Miss Paula Shem Creek.JPG (copy)

A boat passes by the shrimp boat Miss Paula on June 3, 2018 at Shem Creek Shrimp in Mount Pleasant where the fleet can do little but wait. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

Federal waters at least 3 miles offshore South Carolina opened for commercial shrimping Wednesday afternoon — the much awaited start of a season delayed by the winter cold.

The local catch is prized among shellfish eaters for its freshness and succulence. The season is nearly a month behind its average opening date.

The federal waters are beyond 3 miles. The next waters to open will be the state's "provisional" waters roughly beyond 2 miles from shore.

The nearshore waters — the heart of the shrimping grounds — will open last. The Department of Natural Resources tends to open the three areas one by one, to give shrimpers working waters out of state time to get back and prepare.

Overall, the numbers of shrimp are still down and the size smaller than normal, but spawning is taking place, said Mel Bell, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources fisheries management director. The delayed catch should turn into a good fall season.

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