Fuel Prices Pushing Shrimpers Out of Business

You know you're paying more at the pump every time you buy gas. But did you know you might be paying more for dinner? Everybody needs gas to get around, get the food for your table to the store, from land and from the sea.

This is becoming especially difficult for shrimpers. Paying so much for fuel has been tough on people who burn thousands of gallons at a time to keep the shrimp boats going.

In fact, many of the shrimpers we talked with in Port Royal say they're making less now than they did 30 years ago.

"In the past five years, you could go at it and make a good living," said shrimper Mark Smith. "But now you just can't do it with the price of fuel."

And low shrimp prices aren't making it any better. "The product is about half as low as the price of fuel," said shrimper Greg Chaplin. "It's hard to make it."

"After you sell the shrimp, you have to buy fuel and ice to keep the boat operating," noted Smith. "And if you take all the money and put it into fuel, you have nothing."

That's why most of the shrimpers in Port Royal have docked their boats for the past month, just waiting for the fall shrimp to grow so they can at least break even.

"This is my second trip in three weeks," said Chaplin. "Everybody else has been tied up waiting. Bigger boats can't afford to work on a little bit of shrimp compared to the fuel."

In fact, during this rough time, a lot of shrimpers have left their boats to get temporary work doing something else, just to help ends meet.

And a number of shrimpers, like Smith who shrimped for more than 25 years and served as the local Shrimpers Association president, have actually got out of the business.

"I couldn't take it anymore," he said. "I had to survive."

And Smith says, if things don't change, more and more shrimpers will be doing the same. "If the price of our shrimp doesn't go up and fuel doesn't go down, this is going to be a dying industry, and I hate that."

The shrimpers we talked with say, although no one can control the fuel prices, asking restaurants and grocery stores for local shrimp and not imported shrimp will help them survive and keep the industry alive in the Low Country.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey, jdailey@wtoc.com