The 2006 shrimp-baiting season will open at noon Friday, Sept. 15 in South Carolina waters.
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 Monday, Nov.13. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) opens the shrimp-baiting season annually on the last Friday on or before the 15th of September each year. Because Sept. 1 falls on a Friday this year, the season opens on the third Friday of the month.
The practice of shrimp baiting has remained basically the same since the current laws were passed in 1988. The season lasts 60 days, resident licenses cost $25 and non-resident 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. For more information on shrimp baiting, contact the DNR Marine Resources Division in Charleston at (843) 953-9300.
DNR biologist Larry DeLancey, whose research group just completed a sampling assessment south of Charleston as well as around Charleston and Georgetown, says the 2006 season outlook could be favorable, depending on the weather. “There are extremely good numbers of shrimp in some areas, but for the most part the shrimp are small,” DeLancey said. “At least early in the season, shrimpers should avoid the upper rivers and creeks and look down in areas closer to the ocean, as above normal rainfall can flush very small shrimp down into the estuaries.”
Dean Cain, also a DNR biologist, recently sampled around the Georgetown and North and South Santee Bay area. “The good spawn we had during May and June appears to have resulted in good numbers of fall white shrimp,” Cain said. White shrimp generally account for about 70 percent of the annual catch. Cain said despite a forecast for a good season, a tropical storm or hurricane dumping five to 10 inches of rain could change all of that. Numerous tropical storm systems moved shrimp prematurely into the ocean in recent years.
Results from a mail survey conducted after the 2005 shrimp-baiting season determined that the average catch per trip was 23.3 quarts (heads-on), which was the best catch rate since 1997. However, the total number of licenses sold was the lowest since 1989, the year Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. Said David Whitaker, Marine Resources Division assistant director: “The decline in license sales may be linked to the decrease in shrimp prices over the last few years, with recreational fishermen preferring to buy shrimp rather than catch their own.” The total estimated number of trips by shrimp baiters in 2005 was 20,753, which was also the lowest since 1989. Despite the much-improved catch rates per trip, the total harvest in 2005 was about 1.09 million pounds (heads-on), which was slightly better than that of 2004.
Shrimpers should be aware of laws regulating mesh size when choosing a cast net for the fall baiting season. The law went into effect in 2002, requiring that no cast net may be used for shrimp baiting that has mesh smaller than one-half inch on each side, or one inch in length when stretched. The legislative change in mesh size only refers to shrimp baiting and does not affect recreational shrimpers who are not casting over bait.
Major Glenn Ward with 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. 15. 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.