A seafood processing company would bring as many as 250 jobs to the Beaufort area under a plan that would rehabilitate the Port Royal shrimp docks and build a processing plant in Gardens Corner.
"Our goal is to create a fishing area the town of Port Royal can be proud of," Millenarian Trading Co. representative Steven Giese told Port Royal Town Council during a work session Wednesday night.
The project, code named "Operation Blossom," was first referenced by town manager Van Willis during a meeting in February. On Wednesday, he said council is considering a five-year lease for the docks. The property is owned by the S.C. State Ports Authority and will be given to the town in a swap, if the Port of Port Royal is sold to a developer. In the meantime, the town has an agreement to run the shrimp docks. Under the terms of the town's lease with the ports authority, such an operation is allowed, Willis said.
The hope is to reach an agreement quickly so Millenarian can start fishing for Cannonball jellyfish, also called jellyballs, before the end of their season in May, Giese said. The Beaufort/Port Royal area is near the end of the migration route for the fish, so the jelly fish are large and plentiful in the area, he said.
The season starts up again in November, providing time for repairs to docks and to get ready for increased fishing and processing. Since jellyball season is opposite shrimp season, it will provide income opportunities for shrimpers during what is typically a slow period, Giese said. The company will also process blue crabs, whelks, conches and other seafood.
The seafood will be brought into the Port Royal shrimp dock and prepared for shipping to the processing plant. Land has already been purchased in Gardens Corner, Giese said.
Within 18 to 24 months, Giese expects the operation to employ between 150 to 250 people, most at the processing plant. The salt-drying of the jellyballs is very labor intensive, he said. He said he has already started interviews for management positions.
Giese said the intent is not to compete with local, established seafood companies. He hopes to improve their businesses through networking and a better seafood industry.
"I think this will set a new model for the fishing industry up and down the coast," he said.
To alleviate potential concerns of officials and residents, Giese is proposing multiple restrictions in the lease, including:
- An overnight curfew and no-trucking hours during high-traffic times in the morning and evening.
- Special trucks designed to prevent leaks from seafood containers during transport to the processing plant.
- A bond that would reimburse the town in cases of accidents with transportation
- Substantial renovations to the shrimp docks and market.
- Assistance retrofitting boats for catching jellyfish, which can cost between $3,000 to $4,000 per boat.