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Shrimping industry surviving along the Georgia coast

Published: Jul. 5, 2021 at 12:05 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 5, 2021 at 5:07 PM EDT
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MCINTOSH COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Along Georgia’s coast, shrimping remains an important industry.

Shrimpers are known to be the heart of McIntosh County. However, they face significant challenges leading some to wonder if the industry will survive.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it, and long hours, at times, that goes into it,” Robert Todd said

It’s 4 a.m., as the Sundown and its crew leave the Wait-N-Sea dock in Townsend.

“On our vessel right now, there’s three of us on the back deck. One actually does shrimping, as an actual occupation. The other two of us - this is our vacation gig. He actually works with ILA, and I work as a school teacher,” Todd said.

Todd has worked on the back of a shrimp boat for almost 25 years.

“When I was younger, we did a lot of fishing during the summer, especially in the month of July, catching brown shrimp, which is our summer crop,” he said.

Shrimping is an industry that’s seen some change.

As James McKinzie, who comes from a long line of shrimpers, puts it - some change has been for the better.

“Technology advancements and things like that have allowed shrimpers to catch more shrimp, more volume, stay out longer,” McKinzie said.

While some change hasn’t been positive.

“They were getting $4-5 a pound in 1970, 1980. We’re still getting that today,” McKinzie said.

McKinzie and Todd say everything BUT shrimp prices have gone up.

“You have the price of ice. You have the price of fuel,” Todd said.

“Our price increases are not keeping up with inflation and cost of living. So, it’s incredibly difficult,” McKinzie said.

Low prices per pound and an ageing workforce are just a few of the challenges the industry faces.

“My dad is one of them. He did it for forty years. You know, it just wears on you. It’s a lot of work,” McKinzie said.

More and more shrimpers are leaving the industry and that’s seen at Georgia docks.

“You can see it has five vessels here. It used to house 30 or 40,” Todd said.

Both recall a time when Georgia Department of Natural Resources would issue over a thousand licenses to shrimp vessels, this was around 1970.

Data from DNR now shows an average of 209 licenses being issued between 2018 and last year.

For this year’s shrimp season, with licenses ending in 2022, there are currently 215 licensed vessels.

Todd and McKinzie say it’s a dwindling industry and look toward the younger generation to keep it afloat.

“We don’t see the State of Georgia pushing commercial fishermen. This is still a trade. It is a complicated trade because you don’t learn how to commercial fish in a classroom,” McKinzie said.

Todd recognizes the need for younger fishermen. He’s now taken McIntosh Academy students out of the classroom and on the water for the state’s first maritime class.

“I actually have had students going into the shrimping industry,” Todd said.

But for now, McIntosh County shrimpers, like Todd, will continue to follow their crop, netting it for family tables and restaurants.

“When I retire from teaching, that’s what I planned on doing,” he said.

For more on the shrimping industry in the Lowcountry, click here.

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