Here in the Lowcountry, we take our shrimp seriously.
But buying shrimp “truly local” and “truly fresh” is a bit more complicated than you’d think.
There are a few things to know:
When are shrimp in season here?
South Carolina’s provisional fishing areas — meaning the outer waters about two miles off shore — opened April 20, with the rest of the state’s waters expected to open a few weeks later.
The commercial shrimping season typically ends around mid-December, but the 2016 season extended well into January of this year.
What do restaurants do for shrimp when it’s not season?
When shrimp are in season, local restaurants and markets gather as much as they can. At Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks, some shrimp make their way right to the kitchen, while others are stored in a deep freeze for the off season, the seafaring equivalent of nuts for winter.
“We don’t add any chemicals or preservatives,” said Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks manager Carly Civici, who noted the restaurant’s process of vacuum sealing the shrimp they place in storage. “When we serve that shrimp, that same flavor that you get when you bite into a shrimp that is fresh off the boat is kept.”
How can you tell if the shrimp is fresh and local?
Texture is a good indicator that you are eating fresh local shrimp according to Civici, who says that locally caught wild shrimp are more tender than farm raised shrimp.
There are no ways to visually confirm that you are getting fresh, local shrimp, but according to Amy Dukes, fisheries statistics section leader for the South Carolina DNR, if someone markets local shrimp, they are required by DNR to prove it.
This is done through receipts that track the shrimp’s progress all the way from the boat to your plate.
Where can I find fresh local shrimp in Beaufort County?
Here are few local wholesalers that get their shrimp fresh from the coastal waters of South Carolina.
Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks on Hilton Head Island serves up fresh, locally sourced shrimp caught by their own private fishing fleet.
The restaurant, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, serves 70,000 pounds of shrimp annually. They also sell their shrimp raw.
Bluffton Oyster Company
Bluffton Oyster Company, located in downtown Bluffton, has been serving the Lowcountry since 1899. They, too, have their own fleet of fishing boats including two shrimp boats.
Benny Hudson's Seafood
Located on Hilton Head Island, Benny Hudson's Seafood has been been in their current location for over 30 years, with the Hudson family being a fixture of the Lowcountry seafood industry since Ransom Hudson came to the area in the 1800s.
Sea Eagle Market, located north of the Broad River in Beaufort, sells raw, freshly caught shrimp, while their restaurant serves them up any way you’d like.
Highway 21 Seafood
Highway 21 Seafood has been serving Beaufort for more than 13 years.
Owner David Diehl uses his two boats to catch a range of fresh seafood, including shrimp. Without a restaurant on premises, Highway 21 is an ideal spot for people looking to grab, go, and get on with the business of crafting shellfish masterpieces.
If you want to catch your own shrimp
You’ll need a recreational fishing license, for starters.
Recreational shrimpers can take up to 48 quarts of whole shrimp or 29 quarts of headed shrimp during open season and can even take up to 12 dozen shrimp during closed season, which ends April 30.
While shrimp can be found off just about any Lowcountry beach, there’s no one area where they are more likely to congregate. This means catching the diminutive crustaceans is a matter of luck as much as anything else according to DNR’s Dukes said.
“Shrimp move. You don’t know where they’re going to be. You kind of have to go and find them,” said Dukes.