SC shrimp season opens for 2021 with brighter outlook than last year | New
MOUNT PLEASANT – South Carolina’s shrimp fishing season kicked off on May 27 with trawlers already stationed at their favorite spots overnight so they could drop their nets as soon as restrictions were lifted at 8 a.m.
Shrimp trawlers have been able to trawl in a narrow “staging area” between state and federal waters since April, but the real season begins when the SC Department of Natural Resources opens all state waters, which span about 3 miles offshore.
Mel Bell, Director of the Office of Fisheries Management at MNR, said a mild winter and promising results from sampling the state of the shrimp population made it an ideal time to open the season. State regulators want to make sure female white shrimp have laid eggs at least once before allowing harvest to begin, and late May is a typical time for them to make that call.
“We had really good numbers of winter shrimp,” said Bell. “Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of large shrimp offshore probably coming down from the north, simply because of the expansion of the range of the (white) shrimp.”
It is hoped this season will see a comeback for the industry that sells these shrimp, in part because measures to fight the coronavirus in 2020 have significantly restricted dining in restaurants and reduced demand for local produce.
Last year, Cindy Tarvin of Shem Creek-based Tarvin Seafood told the Post and Courier restaurant orders fell between a quarter and a third of normal. This year, she said, sales have rebounded dramatically as customers rushed to restaurants.
“One of the restaurants said it’s like July 4th everyday,” she said. “We are really happy for them and we are happy with the increased sales to restaurants.”
Tarvin Seafood trawls with two boats, the Miss Paula and the Carolina Breeze. Catches in the provisional zones have so far been patchy, Tarvin said, but she said “we’re all hoping to have a good day” to open state waters for 2021.
There was an accident on opening day, however: Charleston Police Harbor Patrol had to rescue three people from a capsized boat near Morris Island. Coast Guard will investigate incident, CPD tweeted. No injuries were reported.
There are far fewer shrimp trawlers today than in the past few decades. Globally, overseas shellfish farms have undermined the South Carolina industry in terms of prices. The increasing value of coastal land has further made it more difficult to maintain the long-standing waterfronts where shrimp boats dock.
South Carolina also closely controls when trawling is allowed so that people can bounce back in slack years. Cold winters can seriously injure the shrimp population, as in 2018, when a winter frost caused shrimp numbers to plummet and the waters were only opened towards the end of June.
Shrimp boats are not permitted to fish in the state’s coastal estuaries, where shellfish spawn. There are also many factors that can upset the delicate balance of favorite saltwater and freshwater shrimp in the marshes where they breed, such as a hurricane spilling freshwater or a drought making the environment more saline, a Bell said.
Contact Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.