S.C. Sea Grant Consortium

Building the Capacity of Fisheries and Seafood Organizations

Commercial fishermen and the waterfront communities in which they work are an integral part of Lowcountry heritage and culture. They are symbolic in their representation of food provision, hard work, and economic resilience. They are part of an ever-evolving industry, with many complex factors affecting their impact on South Carolina’s culture and economy. Yet recent trends have meant trouble for the industry. The South Carolina commercial fishing industry has decreased drastically in participation, with commercial trawling licenses declining by 87% from 2007 to 2017 and landings steadily declining.

There are many complex factors affecting the performance of South Carolina’s fishing fleet. Among them:

  • The decline in the workforce committed to commercial fishing as older fishermen exit the industry with fewer individuals interested in replacing them, i.e., “Graying of the Fleet”.
  • The rising price of waterfront real estate continues to incentivize developers to buy up the limited number of working waterfront sites to be converted to other uses.
  • A stricter federal and state fisheries regulatory environment needed to maintain the sustainability of fisheries stocks and habitat tends to form strong barriers to entry for prospective fishermen.
  • 62-80% of domestic seafood consumption is imported, often from countries with more lax environmental and labor laws.

At a time when the global food supply chain is being disturbed and re-examined, more attention is being given to those who can sustainably and effectively keep their communities fed. In the context of food security, economic resiliency, and marine resource stewardship, the Consortium supports the efforts of these industries to grow and evolve to best serve Lowcountry communities and beyond.

To address the above issues, the Consortium is partnering with commercial fishermen to systematically identify root causes and potential solutions to becoming primary food providers for the Lowcountry. We are doing this through partnerships with two organizations: the McClellanville Working Watermen Association (MWWA), and the South Carolina Seafood Alliance (SCSA).

The work with MWWA is an extension of our years-long effort to support working waterfront communities, which aims to diversify and strengthen coastal industries. We are helping MWWA gain access to critical land and infrastructure through land trust and easement methods, as well as assisting in organizational capacity building so that they are better equipped to manage projects with community-oriented goals. Funding from Catch Together and the 2020 MASC Hometown Economic Development Grant has aided the effort.

The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium helped SCSA secure grants totaling $38,000 in 2020, from USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program and Catch Together, to build organizational capacity, assist seafood producers impacted by COVID-19, and develop fisheries-based strategic plans to better prepare for the future. We are also undertaking a methodical needs assessment in partnership with SCSA that will take inventory of the critical material and operational needs that would help fishermen in their effort to provide healthy protein to our community markets.

The Consortium will continue to work with both of these organizations, and seeks to help any South Carolina-based fisheries organization that prioritizes environmental stewardship and sustainable community development.