December, 2011. Bayou La Batre, Alabama – Big Shrimpin’

Posted on December 9, 2011

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Thanks to the History Channel’s series entitled, Big Shrimpin’, Bayou La Batre has sailed into the homes of countless Americans who never knew this powerhouse seafood processing town even existed.

However, anyone eating shrimp or oysters anywhere in the country probably has had a taste of this small fishing village in Mobile County.

Bayou La Batre was founded in 1786 when French-born Joseph Bouzage was awarded a 1,259-acre Spanish land grant on the west bank of the bayou. Since the bayou opened into the Gulf of Mexico, it quickly developed into a fishing village.

Today, the self-proclaimed “Seafood Capital of Alabama” boasts numerous seafood processing plants, handling the catches of hundreds of fishing boats working Gulf waters from the Florida Keys to Mexico.

It also is home to several major boat yards, and the banging and clanging of metal construction comes at you from all directions.  Once you reach the water, all you can see is boats. There are shrimpers and fishing boats at the docks, barges and tankers and merchant vessels of every type in every condition and in every stage of construction. It’s a chaotic landscape full of huge cranes, heavy equipment, piles of metal, piles of oyster shells and piles of unidentified maritime stuff.

Bayou La Batre is home to a sizable Asian population – 33.9% of the 2,313 population, according to the 2000 census. Descendants of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian shrimpers who fled here after the Vietnam War, their uniquely-named boats once crowded the harbor.

Then along came Hurricane Katrina.

Bayou La Batre was pretty well torn apart. Many of the old retail buildings downtown were destroyed or damaged beyond repair, along with many homes. Boats were tossed up into piles on shore, nets and equipment destroyed.

Apparently the Asians had a harder time recovering from Katrina, because the 2010 census showed a slight general population increase, but an 11% decrease in the Asian population. Today, there appears to be fewer Asian-named boats at the docks, though they still are an important part of this culturally-diverse town, as well as the local fishing industry.

While the television show Big Shrimpin’ may make Bayou La Batre more recognizable to mainstream America, it is not the town’s first experience with fame.  Bayou La Batre was featured in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, based on a book of the same name by Mobile author Winston Groom.

And, in 2005, Disney Studios hired a Bayou La Batre shipyard to build a pirate ship for the filming of various sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean. 

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Posted in: Travel - Alabama