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Shrimpin' Ain't Easy
Published Tuesday, May 26, 2009 9:52 AM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
paul.zoeller@mac.com
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The sea was angry that day my friends, as storms rocked the boat up, down and side to side. Each time the boat lifted and dove back into a series of six-foot waves, my stomach tightened into more knots.

"Don't worry Paul, the water will calm down in a few minutes," first mate Vincent Vierra said as we made our way out to sea.


First Mate Vincent Vierra prepares the nets for a day of shrimping along Folly Beach.

Famous last words because 15 minutes later I was having flash backs to the movie 'Perfect Storm' as the waves got taller and taller and the boat rocked even more. It was at that moment I realized I would never be cut out for the life of a shrimper. As the guys ate corn dogs and watched television, I went outside to pay homage to the side of the boat called 'Winds of Fortune.'

And that was how I started and pretty much spent my day on a shrimping boat.


First mate Vincent Vierra, left, and crew member Vasa Tarvin wait inside as the boat, 'Winds of Fortune' leaves Shem Creek.

Back at the helm of the boat, Capt. Wayne Magwood maneuvered through the 8-10 swells using only his foot to steer and calmly explained he had been through worse.

For Magwood, shrimping is a way of life. Magwood has been shrimping for about 40 years and his father was a shrimper before him. Being his own boss and a love of the ocean are just some of the reasons he loves his job. The Magwood family sells their shrimp locally to restaurants and out of their store in Shem Creek.


Vierra sets out buckets to collect shrimp.

Magwood explains the life of a shrimper with a borrowed line from Forrest Gump. Shrimping is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you are going to get from nature, the water or from the nets. From hot weather to stormy seas and an occasional memento in the nets, every day is different on a shrimping boat.


Capt. Wayne Magwood guides his boat, 'Winds of Fortune' away from the Magwood Seafood docks on Shem Creek.

He pulls out a dollar bill he has saved after finding it in the nets while shrimping one day. He said once the crew found a $50 bill in the nets but it turned to dust after it dried. Among other articles found in the nets, Magwood recalls a flashlight, covered in barnacles, that still worked.


Capt. Magwood displays a dollar pulled from the shrimping nets.

Soon, we reached our destination and the boat stopped as the crew lowered the nets. The waves tossed the boat around and the winds grew stronger making it harder to stand on the wet boat deck. Undeterred, the crew set up the rigging and the buckets as the boat did its best to knock them off their feet.

Quickly they lowered the nets and were back inside for another round of corndogs and television while I paid another visit to the side of the boat as sea sickness hit me once again. Back inside they offered me food and water saying it happens to everyone. Laughing, Vierra said sea sickness is a great weight loss plan.


Vierra prepares to lower the shrimping nets.

Once the nets were lowered, we sat and waited. For the next half hour, the boat did all the work trolling across the bay dragging the nets. What happened next I never expected. The nets were pulled and emptied on the deck and while shrimp fell to the floor they were accompanied by jelly fish, stingrays and one hammerhead shark.

Granted, the shark was only a couple of feet long but I was breathing easier after they tossed it from the boat. Even after the shark was gone, the crew still had to sort through the stingrays and jellyfish to collect the shrimp. Not a fun job especially if a stingray catches you with a barb.


Vincent Vierra empties another net in search of shrimp as Jason Powers watches.

After the shrimp were collected and the remaining sea life was freed, the nets were dropped and the process started all over again. Normally, the shrimpers cast the nets for a longer amount of time and usually they have to wait until the start of the season to fish so close to the shore. On this particular day though, Magwood was accompanied by members of the Department of Natural Resources who wanted to collect a sampling of shrimp so the boat was allowed to drag the nets close to shore but for only 30 minutes at a time.


Jason Powers, wildlife biologist III, and Vincent Vierra, sort through the fish, stingrays, jelly fish and other sea life for shrimp.

The staff from DNR rode along with Magwood and his crew to collect a sampling of shrimp so they could determine if the bay could be opened to shrimpers. The shrimping season does not start until shrimpers get the ok from DNR, until then they have to cast their nets a couple of miles off shore. The season usually starts in May and can last through January and even longer.


Shrimp are collected and stored and thrown into the large orange baskets.

DNR inspects the shrimp to ensure they have spawned enough times before the season can begin. As the crew collected shrimp, Jason Powers, wildlife biologist III, and Nathan West, technician III, collected their own shrimp to weigh, measure and examine for eggs. The process protects the shrimp population but also ensures plenty of shrimp will be available.


A group of birds and a couple of dolphins follow the boat hoping for an easy meal.

Soon the ocean was calm and my stomach was back to normal albeit empty. Magwood aimed the boat back to shore with only 30 pounds of shrimp to show for a long day of work. Obviously this is not the day he hoped to pick from his box of chocolates.


Jason Powers inspects a shrimp's eggs before weighing and measuring it.

Magwood said it is getting increasingly harder to make a living as a shrimper as overseas competition and high gas prices have forced many local fishermen out of business. Years ago, Magwood said nearly 100 ships dotted the landscape on the first day of shrimping season. Now, only about a dozen local shrimpers will join him along the Charleston coastline this season.


Jason Powers, left, shows Nathan West a shrimp as they determine how many times it has spawned.

Though he still has a list of local restaurants buying his shrimp and customers visiting the docks daily to buy fresh seafood, Magwood worries that the life of local fishermen could be short lived. Locally, groups like the South Carolina Shrimpers Association Marketing Board promote the industry in hopes of preserving the tradition of shrimping.


Crew member Vasa Tarvin slides across cables to disconnect ropes so the nets can be pulled in a tied down on the boat.

I admit if I had to jump on a shrimp boat everyday, the industry would surely meet its demise. After spending the day tossing about the bay, I have a new respect for shrimpers and will never look at shrimp in the seafood aisle or at the restaurant the same way again.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at paul.zoeller@mac.com.


Comments (5)

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By Catch Reply
Tuesday, November 23, 2010 5:24 PM

I am a Magwood and we are the ones who own the shrimp boat that is shown in these pictures and I just want to reply to the post about the turtle and dolphin save nets. yes they do have turtle excluders in the nets, they are the big circle things in the nets that you see. they keep big objects such as turtles, dolphins, sharks, and other large objects from entering the bags of the net.

Posted by: Mr. Magwood
By-Catch
Tuesday, February 09, 2010 2:01 PM

Another non-treehugger here: I would like to know how much of the "freed" by-catch is actually still alive. Also, are they using turtle and dolphin save nets? Since a porpoise is swimming along side the net, I assume they find their way into nets regularly.

Posted by: ByCatch
Bycatch is disgusting
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 5:30 PM

I'm no tree hugger but the amount of other species they have to kill to cull small amount of shrimp is disgusting. I'm glad it's a dieing industry.

Posted by:
In Love With A Shrimper
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 10:20 PM

My boyfriend Tee has recently been working with these guys. He told me his brother Jesse worked with them before, and got him hooked up with the job early this month. Pretty much everything he's told me about the job sounds the same as described here. Every day is different. He's been living out on the Carolina boat for roughly the past 3 weeks to a month now. Its hard when he's gone so long (he comes back on the weekends, if we're lucky. Sometimes every other weekend, which is really hard), but its great to not only get to see him again, but also get the hookup on a pound or two of shrimp :) which are delicious ^_^ So do what's right. Buy local! - Ashley

Posted by: In Love With A Shrimper
Shrimping
Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:54 AM

I go out shrimping with Wayne,Vinny and Vasa every chance I get. I was out yesterday.I can be very relaxing after a hard week at work, but the job of shrimping is very hard. I get down and pick up shrimp with Vinny and Vasa just as if I were a full time crew member. These guys are great friends and work very hard to bring local shrimp to Charleston. Support your local shrimpermen and ask for local shrimp.

Posted by: Milissia


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