Port Sale Could Force Shrimpers Out of Business

South Carolina's trying to save money, and they're just one signature away from closing the port of Port Royal. But closing it could force some Low Country shrimpers out of the business. The dock that many shrimpers in the area use to fuel up, get ice, and sell their shrimp is actually on ports authority property, and they're concerned a developer will buy the land and put them out of business.

Nearly 20 local shrimp boats call the dock at Port Royal Seafood home. "This is the only dock in Beaufort County that will let every boat come in and unload, get fuel, ice," said Mark Smith, president of the local shrimpers association. "Other docks are just too small to handle the boats."

Although Port Royal Seafood currently leases this property from the ports authority, things could change if the port closes. And that has many in the industry concerned.

"It would probably put us out of business because we don't have anywhere to go," said Smith.

"I feel sure it would be a blow to the whole industry, because this dock is used for boats from Virginia, all the way to Texas," said Port Royal Seafood owner William Gay. "But mostly boats from Georgia, North Carolina and locals."

In fact, the Gay says closing this dock would put nearly 300 people out of work. "We have over 100 people on our payroll here at Port Royal Seafood and that's not including the boats. So I think you'd see a direct impact."

Although Port Royal's mayor, Samuel Murray, says he would like to see the port sold, he and the town are backing the shrimpers and want them to stay in Port Royal. "I'd like the shrimpers to stay here," he said. "At the same time I'd like for the port to close and be sold to a private developer because I'd like to see it on the tax roll."

The bill to close the port has already passed the state House and Senate, and it's now on the governor's desk, waiting for him to sign it. But, the Town of Port Royal is moving forward and they'll be having a charrette July 6 through 10 to get input from the public about what they'd like to see the port turned into.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey, jdailey@wtoc.com