The 2007 shrimp-baiting season will open at noon Friday, Sept. 14 in South Carolina waters.
Recreational shrimpers who purchase a shrimp-baiting license can legally cast their nets for shrimp over bait during this season. Shrimp baiting season will remain open until noon Monday, Nov. 12. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) opens the shrimp-baiting season annually on the last Friday on or before the 15th of September each year.
The practice of shrimp baiting has remained basically the same since the current laws were passed in 1988. The season lasts 60 days, resident licenses cost $25 and non-residents licenses cost $500. The catch limit is 48 quarts of shrimp measured heads-on (29 quarts heads-off) per boat or set of poles per day, and each boat is limited to a set of 10 poles.
DNR biologist Larry DeLancey, whose research group has been sampling along the coast, says the 2007 season outlook should be "fair, depending on the weather." There are relatively good numbers of shrimp in some areas, and size distribution looks better than last year," DeLancey said. "As in past years, at least early in the season, shrimpers should avoid the upper rivers and creeks and look down in areas closer to the ocean, as above normal rainfall can flush very small shrimp down into the estuaries."
Dean Cain, also a DNR biologist, says that although white shrimp numbers may be adequate for a good season from Bulls Bay north, anything can happen due to rainfall. Since the area is affected so much by river discharges, a tropical storm or hurricane dumping several inches of rain could move shrimp out to sea. Numerous tropical storm systems moved shrimp prematurely into the ocean in recent years.
Results from a mail survey conducted after the 2006 shrimp baiting season, determined that the average catch per trip was 20.6 quarts (heads-on), which was lower than the 2005 catch rate but above the long term average. The total number of licenses sold increased approximately 12% from 2005. However, license sales were still one of the five lowest recorded since the permit was established in 1988. The total estimated number of trips in 2006 also declined to 29,268 trips, which was the lowest recorded effort during a baiting season. According to Assistant Marine Resources Division Director, David Whitaker, "The decline in license sales and effort may be linked to the decrease in shrimp prices over the last few years, with recreational fishermen preferring to buy shrimp rather than catch their own." Total harvest was also one of the lowest recorded in the last decade at 0.91 million pounds (heads-on). This low harvest was likely influenced by the decline in effort.
Shrimpers should be aware of laws regulating mesh size when choosing a cast net for the fall baiting season. The law went into effect in 2002 requiring that no cast net may be used for shrimp baiting that has mesh smaller than one-half inch on each side, or one inch in length when stretched. The legislative change in mesh size only refers to shrimp baiting and does not affect recreational shrimpers who are not casting over bait.
Major Glenn Ward with DNR Law Enforcement Division in Charleston advises baiters not to have bait or poles in a boat that is in the water before noon on Friday, Sept. 14.