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South Carolina shrimping season may open partially Wednesday, population still recovering

South Carolina shrimping season could reopen Wednesday on limited scale (FILE / WCIV)

Commercial shrimping in waters off the South Carolina coast could resume on a limited scale as early as this week, but don't expect an abundance of the coveted white "roe" shrimp.

Mel Bell, marine fisheries director for the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources, says the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) likely will open federal waters to commercial shrimp trawling this week, possibly as early as Wednesday.

Bell says DNR asked NOAA last week to reopen federal waters, which start about three miles offshore, after seeing positive signs during ongoing monitoring and sampling of shrimp populations.

The reopening of state-managed waters nearer to shore could soon follow, Bell says, but he stopped short of putting a definitive timetable on that until more monitoring and sampling is done.

DNR will only reopen state waters once white shrimp have had more time to spawn, and once existing brown shrimp populations reach more marketable size, Bell says.

Authorities close fisheries if cold weather reduces the shrimp population by 80 percent or more, or if water temperatures fall below a critical level, according to NOAA.

Three weeks of extremely cold air and water temperatures in January led to an early closure of commercial shrimping season in federal and state waters off South Carolina's coast.

The frigid temperatures resulted in a large die-offs of white shrimp and other marine specie, according to Bell, who says the white shrimp population hasn't recovered enough to justify reopening the waters to shrimping.

"Effectively, we will not really be having a white 'roe' shrimp season this year," Bell says. "Their numbers are greatly reduced due to the cold water.

"Monitoring trips along the coast last week through Friday found continuing low numbers of adult white shrimp, but evidence of successful and continuing spawning activity," Bell added.

Roe shrimp, as they're often called in South Carolina, are white shrimp that have recently spawned, and are appreciated as particularly flavorful among seafood lovers.

Spawning for white shrimp occurs from late spring through the summer, according to NOAA. Typically, commercial shrimping already would've opened had populations not been so damaged.

Meanwhile, Bell says numbers of brown shrimp are continuing to increase, although the size of the shrimp seen so far has been hit-or-miss.

DNR is hoping for good brown shrimp harvests this summer, and potentially good fall harvests of white shrimp, says Bell.

The official word on the reopening of shrimping in federal water will come once NOAA has notified federally permitted shrimpers.

Bell said in January there are approximately 400 licensed commercial shrimpers in South Carolina, about 50 of whom are permitted to fish in federal waters.

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