Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
May 20, 2016 9:43 a.m.
Thanks to Gerry Clare’s response to my piece on arts and culture organizations about town, I re-discovered the Fernandina Beach Shrimping Museum and Welcome Center. I’d visited the museum not long after it was opened but had forgotten about it when I was listing the organizations.
I revisited the museum this week, dodging thunderstorms and all too evident lightning strikes north of the island. The weather gods were kind and I didn’t get soaked. The museum is in an attractive building on the waterfront between Atlantic Seafood and Brett’s. It is dedicated to the shrimping industry and what it meant to Fernandina Beach.
That resonated with me in a way that’s probably not typical. Shrimping is credited with building Fernandina Beach. Some may scoff at that but I lived in a town built by an industry dependent on the sea. My first stint living in Florida was in Tarpon Springs. Like Fernandina Beach, Tarpon Springs was built by the sponge industry. Immigrants from Greece came to the town and capitalized on the demand for sponges. As soon as someone discovered how to make sponges artificially, the town died. Tourism revived it.
The Fernandina Beach Shrimping Museum was opened late in 2014, the result of a partnership between the City of Fernandina Beach and the Amelia Island Museum of History. AIMH curated the exhibits, many donated by people whose families had been active in the shrimping industry. There are exhibits of shrimping gear, boat photographs and paintings, and posters detailing the history of shrimping here. You can read about the people, the boats, and the net makers who pursued the shrimp and fostered the growth of the city.
At one time there were as many as 80 to 100 boats which provided jobs for crews as well as the boat builders and net makers that supported the shrimpers. Even at that level, the East Coast was well behind the Gulf Coast in the supply of shrimp. In more recent times, competition from farm-raised shrimp here and in Asia has had a profound effect on our shrimping industry. Now there are only a fraction of that number of boats actively shrimping.
The exhibits in the Shrimping Museum are well-chosen and can be easily browsed in an hour. And you will learn something. I did. Shrimp are omnivores; meaning they will eat anything animal, vegetable and I presume mineral. You can see the fruits of the shrimpers’ efforts in the grocery stores. “Wild caught” shrimp are more expensive but if you are a shrimp lover, it is worth it.
Check out the museum’s website at www.fbsmcw.org and drop in for a visit.
Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. She is a chair of Arts & Culture Nassau, a city commission charged with support of the arts in Nassau County. She serves on FSCJ’s Curriculum Committee for the Center for Lifelong Learning. She is also the chair of the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.