Until the 1960's Biloxi was the seafood capital of the world. This silty coast line is a favorite spot for shrimp and crabs, as well as other sea life and fleets of boats went out every day and brought back their catch to the canneries which lined the shore. Ice was not available here yet, so the boats came in every night. Hurricane Camille destroyed it all which may have been a blessing in disguise. New, much larger ships were purchased that had refrigerating and freezing capabilities, so the canneries and processing plants were no longer needed. Of course, many of these ships were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and there is increasing competition from shrimp fishermen around the world, but there is still a viable fishing industry here. Many Vietnamese immigrants felt comfortable on the hot, humid coast and brought their fishing traditions here. Hopefully the recent oil platform explosion won't damage the fishing industry yet again.
The captain who took us out to sea today can make a nice income fishing the tourists. He explained that the shrimp burrow into the silty bottom and he dragged large scrapers that moved the shrimp into his nets as well as many other interesting creatures. As the temperature of the water changes with the seasons, the type of shrimp change here. In the summer the water is 85º. I had no idea that shrimp migrate. Both the shrimp and the crab lay kazillions of eggs every year, so these creatures are not endangered here, but the industry is regulated and there are some months where the boats stay tied to the dock while the newly hatched shrimp are growing larger. We also learned that the 26 miles of beach here is man made. Another huge surprise. These beaches look so much like the natural ones in the Florida Panhandle. The silt has been bought up from the bottom to reinforce the shore line. It stays put pretty well and bleaches white in the sunshine.
Back on land we toured the downtown area on an open air trolley. The tour guide had a prerecorded explanation of the sights, but he hardly ever used it, because so much has changed here since Katrina. Although there were spots where people had rebuilt and restored, for the most part he was talking to us about what WAS here. The whole eastern end of the peninsula was totally submerged by the storm surge and no one can get flood insurance in the area any more. Our guide had taken his own personal boat into the interior on a river to a sheltered area with high bluffs , which is the custom here whenever there are serious storm warnings. A bunch of boats gather and tied up firmly attached to tree trunks. But the storm surge raised the water level forty feet and only the tops of the trees showed above the water. The wind action turned the mooring basin into a giant washing machine and the boats swirled back and forth and ran into each other. Of the 22 boats parked in that spot, only three were still water tight after the storm abated. Our guide was lucky to be alive. He had nothing but good things to say about FEMA and the emergency response workers and volunteers who came to this area. He showed us some FEMA trailers that the owners had remodeled and turned into cute little homes up on stilts. On a beautiful day with brilliant blue skies we could understand why people love it here, but with all the stormy history, if I were the insurance company, this is a bet I would not make.