danny, says every fishing season is different. He says last year was just an average season, but this year, he's trying to be optimistic.

"You never know, with the rain and fresh water, it might hurt the season. This year, we're hoping it doesn't, but we just have to wait and see what happens when the season opens," Lesso explained.

Because each season varies appreciating what comes out of the Gulf of Mexico was a message Father Barras preached to fishermen.

"I think, so very often, we take creation for granted and the bounty of the Gulf of Mexico which the whole economy was based off of it. That was all given to us by God," said Barras.

The event included a wreath dropping to honor the fishermen who have passed away. Boats were also judged based on decorations. The Captain Danny took first place. Second place went to Mark Dawn and Richard Melanie won the participation award.