By South Carolina Department Of Natural Resources for Island Connection
After a cool spring in South Carolina, the majority of white shrimp in coastal waters have reproduced – and officials at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources have given the go ahead for shrimp season to open in full. Commercial shrimp trawling opened in all legal South Carolina waters at 8 a.m. on June 1. The trawling season in Georgia waters opened at the same time. Shrimping season in South Carolina typically starts in spring with the opening of a small subset of waters, called provisional areas, that allow shrimpers to take advantage of the harvest offshore while still protecting the majority of shrimp that have yet to spawn. South Carolina’s provisional areas opened on April 18 this year. The remainder of the harvest area is much larger and opened in full on June 1.
“This is five days later than 2021, but spawning has been just a little slower to progress compared with the past couple of years,” said Mel Bell, director of SCDNR’s Office of Fisheries Management. “The most important factor in setting the opening date is ensuring that we have an adequate white shrimp spawn to set us up for a good fall crop and fishery this year.” SCDNR officials set the opening date for shrimp season each year based on the conditions of the shrimp themselves. Aboard both commercial and agency vessels, biologists sample and study white shrimp frequently in late spring.
One of the things they’re looking for is evidence that a majority of female white shrimp have already spawned at least once before the season starts.
Opening the season too soon – and allowing trawlers to catch females that have not had an opportunity to spawn – could reduce the size of the fall white shrimp crop, which are the offspring of the spring white shrimp. “We always want to get the fleet to work as soon as possible, but not too soon from a biological standpoint,” Bell said. South Carolina’s commercial shrimp calendar has historically had three peak periods. In the spring, shrimpers typically capitalize on the influx of roe white shrimp, large, early-season shrimp that generally fetch higher prices and generate the most value for fishing effort. The summer months are typically defined by a peak in brown shrimp, which are similar to white shrimp in size and taste. In the fall and into winter, shrimpers bring in a second crop of white shrimp; the offspring of the spring roe shrimp.
Because white shrimp are a short-lived species that are vulnerable to cold water temperatures and unusually wet or dry summers, their numbers can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. However, they’re also prolific spawners – which means that the populations can quickly rebound even after a poor year or season.