Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

 Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

Ask most people what they know about shrimp and they’ll likely answer “they’re delicious!” In Galveston, shrimping may remind many of Pier 19’s “Mosquito Fleet,” a fleet of shrimping boats that resemble mosquitoes when the nets are out. Shrimp boats have docked here since Galveston’s early days, selling their catch and earning a living.

The Rosenberg Library Museum and the Galveston and Texas History Center are home to paintings, sketches, photographs, and postcards of the Mosquito Fleet. In the Treasure of the Month display, there is a postcard called Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet (ca. 1970), a postcard of the Mosquito Fleet (ca. 1910), and a sketch of the Mosquito Fleet by artist Emil Bunjes. Visitors can also find a painting titled Shrimping by Carol Hopkins in the McGivney Collection, hanging in the second floor Grand Hallway.

 Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

While men and women alike enjoy eating shrimp, shrimping itself has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, consisting of hard work and secrets passed down between fathers, sons and grandsons. But across the waves of Galveston Bay, some may notice a woman in pink working a shrimp boat. Rosenberg Library had a chance to speak with her as part of March’s Treasure of the Month.

Nicole (Nikki) Johnson-Kunz, famously known as the “Texas Shrimp Diva”, and her father-in-law, Captain Jerome “Pops” Kunz, have been shrimping together on Galveston Bay since 2018. At age 89, Captain Kunz is the oldest active shrimper in the Galveston area. A few years ago at a family dinner, Johnson-Kunz noticed a major injury on his leg. Concerned about his safety, she decided to ride along with him a few times a week so that he wouldn’t be alone in the boat. Eventually, she became his full time deckhand and does everything but steer!

 Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

Johnson-Kunz filmed her progress on the boat and over time her social media presence blossomed. Today, it’s not uncommon for ferry-boat passengers to recognize her signature pink slickers and boots, wave, take pictures, and call out to her – “Diva!” In her videos, viewers have the chance to see what it’s like on Galveston Bay and all the sea life she encounters.

 Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva
 Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

Some of these creatures can be seen in this month’s display. One is the Strombus pugilis shell, which once held a sea snail. Another is a white coral skeleton. There is even a double crab claw, originally found at the South Jetty by donor W. A. Schley, a full-size pufferfish skeleton, and a ribbon of whelk eggs. A ribbon can reach up to 33 inches long, with up to 200 pouches each holding up to 99 eggs! These items will be displayed alongside a shrimp basket, donated by Lise Darst, curator for the Rosenberg Library Museum from 1979 to 2004.

 Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

Johnson-Kunz hopes to keep the shrimping tradition alive and encourages people to buy shrimp that are local to the Galveston area. “I’m trying to teach people to look at the packaging when they purchase shrimp from grocery stores or markets,” Johnson-Kunz says. “Otherwise, we will lose our shrimpers forever.”

 Shrimping, the Gulf Coast, and a talk with the Texas Shrimp Diva

The Treasure of the month is located on the 2nd floor of Rosenberg Library near the reference desk. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday, Friday, and Saturday and 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM Tuesday through Thursday. For museum questions, call 409.763.8854 Ext. 133 or email museum@rosenberg-library.org. For press inquiries, contact the Communications Coordinator.

Past Treasures