Port Royal docks plan should get one more try

info@islandpacket.comJuly 29, 2013 

The commercial shrimping docks in Port Royal offer a charming, evocative look at a part of the Lowcountry's maritime history and its once thriving commercial fishing industry.

But the town has lost money on the docks since taking them over in 2009, and an unfortunate reality is becoming apparent: The town may be subsidizing a relic, not economic infrastructure.

Port Royal is taking one more stab at making the shrimp docks viable. Joey Morris, who has experience as a shrimper and a dock manager, has been hired as the facility's full-time manager.

A part-time employee will assist Morris, who is charged with shaping up the docks and opening the shrimp market there within a few weeks. The town is purchasing about $20,000 worth of equipment, including scales, ice-making machines and packing material, to help start the market.

Morris also is expected to crack down on boats owners who dock there without paying fees -- a primary reason the town is losing money on the docks, town officials say.

"We're at a point when it needs to be functional, or we can't keep doing it," town manager Van Willis said.

The town had hoped a business interested in harvesting and processing jellyfish would breathe life into the docks, but it wisely backed away earlier this year when the financial problems of a key figure in that company came to light.

The town leases the docks from the S.C. State Ports Authority. Port Royal has budgeted $225,000 in each of the past two fiscal years, and still they had a loss of $25,000 to $30,000, Willis said.

Mayor Sam Murray said that if the situation doesn't improve by June 30, 2014, Town Council must decide whether to continue operating them.

Perhaps Morris can help turn around the facility, and that's a decision the town will not have to make. But if it comes to that, closing the docks will be a decision more sad than difficult. The town should not soak up a loss for the sake of nostalgia for a bygone industry.

If no can afford to dock their trawler there or no one is willing to purchase seafood sold there -- and it has been a long time since this was the case -- the town should jettison the operation.

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