Bringin’ in the Haul: The History of Biloxi Shrimp Trawls

 Bringin’ in the Haul: The History of Biloxi Shrimp Trawls

The Biloxi shrimping industry has supported families along the Gulf Coast for generations, and it would be nothing without the many advances in technology along the way that have helped keep shrimpers ahead of the curve. Case and point? Shrimp trawls.

As memorialized by the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi, shrimp have been harvested along the Mississippi Gulf Coast for around three hundred years. Contrary to how things are today, shrimping was originally in a much smaller venture, with shrimp mostly being caught for local consumption and, thus, being harvested by smalltime shrimpers with cast nets and small seines (a type of wide, surrounding net).It may seem simple now to look at any type of shrimp boat and see it tote a large trawl net around it to drag along and catch shrimp from the ocean floor. However, shrimping’s never been easy, and that absolutely applies to shrimping from years past.

Beginning in the 19th century, Biloxi schooners began incorporating larger seines for catching shrimp. These helped to the increase shrimp catch tremendously, enough so that, by the end of the century, seafood factories had begun to spring up all over Biloxi for canning shrimp. (Yes, back then they had to can the shrimp because that was the only way to preserve them before ice was introduced.)

By the early 20th century, the arrival of motorized ships made traversing the waters of the Gulf of Mexico even easier, and an even better type of net began seeing widespread use alongside it: the otter trawl. Even larger and better-designed to comb along the seafloor to scoop up shrimp, the otter trawl exponentially increased shrimp harvesting and, thus, shrimp production in Biloxi, quickly transforming it into a leader of shrimp production, the original “Seafood Capital of the World.

After World War II, a brand-new breed of fishing vessel was invented that could pull multiple trawls at once, and it instantly became popular with shrimpers in Florida and Texas for the incredibly large hauls of shrimp it could pull in. Initially, Biloxi boatbuilders only made these vessels for other states, being slower to embrace the change. Eventually, Biloxi shrimpers began working with these modernized vessels and never looked back, with today’s modern trawler featuring sturdy steel construction, generator-operated refrigeration and more comfortable living quarters for long trips out on the water.

Huge thanks to the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi for the historical information and photos!

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