Strong spring shrimp crop a good sign for fall

Shimper Kevin Suggs weighs and ices down shrimp caught on the Warren H. Rector on Wednesday at Geechie Seafood in Mount Pleasant. The captain, Bubba Rector, said they were experiencing a good shrimping season so far.

MOUNT PLEASANT — Two coolers were piled with huge white shrimp at the Geechie dock the other day. Their size alone was impressive: “10 count,” or shrimp so big it took only 10 to weigh out a pound.

More impressive was that the spring roe shrimp were caught in late July.

“Very unusual,” said Pam Rector of Geechie Seafood in Mount Pleasant. “We’re hoping because we had a good spring crop that maybe it’s going to be a good fall crop.”

And it might be. The fall white shrimp crop is the spawn of the spring shrimp that gave the Lowcountry one of its best harvests in years. The brown shrimp crop, which runs most of the summer and fall, has been average but better than anticipated, said Amy Fowler and Larry DeLancey, S.C. Department of Natural Resources marine scientists.

DNR will run survey trawls of the fall crop over the next few weeks. The department won’t have specific numbers on the spring and summer catches until the reports are filed later this year.

Spring sample trawls suggested the year would be good. But the catch has been so plentiful that at least a half-dozen boats have been selling some of it from a parking lot off Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant because the extra shrimp just weren’t needed by their business and wholesale customers, or at the few docks where shrimp are sold.

At the McClellanville dock, shrimpers potentially had a record spring, said Rutledge Leland of Carolina Seafoods. “We’ve had big numbers by volume in both whites and brown.”

The good catch hasn’t been entirely good for shrimpers. The catch and that kind of competition to sell it drove down the cost for people buying “off the boat.”

Individual shrimpers won’t quote a specific retail price, which varies day to day and can be discounted depending on the volume sold. But some daily prices have dropped as low as $2 per pound for the small shrimp and below $10 per pound for the largest.

The shrimp crop normally hits a summer lull as part of the spawning cycle between the spring and fall crop. The catch is still out there but not as abundant and will gradually fall off until the spawn reaches size, usually in August or September.

Tiny fall shrimp are now back in the creeks. How well that crop will grow “is weather dependent, how much rain we get, or whether we get rain,” DeLancey said.

“The situation in the creeks and marshes looks really good,” Leland said.

In the Lowcountry, shrimping is a niche business struggling to hang on; it has been in slow decline for years. Shrimper after shrimper has given up the trade, driven out by uncertain annual harvests, higher costs and wholesale prices that haven’t kept up. Few younger shrimpers take over.

The catch here is too sparse and too inconsistent to compete with Gulf of Mexico shrimp in the national retail market. Any number of Charleston-area restaurants don’t buy local-caught shrimp, partly because of the same supply difficulties. So local shrimpers are left to make most of their money from dock sales.

In an irony, shrimping also was good this spring in Gulf states where the wholesalers are located and far more shrimp is produced. That again drove down the wholesale prices South Carolina shrimpers have been getting.

Those prices too have been “just terrible,” Leland said.

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