Beaufort News

Port Royal hires new shrimp dock manager

A new manager has been hired in hopes of turning around the Port Royal shrimp docks, which have lost money since the town took them over in 2009.

Joey Morris, who has experience as a shrimper and a dock manager in Beaufort County, will manage the Port Royal docks full time.

Morris said he has been "foolin' with shrimping" for about 40 years -- 29 on boats, four operating White's Shrimp Dock, and the rest running a small, private dock of his own.

A part-time employee who has worked for the town for about a year will assist Morris, who is charged with shaping up the docks and opening the shrimp market there within a few weeks. The town is purchasing about $20,000 worth of equipment, including scales, ice-making machines and packing material, to help start the market.

Morris is also expected to have boats that are not shrimping or paying fees removed from the docks. Such boats are a main reason the town has lost money on the docks, town officials say.

"This is our effort to stop the bleeding," town manager Van Willis said. "Our council was willing to underwrite it to keep it running, and we're at a point when it needs to be functional, or we can't keep doing it."

The town leases the docks from the S.C. State Ports Authority. The docks' operation costs are consistently $25,000 to $30,000 over-budget, Willis said. The town budgeted $225,000 for the docks for the last fiscal year and the current one.

Mayor Sam Murray said that if the dock's financial fortunes don't improve by June 30, 2014, Town Council must decide whether to continue operating them.

"The town and council would love to see the shrimp operation remain, and that's why we've been trying to keep it alive for the shrimpers. But we can't continue to let this be a drain on the town," Murray said.

Morris' salary was not disclosed. Willis said it was under $30,000.

Council members had considered earlier this year a deal to bring a jellyfish and seafood operation to the docks. Their enthusiasm turned to opposition two months ago when they learned of the company president's past bankruptcies and of allegations by Florida shrimpers of financial wrongdoing.

Morris said he is focused on getting the equipment in and the market running so he can sell local shrimp and fish. Several shrimpers, including his son, have expressed interest in selling at the dock, he said.

Four boats are at the docks, and their owners are paying town fees, Morris said. Two of the boats are sometimes taken out to fish.

As for the docks' future, he says, "we're going to have to package a lot of shrimp. Nobody can really answer how it will go until we get it going and see what happens."

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