Shem Creek lease for crabbers, shrimpers OK'd

A shrimper heads to his boat on a dock along Shem Creek.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Despite concerns by some members, Town Council approved an annual lottery Tuesday night for awarding dock space for four shrimp boats and two crab vessels at the town's new Shem Creek park.

Those winning the lottery would be eligible for a year lease.

Crabber Kenneth Ezell said he was thrilled with plans for the new park, but felt that a year lease with no guarantee of being able to return the next year was too impractical for a businessman.

Ezell had docked his crab boat at the old Bailey Docks, which were part of the town's purchase of creek property for $6 million. He had to leave the docks because the town is tearing them down and building a new public boardwalk.

Finding new dock space was tough, he said, and he worried that he would be in the same situation if he were to win the lottery and sign up for a year lease.

"I'm not willing to put my wife and son through that again," Ezell said.

Councilman Elton Carrier said the lease term for town dock space should be increased to two years. "I think one year is far too short," he said.

Councilwomen Linda Page and Thomasena Stokes-Marshall advocated deferring a decision on the issue. Stokes-Marshall noted that shrimpers were preparing for the Blessing of the Fleet on Sunday. Page said council should have more time to consider the shrimpers' concerns.

Councilman Paul Gawrych advocated moving forward with the year lease. It was approved in a voice vote.

Before the meeting, Ezell distributed to area media a request to council that action be deferred because it was only last week that the Finance Committee voted to recommend approval of the year lease.

"Due to the 24/7 work cycle of the peeler fishery, many participants are heavily invested and constrained by time and will not be able to have their concerns properly addressed by the Town Council," he wrote.

On the statement that Ezell distributed to media, shrimpers Wayne Magwood and Tommy Edwards also are listed as supporters of the request for a delayed vote by council on the year lease. Magwood and Edwards could not be contacted. Ezell was the only shrimper who spoke Tuesday at the meeting.

Council wants to spotlight and promote commercial fishing by offering dock space at the town's new $2 million public park slated to open in August, town officials have said.

If they choose, fishermen will be able to sell their catch directly to the public on a small island that is part of the park.

The yearly lottery would be held Feb. 1, and winners would be eligible for a 12-month lease. Monthly rent would be $5 per linear foot.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711