Food & Drink

It’s shrimp festival time. 4 things you need to know before you peel ‘em

We’re in the middle of shrimp baiting season in the Lowcountry and after months of harvesting shrimp, we celebrate with events such as the Hilton Head Island Shrimp Festival and Beaufort Shrimp Festival.

There’s surprisingly a lot to know about shrimp. It’s important to know whether you’re getting the best kind.

Here are a few things you need to know as we continue enjoying shrimp season:

When are shrimp in season here?

The commercial shrimping season typically ends around late December, but can also last until January, said Craig Reaves, one of the South Carolina representatives on the Board of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.

Shrimp go through multiple seasons and produce three different crops, said Reaves. At the start of shrimp season in spring, South Carolina’s water will see roe-shrimp.

The crop that defines a prosperous or failing shrimp season are the white wintering shrimp that swim in December and January’s cold waters, he said.

2018 had its unique challenges for commercial shrimping due to an abnormally cold winter.

For three weeks, water temperatures remained below 48 degrees, killing most of the shrimp spending the winter in South Carolina waters, according to a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources media release.

Thanks to SCDNR closing state waters to trawling efforts to protect future shrimp, this year’s fall crop have been successful so far.

Hurricane Florence also gave the Beaufort County shrimping industry an advantage with heavy rain and flooding pushing shrimp to the South, which often occurs after tropical storms and hurricanes, said Reaves.

How can you tell if the shrimp is fresh and local?

You definitely can’t go just by looks, Reaves said.

Imported shrimp from regions such as southeast Asia could have the same green tails, and white or brown bodies of American shrimp, but, if you were to do a blind taste test, you could tell the difference.

“When you put (local and imported shrimp) side-by-side, the local shrimp will win.” he said. “An imported shrimp is not gonna have the flavor profile that a wild American shrimp will have.”

Ocean-fed, wild American shrimp have a certain “salty, sweet flavor” that many enjoy, he said.

Reaves is also the owner of CJ Seafood and Sea Eagle Seafood and Good Eats.

Where can I get fresh, local shrimp?

The best part about living in the Lowcountry are the number of options we have when it comes to seafood, especially shrimp.

Here are a few restaurants you can go to:

Sea Eagle Market

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.

Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks

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Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks on Hilton Head Island serves up fresh, locally sourced shrimp caught by their own private fishing fleet.

Benny Hudson 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.

Bluffton Oyster Company

Bluffton Oyster Company, located in downtown Bluffton, has been serving the Lowcountry since 1899. They have their own fleet of fishing boats including two shrimp boats.

Highway 21 Seafood

Highway 21 Seafood has been serving Beaufort for more than 13 years.

Can I catch my own shrimp?

Short answer: Yes, but you have to follow the rules.

You’ll need a saltwater recreational fishing license, or, if you’re simply baiting, a shrimp baiting license.

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, according to the SCDNR’s site.

To learn more about local shrimp, you can go to the Beaufort Shrimp Festival for fun activities and educational opportunities from Southern Shrimp Alliance and South Carolina Shrimpers Association.