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Prepare for fresh shrimp y’all!

Meghan Overdeep
June 13, 2018

South Carolinians have been more than patient, and now, after an extra-long wait, officials have announced that shrimp harvesting season in the Palmetto State could open partially this week.

The season usually starts in mid-May, but this year, thanks to a mean January snowstorm and a cool spring that affected the shrimp population, South Carolina wildlife experts were forced to pump the breaks on the highly anticipated opening.

Mel Bell, marine fisheries director for the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), told WCIV that the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) likely will open federal waters to commercial shrimp trawling this week, possibly as early as today.

Federal waters, start about three miles offshore. As for a timeline regarding the reopening of state-managed waters nearer to shore, Bell said that more monitoring and sampling is required. He explained to WCIV that the DNR would only reopen the state waters once white shrimp have had more time to spawn, and the existing brown shrimp populations have had a chance to reach a more marketable size.

"Effectively, we will not really be having a white 'roe' shrimp season this year," Bell said. "Their numbers are greatly reduced due to the cold water.

Larry Toomer, owner of the Bluffton Oyster Company in Old Town Bluffton, told The Island Packet that the delay isn’t exactly a surprise for people in the shrimp industry.

This winter was the "coldest we've seen, as far as I can remember, so we know that it was extremely hard on the shrimp crop," he said. "Shrimp are delicate."

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In the meantime, Toomer said local restaurants are using frozen shrimp caught in the latter part of last season.

"The only thing we can do is wait until the fall crop," he continued. "The shrimp that spawn this time of year is what we catch in September, October, November, December."

Bell told the Packet that he is "cautiously optimistic" about South Carolina's shrimp season prospects.

"It's happened before, and it will happen again," he said. "They'll rebound...It's tough on the industry and on people who like to have shrimp, but they'll rebound."