The estuaries of South Carolina have a long history of commercial and recreational fisheries (McKenzie et al. 1980, Sandifer et al. 1980). Historically, these have included shrimping, crabbing, oystering, as well as hook-and-line fishing for a variety of fish species. Commercial fisheries have significant economic and social impacts on the coast of South Carolina, including the ACE Basin. The communities of Bennetts Point and Edisto Beach serve as focal points for both shrimp and shellfish fisheries. The ACE Basin also serves as an entry point for commercial vessels that work offshore areas for sharks, black sea bass, and other finfish. Although not addressed in this product, those landings make an economic impact on the ACE Basin region.
Fishery products landed in the ACE Basin are consumed locally as well as transported to larger regional markets. In addition to the direct economic impacts of the fisheries, fishing communities also serve as focal points for residents not directly supported by the fisheries, as well as for tourists from other areas of the state and southeast region.
What makes up a commercial fishery? It is a combination of a particular harvestable resource such as shrimp or oysters, the ecosystem that supports the resource, and the individuals and materials that are required to harvest the species and prepare it for final sale to the end user.
Until the late 1940s and early 1950s, most commercial fishing was done out of small non-motorized vessels using simple fishing gear (Bishop et al. 1994; Iversen 1996). The development of larger vessels with diesel engines and hydraulic winches allowed fishermen to remain at sea for longer periods under a wider range of weather conditions, increasing the efficiency of commercial fisheries. The total value of South Carolina commercial fisheries in 1996 was just under $25 million.
With advances in technology and more efficient fishing techniques, serious impacts to the fortunes of various fisheries worldwide have become more apparent (Iversen 1996). Within South Carolina fisheries, these included the closure of the sturgeon fishery in 1985 (Taub 1990); restrictions on fishing season, catch limits, and legal trawling areas for the shrimp fishery (McKenzie et al. 1980); and designation of several species as game fish, including red drum and spotted seatrout, in order to reduce harvest pressure. Other fisheries also had limits placed on them to reduce fishing pressure and protect stocks.
These management efforts were based on extensive fisheries research as well as considerations of the social and economic impacts that result from changing the status of a fishery. Currently, fisheries management is focused on allowing a sustainable harvest of each regulated species. This requires extensive efforts to educate commercial and recreational fishermen on the benefits and costs of managing a fishery. Fisheries managers must weigh the benefits of stock protection against the social and economic impacts to individual fishermen and the local economy. (See related section: Fisheries Management.)
Many of the species that are important to commercial and recreational fishermen are dependent on the freshwater and estuarine habitats that make up South Carolina's coast. Small, incremental changes in coastal habitats associated with the use and development of the coast may be affecting marine fisheries (Iversen 1996; Royce 1996). Obvious changes, such as the construction of dams which change flow patterns and become obstacles to fish migration, are relatively easy to identify (Taub 1990). More subtle changes, such as dredging and filling wetland estuarine areas and upland habitat modifications such as suburban and urban development, can also affect commercial and recreational species in ways that are difficult to identify as to cause and effect. These subtle changes are having impacts on many commercial species worldwide, requiring fisheries managers to consider the effects of environmental changes on fish stocks and fishery management plans (Royce 1996). In South Carolina, this is most evident in the closing of shellfish beds because of increased fecal coliform bacteria counts in the water. Bed closures are slowly increasing in number and area as coastal areas are developed (Trends in fecal coliform levels ).
The management of commercial fisheries in South Carolina is done by a variety of governmental agencies, including the United States National Marine Fisheries Service (through the Endangered Species Act), the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The principal government organization responsible for scientific research, management, and the enforcement of fisheries laws is the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. In many cases managed fish populations cross political borders, requiring the SCDNR to interact with other state and federal organizations such as the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council or the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Within the SCDNR, estuarine and marine species are managed by the Marine Resources Division's Office of Fisheries Management, while freshwater species are managed by the Freshwater Fisheries Section of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.
In the ACE Basin, the principal commercial fisheries target Penaeid shrimp (white and brown), blue crab , and oyster and clams . Other species of lower commercial importance are whelk, shad , sturgeon , horseshoe crab , flathead catfish , spot, kingfish, and sharks. The total commercial landings for Colleton County, which largely encompasses the ACE Basin, have an estimated value between $750,000 and $1,500,000 per year. Over 90% of this is from the shrimping industry.
To date, there has been no accurate mechanism to evaluate the number of individuals active in the fishery industry of the ACE Basin. A rough estimate of 200-400 individuals, including fishermen, dockworkers, and seafood dealers, was provided by the Office of Fisheries Management of the SCDNR. Due to the limited number of individuals working in some of these fisheries, landings and value of particular fisheries are not reported for reasons of business confidentiality. Individuals requiring more complete data may contact: SCDNR, Marine Resources Division, Office of Fisheries Management, Fisheries Statistics Section.
G. Riekerk, SCDNR Marine Resources Research Institute
Bishop, J. M., G. Ulrich, and H. S. Wilson. 1994. We are in trim to due it: A review of Charleston's mosquito fleet. Reviews in Fisheries Science 2(4):331-346.
Iversen, E. S. 1996. Living marine resources: Their utilization and management. Chapman and Hall, New York, NY.
McKenzie, M. D., J. V. Miglarese, B. S. Anderson, and L. A. Barclay, (eds.). 1980. Ecological characterization of the sea island region of South Carolina and Georgia. Vol. II: Socioeconomic features of the characterization area. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services, Washington DC. FWS/OBS-79/41.
Royce, W. F. 1996. Introduction to the practice of fishery science. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.
Sandifer P. A., J. V. Miglarese, D. R. Calder, J. J. Manzi, and L. A. Barclay. 1980. Ecological characterization of the Sea Island coastal region of South Carolina and Georgia, Vol. III: Biological features of the characterization area. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services, Washington, DC. FWS/OBS-79/42.
Taub, S. H. 1990. Fishery management plan for Atlantic sturgeon. Fisheries Management Report 17. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Washington, DC.