It is difficult to imagine, for some, how key a role the shrimp business has played in the growth of our local communities, especially since the sons and daughters and grandchildren of so many who built their modest but adequate fortunes on the hunting of the critters have moved away from the bayous.
So it is quite possible that last month’s passing of a man named Bobby Joe might not have been noticed by some. But it’s noticed here, because it must be.
Robert Samanie Jr. lived to be 81-years-old and in his lifetime so much grew and fell in the shrimp industry, then grew again.
The Samanie family’s history in the shrimp business goes way back, to the time Mr. Bobby was in diapers. They were canning shrimp in Dulac then, the family was, setting up the routes and the connections that would help spread their product to many different places.
But to can shrimp you had to catch shrimp, and this is why the family made investments in other people, helping them keep boats fueled and ice in the holds and helping them over rough patches. Bobby Joe continued this tradition when he took things over and instilled in his children a love for the men and women who ventured out to the water.
He also sought whenever possible to build the business up and keep competitive — a tough thing to do in a highly competitive industry like shrimp .
Nearly 40 years after the first Samanie shrimp ventures began Bobby Joe started the Samanie Packing Company, and created a brand called “Captain Bob’s” that was a staple in the kitchens of New York’s Chinatown as it was in many other places. The important evolution at this point was how canning had given way to production of frozen shrimp. The labor intensive nature of the packing made for many jobs on Bayou Grand Caillou, and the dollars earned at the family’s factory helped feed and clothe a lot of people on the bayou.
Eventually the time came for Bobby Joe to let go and his son, Robert III, took over the operation, which he held onto until so many changes in the industry and the shrimp landscape, are away at the infrastructure on all the bayous.
Robert III, now the chairman of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, has said on more than one occasion how much his father’s guidance and sometimes stern hand brought him to where he is today, which is a place he is proud of.
He is the living legacy. But Bobby Joe’s legacy by itself is strong enough to survive on its own, and this is why so many people packed the church for the final farewell, where he was remembered not just as a businessman but the grandfather who made enough time for model planes and those other special kinds of grandfather things.
What needs to be recognized more than anything is that this great man — and he was a great man — is a part of the living history of our bayous, because his contribution indelibly altered the history of it all.
The fishermen and the packers who are left have a special angel looking out for them, whose love and devotion to the industry was legend during his lifetime, and that death won’t make it any less strong. Those who still cope with the loss can and should take comfort in at least that much. And they know it’s all true.