The end of the commercial shrimping season saw surprising catches of jumbo shrimp through the month of January in local waters.
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
White shrimp weighing in at 10-12 count per pound? In late January?
That is exactly how the 2016-17 commercial shrimping season in South Carolina state waters wound up earlier this week, at the end of January.
The season typically closes by mid-January but excellent catches of jumbo shrimp by trawlers kept it open later.
“I’ve had people tell me they’ve never seen big shrimp like this out there this time of year,” Mel Bell, Director of the Office of Fisheries Management for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said on Thursday. “It’s been an unusual close to the season. It’s normally closed by mid-January, and if it’s a colder winter, maybe earlier.
“We’ve never seen that phenomenon of those large shrimp offshore. I’ve talked to fishermen who have been in the industry for decades and they’ve never seen anything like that.”
Provisional areas, described by Bell as “little pieces of the general trawl zone 2 1/2 to 3 miles off the coast that we can open and close as we see fit,” will remain open until 7 p.m. Monday.
The winter of 2016-17 has been a mild one thus far, and the ocean water temperature reflects that, likely causing the shrimp to hang around.
On Thursday afternoon, the Cherry Grove Pier reported a surface water temperature reading of 56 degrees.
“I think it just has a lot to do with water temperature and it could be in part that we’ve had a couple warm winters in a row,” said Bell. “Our spawning crop last year in the spring was the largest we’ve ever seen. That could contribute to this as far as the number of shrimp out there.
“Then you throw a hurricane in the mix, and what does that do? I have no idea but (the shrimpers) have been doing good off McClellanville, Charleston and Georgetown. (Shrimpers) weren’t quite as productive to the south and we wanted to leave (the provisional areas) open (until Feb. 6) to give those to the south a chance at them.”
Bell feels the white shrimp have found conditions they like and haven’t headed south like normal.
“What some of the shrimp folks tell me is the shrimp will move to water temps they like,” said Bell. “Our big shrimp would usually now be heading south to Florida but our waters right now are kind of like Florida winter waters. It may very well be the shrimp are here and they’re not feeling the urgency to move south.”
Earlier in the season, shrimp were found farther north than normal, even in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, an area Bell is very familiar with.
“This is real anecdotal information, but there have been shrimp in Chesapeake Bay caught off docks,” said Bell. “I lived there quite a while and shrimp don’t usually occur that far north. I can’t recall shrimp being reported in Chesapeake Bay or off Virginia.”
If you’re up early on a cold, blustery Saturday morning, there’s still time to catch a super seminar.
The Student Angler League Tournament Trail is hosting a fundraising fishing seminar Saturday at St. James Middle School.
Nine 20-minute seminars covering a variety of topics – both saltwater and freshwater – will be staged, beginning at 8 a.m.
St. James Middle School is located at 9775 St. James Road, Myrtle Beach, SC, 29588.
For more information, visit www.salttfishing.com.