MOUNT PLEASANT — One of Shem Creek's last remaining shrimp boat docks is quietly up for sale. The loss of the Wando dock could be the tipping point for the vanishing fleet in the creek made famous by its hanging nets.
The property holding the former Wando Seafood Company at the lip of the creek is being privately shopped and has bidders, several sources confirmed to The Post and Courier. The owner and the real estate company did not want to comment when asked.
The East Cooper Land Trust is launching a frantic fundraising drive to buy and preserve the dock for the shrinking shrimping fleet. But the cost is steep.
The Wando dock is one of the last three commercial docks mooring shrimp boats that are a picturesque hallmark of the creek. Five boats now tie up there — about half the fleet that once existed. In previous years, it was common to see shrimp boats tied off three or more abreast and their catch sold from the docks.
Today, Shem Creek has become a mix of upscale residences, waterfront restaurants and water sports businesses, one by one edging out the shrimp boats. The shrimpers and the trust worry that whoever buys the Wando dock will want to redevelop it for that new market.
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.
The loss would leave only the tiny Geechie Seafood dock and the Simmons Marina for shrimpers, as well as a town-built dock that many shrimpers say they can't afford. James "Bubba" Simmons already has put his property up for sale once before pulling back. Simmons could not be reached for comment Friday.
The trust is seeking partners to bid on the Wando property. Director Catherine Main would say only that the price is in the millions. The trust would put a conservation easement on it and likely turn it over to a partner to run, she said.
"Our interest is to keep the seafood industry there into the future. The shrimpers can't afford to pay the money to buy it," she said. "It's the first industry there was in Mount Pleasant. It made Mount Pleasant. In the blink of an eye, it could be gone."
Tarvin Seafood leases the property month to month, said co-owner Cindy Tarvin.
"It's no secret that everybody (in Shem Creek) is leasing month-to-month and everybody worries about dock space no matter where they tie up," she said. "We're hopeful (the Wando sale) works out to everyone's advantage, no matter what happens."
Commercial fishing docks are disappearing across the state because of development pressures on the lucrative waterfront properties.
The dock space is critical for offloading, fueling, taking on ice and provisions, and conducting general maintenance, said Julie Davis, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium living marine resources specialist who has studied the issue.
"Shrimp boats are not something you can put on a trailer and carry with you, so the need for dock space is essential," she said. "Whether we were in Murrell's Inlet, Shem Creek, Port Royal or McClellanville, this is the story we heard."
The trust also is part of a McClellanville group hoping to negotiate land trusts for that town's iconic shrimp docks.
"This isn't just an issue for Shem Creek," Main said. "This is an issue for the state of South Carolina."
The trust has approached several groups for support with the Wando dock purchase, including the town of Mount Pleasant. Town Council discussed it in closed session earlier this week, but the town has neither a process or designated funding to buy properties such as the dock, said Finance Committee Chairman Tom O'Rourke.
The Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss creating such a process next month, he added.
"I can promise you the Wando dock is not the only parcel of land the town has been approached to purchase. Personally, I think every one we have in front of us has merit," O'Rourke said. "Buying land is a tool toward accomplishing a lot of the goals we have for our town. But we're not there today."