Miss Paula Shem Creek.JPG (copy) (copy)

The shrimp boat Miss Paula ties up along Shem Creek, where the hard-pressed fleet might just have won a little more room. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — One of the last shrimp boat docks on Shem Creek might be saved. Or it might be developed out from underneath the boats, as some fear.

Builder and Mount Pleasant resident Brett Elrod has stepped in to buy the Wando dock at the mouth of Shem Creek.

Elrod said he plans to work with the community developing the property while maintaining a dock and facilities for shrimp boats.

He called the prospective purchase an opportunity to be part of something good for the creek.

The Wando dock is one of the site's last three privately owned shrimp boat docks. It's now leased to Tarvin Seafood and is the mooring for five boats — about half the remaining Shem Creek fleet.

Losing it could mean those boats would have nowhere else to tie off, much less sell their shrimp. It also could put more development pressure on the owners of the other two.

Elrod has a contract to buy the property, he and two other prospective buyers said. The owners earlier declined to comment on the unpublicized sale, and the price has not been disclosed.

“I’ve always appreciated Shem Creek and its working seafood industry. In fact, when I lived on Haddrell Street as a kid, my first job was working at the original Red’s Ice House for $1 per hour shoveling ice for the shrimp boats," Elrod said.

"I look forward to working with the community and local interests to try and come up with the best plan to create a sustainable and unique site for Shem Creek seafood,” he said. 

But the East Cooper Land Trust, which had been trying to raise money to buy the property, is not convinced and is not partnering with Elrod in the effort. Director Catherine Main said the trust is skeptically optimistic.

“I was also impressed by the passion and commitment of Mr. Elrod," Main said. "However, in order to make his plan work, he was going to use private investors whose desires are to have private access to the creek while minimizing the space available for the seafood industry.”

At one point in a recent meeting, Elrod discussed a plan to save half the 1-acre property for the seafood industry and give the boats a spot to unload but not to dock there, she said.

“We believe anything less than the full acre being permanently conserved for the seafood industry, including all existing 350 feet of dock space and the income their rental generates, will handicap the already existing local fleet and eventually contribute to its demise,” Main said.

Elrod would not comment specifically on plans discussed with the trust but said he had made no decisions, wanting to work the town of Mount Pleasant and other groups for the best plan.

Whether the Wando dock is saved might be a deciding factor in the fate of the hard-pressed shrimp boat fleet on the creek where its hanging nets have become a hallmark.

Commercial fishing docks are disappearing across the state because of development pressures on the lucrative waterfront properties. Today, Shem Creek has become a mix of upscale residences, waterfront restaurants and water sports businesses, one by one edging out the shrimp boats.

In previous years, it was common to see shrimp boats tied off three or more abreast up and down the creek, with the crews selling their catch from the docks.

Save Shem Creek, a grassroots group promoting the seafood industry there, is supporting Elrod.

"As he put it to me, his grandmother wouldn't let him in the house anymore if he did anything that hurt the fleet," said board member Will Bagwell. "We're very excited that he got the property under contract before development interests had a chance to possibly buy it and force the fleet to find a new home."

Elrod stepping in means there's no immediate need for fundraising to make the buy, Bagwell said. But it's likely money will be needed to permanently protect, repair and enhance the docks as the plan develops.

Bagwell said people interested in the effort should contact the group at WandoDock@gmail.com.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

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