Open season

Larry Slater runs locally caught shrimp through the conveyor at Wando Shrimp Co. on Thursday in Mount Pleasant. The state opens the General Trawl Zone on Monday, allowing boats to trawl closer to shore.

Grab the cocktail sauce. The state on Monday opens commercial shrimp season in near-shore waters swarming with crustaceans.

That means more fresh, succulent local shrimp will be turning up on docks, at seafood markets and tables near you.

The shrimp turned up en masse out of nowhere earlier this spring, a year after they disappeared in the cold winter.

S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist Larry DeLancey said sample trawls indicate the catch will be “standard large white roe shrimp.”

The near-shore waters usually open in mid- to late May.

“The shrimp are just doing their thing. They’re not paying any attention to the calendar,” DeLancey said.

Cold spells that killed overwintering shrimp kept the 2011 commercial season from opening until late June, and had biologists worried that the losses would deplete this year’s crop.

They and shrimpers were shocked in March when boats in the open federal waters far out to sea began pulling in good catches, two months earlier than could be expected.

In response, the state opened its “provisional” waters, or waters farther offshore, in April — one of the earliest starts ever. Biologists predicted then the near-shore waters would open early too.

The shrimps’ early arrival was one of a number of unexpected behaviors by animal and plant species across the Lowcountry this spring after an unusually mild winter.

Because the cold weather the year before didn’t change behavior so dramatically, the phenomenon spiked concern among outdoor observers from sportsmen and climatologists that climate warming might be changing things even faster than predicted.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.