87th Blessing of the Fleet sees large turnout - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

87th Blessing of the Fleet sees large turnout

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

Eighty-seven years and coincidentally, 87 boats. 

The annual Biloxi Blessing of the Fleet saw shrimpers and their families take out their vessels early in order to be blessed by Father Greg Barras.

"We ask God's presence to be with them, not only for safety when they're on the waters, but also for a good harvest of shrimp. That their bounty of the sea will now be part of our lives, and that families can make a good living," said Barras. 

The ancient Catholic tradition first took root in Biloxi in 1929 and has been a staple in the industry ever since.

"This is the 87th annual one, so it's been going on so long," said Shrimp Queen Paige Jimerson. "It's important to keep it alive and make sure everybody knows about it still."

The end of an era was marked in 2016, as 40-year-veteran Keith Malgarie dropped the wreath - a symbol honoring fallen fisherman - for his last time. 

Another aspect unique to 2016 was that the start of shrimping season falls on the day after the blessing; causing organizers to worry about turnout. 

"Actually, we ended up with more boats than we've had the last few years," said organizer Wendy Fayard. "I think a lot of the working boats who were getting ready to go out shrimping decided to come in and get blessed." 

The spirit of the season was felt by everyone, including the Shrimp King himself. Up until Sunday, King Frank Parker has always been on the receiving end of the blessing. 

As a shrimper, Parker takes his role as king seriously.

"It means a lot to me....one thing I wanted to do as King was be a good face for the industry, a good representative," Parker said.

Overall, 29 working and 58 pleasure boats were blessed by Father Barras. 

A competition for best decorated vessel sent the Santa Maria home with $1,000. The Fair Maiden and My Sons received $500 each.

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