Taking Care of Business: Gullah fishing industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:11 PM EDT
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PORT ROYAL, S.C. (WTOC) - When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, the Gullah fishing industry took a massive hit, but our local fishermen now say that as the pandemic subsides, they’re able to get business back up and jumping.

Ed Atkins has been running Atkins Live Bait for nearly 60 years.

“My father started it way back in the late 50s, and after he passed I decided to go and take it over,” said Atkins.

He catches bait for fishermen. Many are visitors and tour guides. But lately, things have been tough.

“Fishing industry been slow. Because of this pandemic a lot of people ain’t been able to go out the way they want to,” said Atkins.

Fewer tourists means fewer sales.

“If you have slow customers you don’t sell as much bait,” said Atkins.

Ed knows the Gullah methods of catching local bait.

“It’s a culture that we have for many, a many generation,” he said.

It’s a specialized skill many do not understand.

“If something were to happen to me today, tomorrow… It’s a lot of people just don’t know how to go out there and catch the bait,” said Atkins.

Which means local fishing industries depend on him.

“All those industries are going to drop off because they can’t get the bait to go to the fisherman,” he said.

When COVID shut things down, it had a massive impact.

“You know we had to close down, you know?” said Angie Atkins, Ed’s wife.

But today, things are turning around.

“I’m coming, gradually coming back,” said Ed Atkins.

Tourists are returning.

“Yeah it’s nice to get down and fish again,” said fisherman Jacob Shipman.

Which means more business for Ed and all of the local fishing industries.

“I would say that’s the biggest thing is being able to come get your bait when you need it,” said Shipman.

Ed says it’s a relief he’s able to maintain his business and his culture.

“But now it’s kind of picking up some after this pandemic kind of slow down some,” said Ed Atkins.

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