Port Royal has lost money since taking over daily operations of the 11th Street shrimp dock in 2009, an attempt to keep a vestige of the coastal shrimping industry anchored there, town officials say.
The dock, which can accommodate about 25 shrimp boats, will cost the town almost $20,000 more to operate than it will generate in revenue this fiscal year, town manager Van Willis said.
Shrimpers not paying their $300 monthly docking fees in the offseason accounted for much of the loss, Willis said.
About nine shrimp boats are using the dock now, he said.
"If they don't pay rent and I've got to pay a part-time employee to manage the dock, that's where we're really losing money," he said. "We're not going to sell the shrimpers fuel unless they're current on their rent, but nobody can shrimp right now, so they don't need fuel. They will have to come current when the season opens in June."
Any shrimper who leaves the dock to get fuel from a different source without paying overdue rent would "never again be able to occupy the dock while the town operates it," Willis said.
The town could put the shrimpers on trespass notice or take them to small claims court, but that likely would cost the town yet more money, Willis said.
The Town Council likely will discuss the issue soon, Mayor Sam Murray said.
"Everybody wants to see the shrimping industry succeed," Murray said. "But we don't want to continue to lose money."
Murray said one option might be giving shrimpers a discount if they pay a year's rent in advance.
Mark Smith, owner of Port Royal Shrimp Co., said the most lucrative shrimp dock operations charge a packing fee, not a docking fee. Under that system, shrimpers pay for every pound of shrimp they brought back to the dock, Smith said. The town could budget the packing fee to cover expenses throughout the year, Smith said.
Smith managed the 11th Street shrimp dock for years, stopping in 2009 when -- after a slew of complaints from other shrimpers about his management -- the town decided to hire its own part-time employee to run operations.
Smith said he had tried to convince the town to let him charge a packing fee when he managed the dock.
"Now that the town has taken it over, they've seen what I was telling them," Smith said. "Nobody's going to pay rent in the off-season because they don't have the money to pay rent in the off-season."
The S.C. State Ports Authority owns the dock and the Port of Port Royal property that surrounds it.
Port Royal manages the dock through an agreement with the authority, which is trying to sell the shuttered port property.
The town's redevelopment plan for the area includes a land swap deal with any buyer who would keep the dock public.