Search Santee Cooper
Power Source
Fall 2017
Environmental Report


South Carolina Notable State


All Stories Letter from Editor Download PDF Past Issues
Michael Turner, first mate, prepares the deck while heading out to sea.

Sustainable and Sweet South Carolina Shrimp

For many, hearing the word shrimp brings to mind the infamous segment from Forrest Gump where Bubba is describing all of the ways he enjoys shrimp. In the story, Gump bought a shrimp boat and found shrimping was not only a way to catch a delicious meal, it was also a way to make a living for his family.

For centuries, families along the South Carolina coast have enjoyed fresh Carolina shrimp, often purchased on a dock right off the boat. No matter how you like your shrimp prepared, it is always a little better when the shrimp are freshly caught.

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) officially opens and closes shrimp season depending on shrimp numbers, growth and development. In South Carolina there are different time frames for the official shrimp season with white and brown shrimp caught during three peak periods. White roe shrimp are caught in spring, brown shrimp in summer, and white shrimp that are the offspring of spring shrimp are caught in fall/winter.

“Shrimp are a sustainable food source, but local shrimp populations can change from year to year due to environmental factors. Unusually cold winters resulting in colder than average coastal water temperatures can significantly diminish the abundance of overwintering shrimp in our waters,” said Mel Bell, director of SCDNR’s Office of Fisheries Management.

According to Bell, the overall condition of our coastal estuaries is also very important to the long-term health and sustainability of shrimp. Saltwater marshes and tidal creeks serve as nursery areas where young shrimp grow up. Excessive freshwater input impacting salinity, chemicals from freshwater runoff, and loss of healthy marsh grasses from coastal development can have an adverse effect on the shrimp’s ability to grow.

Nets are unloaded onto the deck of the Richardson Brothers boat.

Glennie Tarbox knows a thing or two about seafood. His father Herbert Tarbox started Independent Seafood in Georgetown in 1939. Glennie took over in 1959 and still oversees the thriving business his father started. His son-in-law, “Cotton” Williams, now handles the day-to-day operations at the fresh seafood market.

“Market conditions have changed drastically,” said Tarbox. “Ten to 12 years ago we started downsizing our shrimp operations because of the influx of farm-raised shrimp and shrimp imported from outside the country. That, combined with the rising cost of fuel, has made it harder for our local shrimpers to be competitive.”

As a result, the family has seen the shrimp business decline. Instead of approximately 20 shrimp trawlers at their dock, they are down to about five. Williams said they still offer a desired commodity and make a difference in the local economy.

Sweet, South Carolina, Shrimp, fresh off the boat!

Even with the changes in the market, both Tarbox and Williams said they are committed to owning a successful small business to provide a living for their families and their employees while offering fresh, locally caught seafood.

“We maintain a good relationship with the local shrimpers and believe we offer the best locally caught shrimp available,” said Williams. 

Larry Owens’ boat, the Capt. Andrew, calls South Carolina home. The Capt. Andrew was built in Georgetown 48 years ago by his wife’s family. Owens has been shrimping for 42 years and he and his sons still take the 75-foot, hand-crafted trawler off the coast to gather shrimp for local markets, including Independent Seafood. He has survived the ups and downs of the business, and he plans to drag for shrimp off the coastline for many years to come. 

Glennie Tarbox greets every customer with a smile at Independent Seafood.

Robert Leggett is a retired shrimp boat captain whose first experience shrimping was pulling a net behind a small skiff at the age of 12. He went on to own three full-sized shrimp boats during a career that spanned more than three decades.

Leggett spent many days shrimping off the shores of North Myrtle Beach, Kiawah and Beaufort. Leggett said some days at sea were great and profitable. He recalled his best day as one when he made one drag and then docked his boat with 3,000 pounds of shrimp, the biggest catch of his career.

Increasing costs to operate and a decrease in demand for local shrimp eventually led to Leggett’s retirement. “Shrimping has been more than just a way for me to enjoy the freedom and peace I feel when I am on the ocean,” said Leggett. “It provided a living for my family for 35 years.”

Shrimping can be an expensive business. Trawlers require upkeep like replacing nets, boat maintenance, fuel and paying employees that could put a strain on the profit margin for a boat owner or operator. According to SCDNR records, about 400 trawlers are currently commercially licensed in the state, which is about one-fourth of its peak two decades ago.

Cotton Williams weighs and bags shrimp for customers at Independent Seafood.

Mark Richardson is a man who loves the salt air and the fact there are no horns or traffic lights at sea. A boat captain, Richardson has been in the shrimping industry for decades, catching his first shrimp with a cast net at the age of 15. Now he and his brother, Paul, own and operate two shrimp trawlers that dock at Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. Richardson said he believes the decline in boats docking at Shem Creek is a result of the price of imported and farm-raised shrimp products, but he feels the winds may be changing.

“Things have been tough but I do believe local business is on the rebound, and I have seen more boats in Shem Creek in the last couple of years,” Richardson said. “We still face challenges in our business, but our goal is to continue to deliver a fresh product to our market in Charleston and here in Shem Creek in the hope that we can sustain this way of life for many generations to come.” 

Local, fresh-caught shrimp are a sustainable, low-fat, low-carbohydrate, low-calorie and high-protein food source. Some make a living by catching shrimp, but others are in the business of making a living by cooking shrimp.

Customers look over Jeffery Pollock’s shoulder to verify the weight of their fresh catch.

In Georgetown, local businesses buy their products straight from the docks and markets. Bucky and Angie Watkins have owned and operated the Big Tuna Raw Bar for 16 years and have always provided a locally caught product. The same goes for many restaurants up and down the coast. That means restaurant goers can enjoy their shrimp cocktails while watching the fishermen tie up or cast off.

Casey Kuzmik is a manager at Crab Catchers in Little River. It’s a fresh local seafood market and restaurant that will cook the catch of the day for you while you watch the next haul being unloaded from the boat.

“It is one thing to think you are eating fresh caught shrimp and fish,” said Kuzmik. “But when people actually see it pulled from the boats onto the dock here at the restaurant, they know what they are enjoying on their plate is as fresh as it gets.”