As the 2019 shrimping season comes to an end, shrimpers on Shem Creek are still scratching their heads. As they pull up their nets until April, they are speculating what may have caused the shortage of shrimp in the area this year.
“It could have been good, but it has not been a very good season,” said Cindy Tarvin, owner of Tarvin Seafood Inc. on Shem Creek. Tarvin owns two shrimp boats, Miss Paula and Carolina Breeze.
Tarvin suspected abnormally warmer water temperatures had an affect on the shrimp spawning and growth rates. Tarvin recalled a time when shrimp were so abundant it wasn’t unheard of for boats to reel in 1,000 pounds a day. Now, she says, on a good day boats are catching roughly 300 pounds. According to captains on the creek, this year’s daily average was about half that number.
Fortunately when the Charleston Maritime Center’s ice machine broke in November 2018, Tarvin had three operating ice machines to supply those in need of ice on Shem Creek. She estimates she provided ice to eight or nine shrimp boats on a daily basis throughout the 2019 season.
When Hurricane Dorian hit in early September, Tarvin was incapacitated for a week due to her ice machines and freezer breaking down.
Tarvin said other contributing factors to the shrimping decline is the rise of black gill disease. This bacterial disease kills shrimp but is harmless to consumers. It primarily affects brown shrimp in the summertime when water temperatures are higher.
Tarvin said brown shrimp typically run for a month to six weeks in South Carolina waters. This summer she remembered counting only a handful of days.
“It does not affect the taste or texture of the shrimp, but it definitely is a cosmetic problem,” Tarvin said. “Especially if there are customers that want the heads as nice as we like them to look.”
Other shrimpers on the creek concurred with Tarvin’s assessment of the disappointing season.
“The fall was so bad that I ended up picking oysters because we weren’t catching hardly anything,” said Rocky Magwood, captain of Geechie Boys. He will be operating Magwood Pride for the 2020 season.
Rocky said his day-to-day goal during the season is to catch 300-500 pounds of shrimp. He said there were many days that yielded catches of just 150 pounds.
“It’s been kind of a dry spell around here,” he said.
Rocky noted that the shortage of ice has been a major inconvenience. On a normal week, he’ll go through 30 blocks of ice, each block weighing 300 pounds. The warmer months demand closer to 50 blocks.
He described the brown shrimp season as “horrible,” contesting to the same results as Tarvin. He said this depletion made for a very unpredictable year between the high volume of shrimp in the spring and the low volume in fall.
Rocky’s uncle Wayne Magwood, who captains Winds of Fortune, expressed a similar sentiment.
“Terrible. Terrible season,” Wayne said. “Last year (2018) was bad and this year was just as bad.”
Wayne cited dredging in the Charleston Harbor as a possible detriment in correlation to the poor shrimping performance.
Aside from the inconsistencies in the brown shrimp, he said there was plenty of roe shrimp with eggs but the crop never panned out.
“There were good reports up the rivers and the harbor, but they all went to the ocean and never ended up in our trawling area,” he said.
According to the Magwoods’ shrimping friends in North Carolina and Florida, it was a good year for shrimping for those who lived to the north and south of Charleston. Shem Creek captain Bubba Simmons, owner of Simmons Seafood, deferred his comments to the Magwoods.
Capt. Mark Richardson, owner of The Richardson Brothers and Marvin’s Seafood, reinforced Wayne’s stance on dredging in the harbor. He believes the underwater material being mixed around could be disruptive to the shrimps’ ecosystem.
Richardson recalled a drought where he caught only 50-100 pound loads for several consecutive weeks throughout the season. He said the majority of the shrimp his crew has been catching offshore are leftovers from North Carolina’s waters.
Richardson said last fall was the worst turnout he’s seen in the past 20 years.
With large white shrimp still being caught to in the upstate, the numbers are hovering around the 10-year average, according to South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Marine Resources Division spokeswoman Erin Weeks.
SCDNR was unavailable to comment on the subject of dredging in relation to shrimping by the time of this publication. SCDNR is still in the process of tallying 2019’s statewide shrimping revenue and value of landings, according to Weeks.
There is not an official end date for the season at this time, according to SCDNR’s Office of Fisheries Management. The department expects shrimp season to be over by the end of January.
Shem Creek shrimp captains Bubba Rector, Donnie Brown, Phuoc Tang, Scotty Magwood and Tommy Edwards were attempted to be reached but did not respond by the time of this publication.