Keeping the Lowcountry shrimping industry afloat

Charleston County News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Americans love shrimp. Of the roughly 15 pounds of seafood consumed by the average American each year, just over four pounds are shrimp — and that number may be even higher for us shrimp fanatics here in the Lowcountry.

Despite abundant local resources, over 90% of seafood is imported from other countries, and much of it is farmed. This makes competition fierce for local shrimpers, and those in the Lowcountry are no exception.

News 2’s Brendan Clark spent a day with local shrimpers to find out what they’re doing to stay afloat.

The Carolina Breeze leaves the dock every day at 6:00 a.m., with Captain Donnie Brown and his crew Joe, Ziggy, and Emily in tow.

Taylor Tarvin — owner of Tarvin’s Seafood on Shem Creek and two boats, including the Carolina Breeze — says that while the business is easy to get into, it is not easy to stay in.

He says that while he gets a lot of satisfaction out of supplying “a wholesome, healthy product for people to consume,” the business has become tough.

Just 30 years ago, there were over 70 shrimp boats in Shem Creek. Now, there are only about 13.

Rising fuel costs are a contributing factor; the Carolina Breeze burns around 25 gallons an hour during a normal nine-hour day, so each trip has a price tag of nearly $1,000.

Another big issue: a deteriorating environment.

Climate change, coastal erosion, fertilizer runoff, and floodwater are making the Lowcountry less inhabitable for the shrimp population:

“I think what we’re starting to see the warmer waters are starting to drive the shrimp north. There’s never been a shrimping season in Virginia because they’ve never had shrimp. But now, the Chesapeake Bay is full of shrimp.”

Despite all of the local challenges, Tarvin says that the biggest threat to the shrimping industry comes from ‘farms’ thousands of miles away:

“They dump shrimp [into the shrimp farm] and then they feed them animal waste, which makes the shrimp sick, so then they feed them antibiotics to keep the shrimp healthy enough to get to market… It’s a poor cycle… but it hits the market and it’s cheap.”

The Tarvins say that a successful day yields between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of shrimp. They aren’t looking to build an empire, just to make a living.

They work with several restaurants that recognize the importance of buying local, and encourage consumers to educate themselves on the market.

If shrimp has the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), and has at least two out of four stars, you can buy with confidence.

You can also chat with your local shrimpers to learn more about how to support the industry.

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