It’s just before dawn on a hot summer morning. Barefoot and excited, scores of residents flock Fairhope’s shore and all along Mobile Bay’s eastern coast, buckets, nets, and gigs in hand. Whether they heard the ring of a bell or got a call from someone else in the “network,” they move quickly to make way for the beach. All of this in coastal Alabama can only mean one thing—jubilee.
A jubilee is somewhat of a natural phenomenon and one the residents of Mobile Bay take a lot of pride in. And why shouldn’t they? While the fishy encounter can (and does) happen in bays around the world, there are only two spots around the globe where it occurs at least annually (several times in a good year)—eastern Mobile Bay and Tokyo Bay. And let’s face it, Tokyo is a bit of a trip for a good crab haul.
So what exactly is a jubilee anyway? Glad you asked.
During a jubilee, masses of shrimp, crab, eel, flounder, or whatever’s been swimming deep in the Bay, make way to the shore. The water is thick with these creatures acting completely unnatural, seemingly doing all they can to get out of the water and into your bucket, which by the way, will fill up in no time. But despite a jubilee being one of the craziest things you’ve ever seen, there’s actually a lot of scientific stuff going on behind the scenes.
During a jubilee, conditions have to be just right, and even then, there is no guarantee. It’s a bit of an unpredictable occurrence, but residents know what to look for. For starters, jubilees occur during summer months, with August seeing the highest numbers historically. The magic happens in the early morning hours, just before sunrise. The water looks calm on the surface and the tide is rising, along with a wind coming in from the east. Below the surface, the bottom waters are low in oxygen, sending the deep-dwellers to shallow water in the Bay. The lack of oxygen accounts for the strange behavior of the fish and crustaceans, making them easy to harvest.
It’s hard to know exactly why and when Mobile Bay residents started referring to the sea-faring miracle as a jubilee. The good folks at Merriam-Webster give several definitions of “jubilee,” but probably the best one to describe the magic of what happens here is “a season of celebration.” And it’s a good fit, as jubilees are highly anticipated and celebrated events along the Bay’s Eastern coast. The term goes back at least until the early 1900’s, but records of jubilees in the area go back nearly 200 years. And most long-time Bay residents can tell you a good story or two of their own jubilee experiences.
At most, a jubilee will last a few hours, leaving with the tide. The only proof it even happened exists in the harvest of those lucky enough to catch it. It’s just one of those things in life that, if you hesitate, you’ll likely miss it. But residents would say it’s just another magical part of living on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The anticipation is half the fun of the actual event, praying conditions will be just right, and praying harder you’ll get there in time—bucket, net, or gig in hand.
SEE MORE MOBILE BAY JUBILEE PHOTOS HERE