Mark Smith can't remember a worse shrimping season in the 37 years he's been in the business.
"Right now, the shrimping is not going as expected," said Smith, president of the S.C. Shrimpers Association and owner of Port Royal Shrimp Co.
A strong growing season helped by a warm winter allowed some shrimpers to make an early profit, and in June, he was optimistic a bumper crop would follow.
As a result of the poor season, fewer shrimpers are likely to be participating in this weekend's annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival, although there should be plenty of shrimp for festival patrons. The festival is sponsored by Main Street Beaufort, USA and the S.C. Shrimpers Association.
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The two-day event starts today and will include food vendors, live music, a 5K run and walk, and shrimp-peeling and shrimp-heading competitions.
Another highlight is the Sea Island Rotary Club's Shrimp Race, in which the first 10 floating rubber shrimp to cross a finish line in the Beaufort River share $5,000 in cash prizes and have a chance to win a $1 million grand prize.
The state opened its "provisional waters" to shrimpers April 16, two weeks earlier than usual. In 2011, the shrimping season did not begin until June 22. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources monitors water temperature to decide when to open the season.
But an early start didn't equate to a productive season. September is usually Smith's best month, and this year, it was his worst.
He's not sure why. He hears from other shrimpers that the catch is good in Georgia, but gas costs to get there eat up his profits. It's a gamble in local waters, too. It can cost $1,000 to fuel a boat for a trip that yields only $800 to $900 in shrimp.
"This season is just ridiculous," Smith said.