September 2012

Big Shrimpin'

Author: Lindsey Hawkins | Photographer: Mark Staff Photography

The life of a shrimper seems so rustic Hollywood, thanks to the rise of fictional, cultural icon Forrest Gump and his epic tribute to his dead best friend. In all honesty, the shrimping lifestyle, depicted in the flick as a somewhat serene and lucrative career path, isn’t far from the reality, or at least it didn’t used to be.

As local shrimp has become more expensive to buy, the growing peril to the industry is gross importing. In fact, farm-raised Southeast Asian and South American shrimp are currently the number one imported seafood in America, yet the delicious bottom feeders thrive in local abundance off the coast of our very island. As hundreds of millions of foreign, frozen shrimp reach our restaurants and grocers each year, hundreds of local shrimpers go out of business as product-to-fuel cost ratios sink their ships.

“My family goes back 100 years on Hilton Head, and they’ve all been in the shrimp and oyster business back when there were two lane roads and a swing bridge,” said local shrimp boat captain Jeff Toomer. “But we’ve been lucky enough to survive the economy.”

Not every restaurateur and shrimp retailer has been corrupted by the financial gain of buying these frozen, offshore swimmers, but the few that remain “local” have to carry the weight of that decision.

“We would have saved close to $72 thousand over the last year. The amount of effort and labor dollars spent on our local shrimp operation makes very little financial sense. We do it because we enjoy serving the best shrimp available anywhere, and we feel that it is part of who we are,” said Andrew Carmines, restaurant manager of Hudson’s on the Docks.

Shrimping requires long hours, sometimes 28-day stretches from bunk to deck and back again. It is labor-intensive charting, tracking, trawling, hoisting, sorting, cleaning, packing and freezing. At the same time, it’s witnessing jaw dropping sunrises off the pitch-black horizon… and it’s peaceful.

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