Shrimp season officially begins at 8 a.m. today, and Larry Toomer of Bluffton Oyster Co. plans to be out on a boat so he is poised to drop his nets at starting time.
"Right now we don't really know what we've got," he said. "We just have to get out there and see. All the indicators are we'll have a better season than last year."
The commercial trawling season for white roe shrimp opens today in South Carolina waters, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. DNR decides when to open the season based on factors such as spawning, growth and weather.
The past few months have been unusually cool, slowing shrimp growth, according to Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management. But the shrimp, although slightly smaller than usual, are spawning on schedule, he said.
"This is certainly different from last year when unusually warm winter and spring water temperatures resulted in an early spawn of our white shrimp and an opening of state waters to trawling by mid-April," he said in a news release.
Last year, shrimping started well but fell off significantly in November and December, probably because of low rainfall, Bell said. The 3.3 million pounds caught, however, were still more than in 2011, when the shrimp season did not start until mid-June.
Toomer said the wholesale price for shrimp is already higher than last year's because of the poor end to the 2012 season and problems with imported shrimp. A strong season would be a boon to shrimpers struggling through what he called a trying time.
"We're hoping that the price and the market stay strong, and if we can catch a few and have a good season, then we'll all still be around," he said.
Rainfall so far in 2013 should make for a good season for white shrimp, according to DNR.
S.C. Shrimpers Association president Mark Smith of Port Royal said he's optimistic the season will start well. Tides, wind, weather and the moon are all in the shrimpers' favor.
"I've been getting reports of extra, extra large shrimp in some areas," he said.
The brown-shrimp season typically runs during the summer, and the larger, fall white-shrimp season, composed of offspring from the spring roe crop, arrives in late summer and ends in winter, the last of the three annual seasons.