Snow from the rare Lowcountry winter storm lasted only a few days, but it managed to put a damper on shrimping season in South Carolina waters this spring.
Shrimp harvesting season typically starts in mid-May, but the opening of the season could be delayed this year into June, South Carolina wildlife officials say.
"Don't expect an early opening. Don't expect average opening," said Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. "It's probably going to be delayed."
Bell said state officials won't open the season until there's a sufficient number of shrimp spawning to produce the next crop.
"When water temperatures get below 9 degrees Celsius and they stay that way, shrimp start dying," said Bell.
"In the first week of January, temperatures dropped suddenly ... and they stayed below 9 degrees (Celsius) for three weeks or more," he said.
In fact, Bell said, in January, researchers measured the fifth coldest water temperature on record — records go back more than 60 years — and the water temperature at the start of May is still 2 or 3 degrees below average.
As a comparison, last year at this time the water temperature was 5 to 6 degrees warmer than average.
"Every year is different," he said.
Looking ahead to fall
This winter was the "coldest we've seen, as far as I can remember, so we know that it was extremely hard on the shrimp crop," he said.
"Shrimp are delicate."
Toomer said he expects to take SCDNR officials out on one of his shrimping boats soon for some offshore test drags.
"The only thing we can do is wait until the fall crop," he said. "The shrimp that spawn this time of year is what we catch in September, October, November, December."
In the meantime, Toomer said his family's restaurant, like some others, are using frozen shrimp that were caught in the latter part of last season in South Carolina.
Georgia also has had its federal and state waters closed to shrimpers since January's storm.
Bell said he is "cautiously optimistic" about South Carolina's shrimp season prospects in spite of the cold beginning to the year.
"It's happened before, and it will happen again," he said. "They'll rebound...It's tough on the industry and on people who like to have shrimp, but they'll rebound."