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

A boat passes by the shrimp boat Miss Paula on June 3, 2018 at Shem Creek Shrimp. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

Without its shrimp boat fleet, Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant would be a different kind of place. But the number of boats has been dwindling for decades, and the loss of the dock that formerly housed the Wando Shrimp Co. could be a tipping point.

The Wando dock is up for sale. And unless a nonprofit buyer such as the East Cooper Land Trust or even the town of Mount Pleasant is able to scoop up the property, it could be redeveloped in a way that would push out a few more of the remaining shrimpers in the creek.

That would be a shame. Shem Creek and the nearby Old Village form the unofficial heart of Mount Pleasant. A grassroots effort to protect that area from over-development grew into a sea change in the town’s politics over the past few years.

Shem Creek is an important place with deep community history. It’s well worth saving.

And the shrimp boats that still dock in the creek are more than just a scenic backdrop. They’re an endangered connection to the Lowcountry’s priceless marine resources. They’re an embattled source of local seafood increasingly facing competition from lower-quality imports. They’re sources of jobs and symbols of family legacies.

Those boats and their crews need space not just to dock but to refuel, load ice, and process and sell their catches. The Wando dock is one of the most important remaining properties for protecting Shem Creek’s shrimpers.

According to Post and Courier reporter Bo Petersen, the East Cooper Land Trust is exploring the possibility of buying the property. But with a price tag in the millions of dollars, it could prove difficult to come up with the money quickly enough to beat out private bidders.

“If we do not act now to permanently protect land along our industrial waterfronts, we are at risk of losing access to local seafood in our state,” the land trust said in statement asking for community support in fundraising. “In the blink of an eye, it could be gone.”

Mount Pleasant officials have also explored the possibility of buying the property, but it’s unclear how such a purchase would work or where the town would come up with the money.

It’s not just a problem for Shem Creek either. Commercial waterfronts across the Lowcountry and up and down the East Coast face increasing pressure from redevelopment. Communities need to band together to support local fishing and protect the longstanding lifestyles that make places like Shem Creek so special.

Of course, it’s also possible that a private buyer for the Wando dock could develop the land in a way that preserves its current functions. Certainly, any developer sensitive to the surrounding community would quickly realize how much Shem Creek’s shrimping industry means to Mount Pleasant residents and the rest of the Charleston area.

After all, without the shrimp boats, it wouldn’t be the same place.