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Open Season

Our island's main tourist season may be a few weeks off, but another and equally crucial season's about to begin, South Carolina's shrimping season. The Lowcountry is fortunate to have access to its favorite food for eight months of the year, from May to December, although the state DNR divides the season into three distinct phases, determined by the quality and quantity of the crustaceans each year.

Limited harvesting usually begins in the spring - this year, starting this week - and is restricted to specific offshore sites that lie along the border between state and federal waters, and then only if winter monitoring has indicated sufficient numbers of mature shrimp. The full summer season usually begins no earlier than mid-May, the date again determined by the DNR based on the health of shrimp populations (it's not yet been announced for this year), and mostly harvests smaller brown shrimp, which were spawned in the previous fall and matured during the winter. The third season begins in September and focuses on larger and more favored white shrimp, but can also bring in more rare pink shrimp until the season ends in December. This is all in addition to net casting for shrimp in tidal creeks by locals, again progressing from brown to white shrimp as the months progress.

White shrimp spawn in the spring and are ready for the table by autumn

Predictions for this season are for an abundant harvest based on a relatively mild winter, as colder winters and resulting lower water temperatures can affect spawning, drive shrimp far offshore and kill off significant numbers of the animals. Shrimping is an important economic driver for the Lowcountry, generating up to ten million dollars in revenue in some years from commercial harvests of some three or four million pounds in good years. A constant worry for commercial shrimpers is the cost of diesel fuel, which rose high enough last year to idle some of the fleet, which may return to the water this season as fuel prices trend lower. It's a hard, physically demanding way to make a living and a tradition that will be honored this weekend with Mount Pleasant's annual Blessing Of The Fleet on Sunday, April 30th at Waterfront Park. Find out more about the event here.

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