Beaufort News

Port Royal shrimp docks to remain open while private operator sought

Port Royal officials have cut almost all funding for the town's shrimp docks, but that doesn't mean the docks are closing.

"I'm going to keep on packing (shrimp) until they call me and tell me to leave," dock manager Joey Morris said.

Town manager Van Willis said the plan is to continue operating with Morris at the helm while the town seeks a private operator. He is finishing a request for proposals from companies interested in using the docks for wholesale and retail operations. Willis said he's aware of a couple of local companies and one from out of town that are interested.

The town leases the docks at the end of 11th Street from the S.C. State Ports Authority. An agreement with a private manager would be similar to a sublease and extend for several years, Willis said.

The retail shrimp market for by-the-pound customers, which did not open this year, will be part of the bargain, Willis said.

"They're going to have to have the market as well," he said. "That is something that will be important to us."

Morris said he couldn't run the market himself but had someone lined up to open it in spring. That potential operator quit after learning the town would cut dock operations from its budget.

About three weeks ago, council voted to cut the operations and trim the dock budget to $25,000. That will cover insurance and other basic costs, Willis said.

The docks have been a financial drain on the town since it took over their operation in 2009.

Through the end of May, the town had spent $474,000 on the shrimp docks, including repairs and equipment upgrades, Willis said. In the same period, it collected $302,000 through rent, shrimp and fish packing, and selling ice and fuel.

Shrimpers have brought about 30,000 pounds of shrimp to the docks since the commercial season opened in May, according to Willis. Boat prices -- what shrimpers receive at the dock -- range from $2.90 for a pound of little brown shrimp to $7.80 for 21 to 25 white shrimp.

"I've never seen shrimp this high," Morris said. "But then, I've never seen fuel this high."

Fuel is $3.50 per gallon at the dock, he said.

While shrimping is underway, the docks aren't losing money on daily operations, so keeping them open is not expected to cost the town more than what's budgeted for their operation, Willis said.

Proposals from prospective dock operators will likely be due July 30, Willis said. A private operator could be in place in August or September, he added.

Whether the boats at the docks can stay will be up to that operator, he said.

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