“Underappreciated Assets: The Economic Impact of South Carolina’s Natural Resources”, a 2009 study by the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business, found commercial fishing has an annual economic impact of $33,939,909 in South Carolina. Shrimping is by far the dominant fishery, with commercial trawlers bringing in 6 million pounds annually, valued at approximately $30 million.
Shrimping has a colorful history in the Charleston area, starting with the “Mosquito Fleet” in the 1850s. These commercial shrimpers were primarily African Americans who used whatever vessels were available, netting the shrimp by hand in seives and marketing them from carts on the streets of Charleston. Since the 1920’s, the docks of Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant have been home to a fleet of high-bowed, flat-bottomed shrimp trawlers topped with outriggers that swing out on each side to lower the huge nets. The trawlers work offshore, mostly within 3 or 4 miles of the beach. Each year, a colorful local festival centers on blessing each of the fishing vessels that go in and out of Charleston Harbor.
Today a new group of “watermen” in Charleston make a living as professional shellfish harvesters. Dave Belanger (“Clammer Dave”) is one of these, farming clams and oysters for a decade in 25 acres of intertidal bottom land leased from the state near Capers Island Wildlife Refuge. His oysters are popular with local restaurant chefs and are culled by hand with a chisel, a process that dates back 200 years. For over 20 years, Toby Van Buren has pulled clams and oysters from the pluff mud in an area he leases from the state near Breach Inlet. He uses nets to protect his clam beds from predatory sting rays, crabs and flounder. These pioneers represent a new wave of sustainable shellfish growing and harvesting in our local waters. Learn more about the history and economics of the Charleston Harbor watershed.