The 2013 shrimp-baiting season opened at noon Friday, Sept. 13, in South Carolina waters. Mild winter weather allowed good numbers of overwintering white shrimp to spawn in the spring, producing at least average numbers of shrimp available for fall harvest, but heavy rainfall and river runoff during the summer has washed small shrimp down into some coastal areas.
Recreational shrimpers who purchase a shrimp-baiting license can legally cast their nets for shrimp over bait during this season. Shrimp-baiting season will remain open until noon Tuesday, Nov. 12. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) opens the shrimp-baiting season annually on the last Friday on or before Sept. 15 each year.
The shrimp baiting season lasts 60 days, resident licenses cost $25 and non-residents licenses cost $500. The catch limit is 48 quarts of shrimp measured heads-on (29 quarts heads-off) per boat or set of poles per day, and each boat is limited to a set of 10 poles. When taking shrimp over bait, no cast net may be used having a mesh smaller than one-half inch square measure or one inch stretch measure.
Post-season mail surveys conducted every year since 1988 indicate that recent total catches have been less than 1 million pounds per season (heads on) after peaking at more than 3.6 million pounds in 1997. Despite the decline in total catch, catch per trip has remained relatively stable, averaging about 20-22 quarts per trip since 2001. The stable catch-per-trip suggests that shrimp abundance has remained relatively good, but fewer licenses and shrimping trips are resulting in a lower overall harvest. Recent sampling by DNR’s Crustacean Monitoring Program caught fair numbers of shrimp along the southern coast and average quantities near Charleston, according to Larry DeLancey, program supervisor, but overall size is smaller than usual. Areas around Port Royal and St. Helena Sounds produced the largest shrimp. Rainfall and river levels have lessened lately, but shrimpers should target lower areas in the estuary to avoid smaller shrimp, DeLancey advised.
DNR Law Enforcement Division in Charleston advises baiters not to have bait or poles in a boat that is in the water before noon on Friday, Sept. 13. The public is asked to report violations of saltwater recreational and commercial fishing laws by calling the Coast Watch hotline number (1-800-922-5431) toll-free, 24 hours a day.