Harrison County

Biloxi Blessing of the Fleet draws crowds, shrimpers, pleasure boats

BILOXI -- Rosemary Gagliana and family came in from Alabama to check out the 87th Annual Biloxi Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet.

The highlight came Sunday when she and others in her family stood near the water behind McElroy's restaurant to watch boat after boat pass during the annual Blessing.

"We love it," she said. "My sister-in-law told me about it, and we all decided to come and see what it's all about. We went to the festival yesterday and had so much fun. We are going to come back next year and are bringing all the kids."

The Blessing of the Fleet is smaller than in the early days when spectators spent hours watching boat after boat pass by, but the long-time tradition continues, and spectators came out in crowds to take part Sunday.

This year's Blessing had 87 boats -- some decorated in an array of colorful flags and filled with boaters waving at the crowds cheering them on as they each passed by. Of the 87 boats participating, 29 were shrimp boats and 58 were pleasure boats, up from last year when there were 72 boats, and 35 of them were working boats.

A Harrison County Sheriff's Department helicopter flew hovered overhead while Keith Malagarie dropped the wreath as a priest stood on a boat to bless the passing vessels for a bountiful season and safe voyage while also remembering deceased fishermen and their families. Sunday was Malagarie's last time dropping the wreath, but he's turning the reigns over to his son, Kevin Malagarie, to continue the tradition of a Fleur De Lis Society (The French Club) member dropping the wreath.

Among the others to take center stage in Sunday's Blessing were this year's Shrimp Queen, Paige Jimerson, the daughter of Michael and Shelia Jimerson, and King Frank Parker, a shrimper and sixth-generation Biloxian from the Point who is among the youngest to earn the title of king.

"I have been on the water since I was baby," said Jimerson. "They call me 'Little Fish.' It means a lot to know I was chosen to do this. I worked for it, and I earned it. I'm just excited to represent the seafood industry." She's currently in college.

Jimerson also has fond memories of her times participating in the Blessing.

Parker said he had participated in the Blessing a lot as a young boy growing up on the Point in East Biloxi but hadn't been involved personally for the last 15 years because he's a shrimper and "it's hard to take off when there's money to be made."

His mother's side of the family, he said, has a deep history in the seafood industry, including boat captains, shrimpers and oystermen.

He took time off from shrimping for Sunday's Blessing.

As for this year's shrimping season, Parker said it's going well.

"The shrimping has been good the last few years," he said. "We are just not getting paid what we should. With the imported shrimp coming in, it's hard to make money."

Parker said he's looking forward to representing the seafood industry.

He said he's proud to carry on a family tradition and lives in the family home on Oak Street.

"This is the most fun I've had in a long time in this past week," he said. "I hope I promote the industry as good as anybody."

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