Finances threaten to close operations at Port Royal docks

The shrimp industry in Port Royal near Beaufort is in decline.

Unless things start to improve, the town of Port Royal may have to end operations at the town shrimp docks.

The Beaufort Gazette reported last week that operating the docks has long been a strain on town finances. And the situation was made worse by a fire last year that destroyed an adjacent seafood market and a machine that made ice that kept the shrimp fresh.

Now shrimpers are behind on rent and the dock has generated only about $175,000 of the $500,000 expected to come in this fiscal year.

Town leaders said Wednesday that unless the money starts coming in as shrimp season opens, there will be little incentive to continue.

“We can’t keep on feeding good money into a bad situation,” Councilman Tom Klein said, adding while he expects residents will oppose shutting down the docks there may be no alternative.

During the past five years the town has lost about $280,000 operating the docks.

The docks about broke even in fiscal year 2014-15 and the town began selling seafood from the market. Then the market burned down.

The town collects money from boat rents, offloading shrimp and other dock fees. The shrimpers sell their catch to the town which then sells shrimp to large buyers in South Carolina and Georgia.

Town leaders have not determined what will become of the $1.8 million insurance settlement from the fire. They say that’s enough money to build a new seafood processing facility but wonder if it would draw enough business to justify the expense.