Two pending deals have the potential to stabilize, and ideally revitalize, the commercial fishing fleet operating out of Shem Creek, but both will require public funding and, in the long run, expanding local seafood markets.
Mount Pleasant is poised to take a direct role in propping up the local seafood industry by buying the Wando dock at the mouth of the creek using town funds, then leasing the tie-ups back to shrimpers and the onshore facilities to seafood processors. The roughly 1-acre property would probably contain a public pocket park as well.
At the same time, East Cooper Land Trust is applying for $1.3 million in Charleston County Greenbelt funds to improve and preserve the Geechie dock, also on Shem Creek. Assuming the funding is granted, the land trust would place a conservation easement on the property to ensure it continues to operate as a seafood dock.
Together, the rebuilding plans could provide reliable, long-term dock space for five or six more commercial vessels, up from the current dozen or so.
Both deals involve some risks. But without the planned public investments, market forces likely would eventually squeeze out the shrimpers and longliners that make Shem Creek a working waterfront and more than just a recreation destination.
Of course, it’s essential for the fishing fleet to have dock space and access to ice and fuel. But stabilizing the industry will also mean expanding local seafood markets.
To that end, the town, the land trust, the fishermen and other advocates should consider campaigns and other innovative programs to boost local seafood both directly to customers and to restaurants in the area.
The town of Mount Pleasant, the Charleston County Greenbelt Advisory Board and ultimately County Council must dispassionately evaluate the pros and cons of the two Shem Creek dock projects before committing public funds to them.
While the Wando dock would be essentially public, the Geechie dock, which may include boat tours open to the public, would remain in private hands. And it’s important to note that both efforts stretch the bounds of what the Greenbelt is intended to be.
Neither would preserve a substantial amount of land, but both could prevent more intensive development on a vital, fragile waterfront and help save a struggling industry of significant cultural and historic value.
Because both deals involve public funds, the risks and benefits should be made plain before committing limited Greenbelt resources.
In the long run, the Shem Creek culture so many people want to preserve must ultimately support itself, because, as the old saying goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Those fishermen will need a place to keep their boats.