In most of the world, consumers’ seafood and fish come from far, far away.
Story by Lisa Allen
In much of the world, shrimp can be a little bland, a little tough. Crabs can be mushy and fishy tasting. The choices of fish are limited.
Not here. Here, we can cast a net and capture a mass of sweet, salty shrimp for dinner; tread into the pluff mud to collect a bucket of oysters for lunch; or pull up a crab pot for a snack.
Here, if you know the right charter fishing captain, your plate can feature mouth-watering delicacies of sheepshead or tripletail. While you won’t find these fish at most of your neighborhood supermarkets, there’s a good chance you’ll find them at Benny Hudson’s Fish Market or as a daily special at Charlie’s L’etoile Verte.
That’s the beauty of our local salt-water bounty. It’s our little secret.
We are awash in shrimp, crabs, oysters and fish because of the miles of rivers that are really ribbons of the ocean pushing inland. The Port Royal Sound is the fisheries’ nursery of the East Coast.
“Our fish and seafood is fresher and healthier because our environment is clean,” said Carlos Chacon, manager of natural history at Coastal Discovery Museum. “Everything we do stays here. We can’t blame anyone else. There are repercussions to what we do. Luckily, we can regulate ourselves.”
Local anglers are more likely to follow the rules that protect the ecosystem that surrounds us, according to Chacon.
“Regulations resonate here because local fishermen not that long ago saw the decline of cobia and redfish because of overfishing. They know how important it is to follow the rules.”
South Carolina takes its fish populations seriously and adopts regulations that ensure its long-term survival. There are technique, size and quantity limitations on dozens of fresh, saltwater, inland and deep-sea species. Make sure you know the rules before you head out and, of course, buy a fresh and/or saltwater fishing license. They are inexpensive compared to other states and fund fisheries research and protection. Then enjoy our bounty and recognize how lucky we are.
Because of the density of the species, when commercial vessels trawl for shrimp, they collect 5 to 6 pounds of other species for every pound of shrimp. In Indonesia, they collect and kill 17 pounds of other species for each pound of shrimp, Chacon said.
The most efficient way to catch shrimp is by cast net. While that method can’t compete against fishermen, it has created a cottage industry of ambitious men and women who sell their daily catch from the back of their pickup along the road side. Seek them out.
Because of the abundance of shellfish that populate our waters, 80 percent of the blue crabs are sent north because we can’t consume them all, said David Harter, president of the Hilton Head Sportsfishing Club.
Crabs aren’t tasty just for humans either. Sharks, cobia and redfish love them. too. Crabs are one of the main reasons so many species come here to spawn at our all-you-can-eat buffets.
In other areas of the world, cobia is called the “crab eater.”
A 98-pound cobia taken in a recent fishing tournament had 19 crabs in its belly, Harter said.
Redfish even have crushers in their throats to help pulverize crabs while cobia and sharks swallow them whole. Research shows calcium is a key component to reproduction success, particularly among cobia.
The Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton has studied the areas fisheries for decades. In 1979, the State Ports Authority turned over the 150-acre land to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
The center conducts research to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly food production in the United States. Currently, 46 percent of all seafood is farm raised and the U.S. imports 91 percent of its seafood, with 60 percent coming from Asia.
Half of the 10 most popular species (shrimp, salmon, tilapia, clams and catfish) are partially or completely dependent on aquaculture for supply, according to Waddell.
We live in a beautiful place that teems with fish and seafood and we are lucky to have professionals working around the clock to protect them.
We can play our part by fishing by the rules and, better yet, making sure we support local fishermen.
Order a plate of locally caught seafood or fish tonight and keep our fisheries alive and well.
Hot Spots for Fresh Local Seafood
PIGGLY WIGGLY The locally owned grocery store at Coligny Plaza on the south end of Hilton Head Island is known for its Fish n’ Tales Seafood market. The selection changes daily, based on what’s biting. Shrimp can be steamed for free upon request.
BENNY HUDSON SEAFOOD A full service retail fresh seafood market on Hilton Head’s Squire Pope Road. You’ll find local, domestic and international seafood selections there. It’s a great place for cobia, sheepshead and wreckfish.
BLUFFTON OYSTER COMPANY Find fresh May River oysters, clams and mussels here September through May, along with fresh fish caught daily. This Lowcountry institution is at the end of Wharf Street in Old Town Bluffton.