Shrimpers Try to Stay Afloat
27 April 2008
By Jenny Fisher
South Carolina’s shrimp season is expected to start mid-May, but many crews will head out to sea in the next week or so to shrimp in other areas. When they head out, they’ll take a community’s blessings with them.
Sunday, two ministers bestowed a blessing of a safe voyage on the seas for Lowcountry shrimpers. Decorated shrimp boats paraded by hundreds of waving onlookers during the annual “Blessing of the Fleet” festival in Mount Pleasant.
News 2’s Jenny Fisher introduces you to one of the shrimp boat captains whose vessel, Miss Karen, received a blessing.
“I did it all my life,” Captain Donnie Brown said aboard his boat. He knows a thing or two about shrimping. He got his first boat at 17, so as he nears 50, he takes a hands-off approach. He smiled as he sat back in his captain’s chair with his feet propped up on the wheel. He kicked up a leg, propped it on a peg of the wheel and said, “I just take my heel and knock it outta gear and turn the wheel.”
That may be the captain’s only comfort during the upcoming shrimping season. Brown said, “Fuel prices are going to kill us this year. It’s unreal.” Brown depends on diesel while out to sea for weeks at a time. News 2’s Jenny Fisher said, “If you complain about fuel prices, you’ve got nothing on the shrimpers. Whether you’re using your feet or your hands to drive the boat, you’re using 25 gallons of diesel in just one hour.”
Brown said, “When I get ready to put fuel in this boat, it’s gonna cost me about $10,000. Jenny asked, “How far will that get you?” Brown replied, “10 days.” Jenny asked, “That’s it?” Yes, he replied as he shook his head. That means Brown has to catch more shrimp to pay for fuel before he can even think about a profit.
Add in the competition of imported shrimp which cost less…and it’s only toughens the job of a modern shrimper trying to stay afloat. Brown said, “I’m knocking on 50 now and thought I could retire from it, but when you got a little girl, 10 years-old, you don’t know you if you can or not.”
The captain vows to man the helm, while counting on his footwork to land him the next big catch.
Captain Brown says if he doesn’t catch his fill, he will head back to shore. He says you can help the industry by buying local shrimp or shrimp caught in the U.S.
Meanwhile, a report by human rights advocates state that adults and children work 18 hour days peeling imported shrimp for less than $1 per day. In 2006, Thailand and Bangladesh imported more than 430 Million pounds of shrimp to the United States. You can check out the full report on imported shrimp conditions here.