South Mississippi Strong: A thriving seafood industry has deep roots in Biloxi
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Life on the Mississippi Coast comes with its advantages. We have beautiful beach scenes and plenty of fresh gulf seafood.
"The seafood industry is what founded Biloxi and the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast," explains Robin Krohn-David. She's the Executive Director of the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi. "I mean, that's what made us who we are. In the early 1900's we were known as the Seafood capital of the world."
Though we may not hold that title today, South Mississippi is still a huge producer of seafood. According to the Department of Marine Resources, we hauled in more than 11 million pounds of shrimp last year- worth about 25 million dollars. It all started with our ancestors laying the foundation to a vital industry.
Michelle Peterson is the outreach program coordinator for the seafood museum. She details what life was like for the families who made their living on the water so many decades ago.
"When the whistle's blew- the steam whistles at the factory- when they blew first thing in the morning, four o'clock in the morning or so, they'd go out to the factories. The whole family, kids included. It was very long days and hard labor and they didn't get paid for what they did. They would peel 15-16 pounds of shrimp, and shuck oysters and get maybe $0.10 or $0.15 if they were lucky, for 15-16 pounds of their hard work."
Biloxi's Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum does a beautiful job documenting those stories of hard labor. Artifacts on display like the old oyster buckets, and countless pictures help visitors understand how the industry has changed through the years.
Here's one example - that hard labor eventually gave way to new technology like a shrimp peeling machine. "That could peel about 1,000 pounds of shrimp in just one hour," explains Peterson. "So that replaced the work of about 150 workers."
There may not be as many families working on the boats now, and there aren't as many factories processing their catches, but seafood is still a vital part of our culture.
David said, "There are still so many dedicated people that want to make their living in the seafood industry. Thank goodness there is, because we all like to eat our seafood here on the Coast."
Richard Gollott is part of a family that has grown up harvesting our waters for generations. He's currently serving on the Commission for Marine Resources, a role fitting for someone who has so much experience in the industry.
"I started when I was about 13 years old. I had to go and leave school and go scrub my dad's oyster plant. Since I was 13 years old, I've been involved in it in some kind of way," he explained.
Gollott himself could be credited for making one of the most impactful contributions to our shrimping industry - bringing Vietnamese refugees to South Mississippi. "I think the highlight of my life is bringing the Vietnamese people to Biloxi, how well it turned out. When I brought 'em in the late 1970's, we couldn't hardly get anybody to shuck oysters anymore."
His story about bringing the Vietnamese to Biloxi was even highlighted in a 1981 National Geographic. He said he was able to work with a friend in New Orleans to encourage refugee workers to eventually move to Biloxi.
"That was a blessing. We got our production up and I became the largest oyster producer in the northern gulf at one time, because of the Vietnamese people."
An important chapter to our storied history, proving our seafood industry makes us South Mississippi Strong.
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