Biloxi Shrimp Co.’s family heritage in the wild-caught Gulf shrimp industry is rich and long and forever intertwined with our hometown Biloxi, Mississippi – a city that has existed under the many flags, including Spain, France, England and the United States. By the turn of the century, although a town of only 8,000 people, Biloxi’s abundant seafood industry earned it the name “Seafood Capital of the World.”
Before it was called Biloxi, this beautiful area’s prime location with the Gulf along one side and its protected back bay on the other made it an attractive landing spot for explorers and maritime interests. But seafood in the sound and the Gulf was always abundant, and by the twenties, there were two cannery districts and more than forty seafood factories. In 1870 the Louisville and Nashville railroad joined the cities of New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama and Biloxi was right in the middle with ready markets to which to provide seafood.
Although Biloxi is located about as deep in the South of the U.S. as one can get, Biloxi’s population became a much more diverse mix of ethnic groups than its neighboring cities and states -- influenced by hardworking immigrant cultures including some from the coastal region of Yugoslavia known today as Croatia along with Austro-Hungarians, Bohemians (from what is now the Czech Republic), Polish, the French-Canadians, and more. It is said that the Slavic portion of Biloxi’s new labor force in the mid-1800s had migrated to the Biloxi region to seek political asylum from the troubled Austro-Hungarian empire.
Many worked in the canning factories, and many had valuable skills in boat building and seamanship. The fishing industry provided employment which was similar to the pursuit of fishing in their native countries and areas.Oysters and shrimp kept them busy year-round. As time went by, Vietnamese fisherman moved their families to Biloxi in the 1970’s for the very same reasons.
“Schooner oystermen tonged for the bivalves during the winter months and shrimpers trawled for the crustaceans during the summer. They brought in their catches to the many seafood factories along Biloxi’s Back Bay or Front Beach,” according to the Mississippi Historical Society.
Having arrived almost 100 years ago, our Biloxi Shrimp Co. families -- the Mavar and the Suarez/McLendon families -- are part of this rich cultural tapestry -- the Mavars immigrated from Austria/Hungary (now Croatia) and Suarez/McLendons immigrated from the Canary Islands.
Why is it called Biloxi? It was the name of a tribe of Indians.
In the very beginning Biloxi was founded in the year 1699 when Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville was sent by the French minister of Marine to find the mouth of the Mississippi River about 60 miles to the west. He and 14 men landed in what is now Biloxi and soon became friends with the local Biloxi Indian tribe which themselves were thought to have arrived not long before the French. The Indians spoke the “Biloxi” language which was a Sioux language and are thought to have migrated from the Northeast.
While seafood is still a big part of the economy today, the skyline has changed since Casino gaming was legalized in 1991. Seafood factories sit in the shadow of some eight (now land based) world-class casino resorts. The people of Biloxi are hard-working, determined people who share the common thread of having endured many hurricanes, hardships and and recoveries through the years.
While Biloxi may not be the Seafood Capital of the World, it is certainly a powerhouse when it comes to the shrimp industry. The Biloxi Shrimp Co. family -- including our immediate families, our shrimpers and our hard-working employees -- is proud to share a little taste of Biloxi and our history with you and the rest of the country through our delicious shrimp.
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