Shrimping & Petroleum: The Lifeblood of Morgan City’s Economy

Shrimping & Petroleum: The Lifeblood of Morgan City’s Economy

January 17, 2020 Local Interest 0 Comments

More than 70 years ago, the petroleum industry was born in the marshes of Morgan City. From its fledgling beginnings in the coastal wetlands to its rapid growth in the 1980s and beyond, the oil and gas industry has changed the landscape of Morgan City, becoming one of the driving forces in the economy.

Shrimping and gas drive economic growth

The lumber mills dominated the city’s economy prior the Great Depression, along with fishing and trapping. But by the 1930s, this industry began a slow decline. It was about this time that massive quantities of shrimp were discovered off the shores—here and in neighboring Berwick. Shrimp trawling became big business, and thousands of people from all over the country flocked to Morgan City to take advantage of the profitable shrimping industry.

In the summer of 1935, the Gulf Coast Seafood Producers and Trappers Association held the inaugural “Blessing of the Fleet,” a celebration that gradually transformed into an annual festival that is renowned throughout Louisiana and the south. Today it is known as the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival– a moniker that was adopted in 1967 when offshore drilling was well-established in the region.

The event, held on Labor Day weekend every year, recognizes the hard-working people who labor on shrimp boats and offshore oil rigs, often spending months away from family and friends.

Offshore oil and gas industry

Apart from New Orleans, Morgan City is the only port city with a channel linking the Atchafalaya River to the Gulf of Mexico, making it an ideal spot for offshore prospecting. While shrimping continued to sustain a large sector of Morgan City’s economic life, the offshore oil and gas industry took center stage by the mid-1960s. Money was poured into improving the city’s infrastructure, with new shipyards, support bases, schools, roads, and housing developments constructed.

Offshore drilling brought more than jobs, people, and investment to Morgan City– it ushered in modern technologies, some that would be developed for purposes other than petroleum production.

A town shaped by the “black gold rush”

“I think the oil companies were very good for this area; I really do, because they paid us good wages, we had good benefits. We had good working schedules…I really feel thankful that I went to work for Shell. I went to work by accident. I was not looking for a job. But they took care of me. They raised my family. They raised my kids. They put my kids through college,” recounts Morgan City resident Alden Vining, who was hired by Shell Oil in 1957.

From a small hamlet whose economic base was built on cypress timber, animals furs, and shell crushing, Morgan City has changed tremendously in recent decades. 

State and city planners continue to investigate ways to use Morgan City’s strategically located waterways to attract new industries and grow its economy.

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