White shrimp recovered from a cool spring

After a cool spring in South Carolina, the majority of white shrimp in coastal waters have spawned – and officials from the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) have given the green light for the full opening of the shrimp season. Commercial shrimp trawling will open in all South Carolina legal waters at 8 a.m. Wednesday, June 1, 2022. The trawling season in Georgia waters will open at the same time. Shrimp season in South Carolina typically begins in the spring with the opening of a small subset of waters, called interim zones, that allow shrimpers to take advantage of the offshore harvest while protecting the majority of shrimp that haven’t spawned yet. The South Carolina provisional areas opened on April 18 of this year. The rest of the harvest area is much larger and will fully open on June 1. “That’s five days later than 2021, but spawning has been a bit slower in progress compared to the past two years,” said Mel Bell, director of the SCDNR’s Office of Fisheries Management. “The most important factor in setting the opening date is ensuring we have adequate white shrimp spawn to prepare for a good fall harvest and fishery this year.” SCDNR officials set the opening date for the shrimp season each year based on the conditions of the shrimp themselves. Aboard commercial and agency vessels, biologists frequently sample and study white shrimp in late spring. One of the things they are looking for is proof that a majority of female white shrimp have spawned at least once before the start of the season. Opening the season too early – and allowing trawlers to catch females that haven’t had a chance to spawn – could reduce the size of the harvest of fall white shrimp, which are the offspring of spring white shrimp. “We still want to get the fleet up and running as soon as possible, but not too soon from a biological perspective,” Bell said. South Carolina’s shrimp trade calendar has historically had three peak periods. In the spring, shrimpers typically take advantage of the influx of white roe shrimp, large, early-season shrimp that typically fetch higher prices and generate the most value for fishing effort. The summer months are usually defined by a peak of brown shrimp, which are similar to white shrimp in size and taste. In the fall and winter, shrimpers bring in a second crop of white shrimp; the offspring of the spring roe shrimp. Because the white shrimp is a short-lived species that is vulnerable to cold water temperatures and unusually wet or dry summers, their numbers can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. However, they are also prolific breeders, meaning populations can quickly rebound even after a bad year or season.