Gulf Coast residents have long enjoyed the sight of the local shrimping fleet gliding along in search of bountiful catches, with sails dotting the horizon like white clouds. While the region’s shipbuilding tradition has received substantial publicity, less well known are its support industries—specifically, sails and shrimp nets.
As far back as the nineteenth century, sailmakers had made and repaired the canvas sails used on the Biloxi schooner, which served both for leisure and for work. These craftsmen, including the Buckingham family of Biloxi, created the mainsails and multiple jibs and foresails needed to capture the sea breeze. As a workboat, each schooner used at least three sails; as a racing rig, it required six. Consequently, local sailmakers faced a constant demand for sails and repairs.
In the first half of the twentieth century, engine-powered luggers began to change the face of the fleet, and the demand for sails began to decline. However, shrimpers still needed to supply their workboats with nets. Early net makers along the Gulf Coast knitted trawls completely by hand using natural materials such as jute, hemp rope, and linen thread, weaving the rope around a flat wooden paddle and sizing dowel to create a uniform mesh. At the front end the craftsman attached the mesh to a large hemp rope to create the mouth or opening of the trawl. Then he added a length of chain, known as the tickler, which weighted the mouth of the trawl down to the Gulf floor. As the trawl dragged across the bottom, it stirred the sand, provoking the shrimp to jump up and into the trawl. As the trawl moved through the water, the force of the flow caused the shrimp to accumulate at the end of the net, known as the money bag.
Shrimp nets still work in much the same fashion, although synthetic rope has replaced the natural materials used in the past. Many of the makers of this important equipment have also remained much the same, including the Marinovich Trawl Company, the R. F. Ederer Company, and the Glavan Trawl Manufacturing Company, all of which have been in the Biloxi net-making industry for generations. The owners of these companies also became community leaders, serving as benefactors of local churches, charities, and other organizations as well as playing prominent roles in the area’s social life as kings of Mardi Gras and in the Blessing of the Fleet. Now run by younger generations of the families, these companies still make trawls for use not only along the Gulf Coast but around the world.
- Laura E. Bolton, in Mississippi Resources and History of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, vol. 3, ed. Lawrence A. Klein, Mary Landry, and Joe E. Seward (1998)
- Charles Lawrence Dyer, Along the Gulf: An Entertaining Story of an Outing among the Beautiful Resorts on the Mississippi Sound (1894)
- Val Husley, Maritime Biloxi (2000)
- Shelley Powers, in Mississippi Resources and History of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, vol. 3, ed. Lawrence A. Klein, Mary Landry, and Joe E. Seward (1998)
- Captain Joe Scholtes, Down South Magazine (July–August 1969)
- Chris Snyder, in Mississippi Resources and History of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, vol. 3, ed. Lawrence A. Klein, Mary Landry, and Joe E. Seward (1998)