The commercial shrimping season opened Wednesday morning -- nearly a month later than usual -- as local boats trawled for summer brown shrimp after white shrimp usually harvested in spring were widely killed off by winter cold snaps.
Temperatures dropped so low in the winter that the first crop of white shrimp never showed, causing the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to delay the season so the crustaceans could repopulate by fall.
Last week, DNR trawls began pulling in summer brown shrimp.
"They came out of nowhere all of a sudden," said DNR biologist Larry DeLancey.
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The season opening couldn't have come soon enough for Benny Hudson Seafood owner Tonya Hudson-DeSalve on Hilton Head Island. She had run out of shrimp frozen from last season.
More than 10 boats that launched from the dock Wednesday reported sizable catches of brown shrimp, she said.
"The good thing is there's plenty of them. They're just a little small," she said. "We need to pray for some rain to get them up to size."
Rain adds nutrients to the water that feed the shrimp, and it moves them downstream from the brackish feeder creeks, where they otherwise would remain and stay small.
Despite the delay, local shrimpers didn't rush to the water Wednesday. Missing out on the white shrimp -- what the shrimpers she buys from call "money shrimp" because of their size -- seemed to have dampened spirits, Hudson-DeSalve said.
Craig Reaves of Sea Eagle and CJ's Seafood in northern Beaufort County also reported good hauls of brown shrimp from Edisto Island to Fripp Island and said the season openings in Georgia and Florida should bring down prices that have risen because of the delayed S.C. season.
Before the season opened, he reported that prices from dock to market were up an average of $1.50 per pound because of shortages and high fuel costs.
Reaves also hopes the season delay will mean a good crop of white shrimp in the fall, but time will tell if the move protected what was left of the population, he said.
There's also a good chance late-summer white shrimp will show, DeLancey said.
But that, too, depends on the weather.
"We need some rain," he said.
The (Charleston) Post & Courier contributed to this report.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/blufftonblogip.