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Living Marine Resources Program

The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s Living Marine Resources Program Specialist works with commercial and recreational fishermen, aquaculture producers, fisheries resource managers, seafood dealers, chefs, scientists, and Sea Grant fisheries extension programs throughout the region and nation.

The program’s goal is to help create sustainable fisheries operations that balance the ecological needs of living marine resources and the socioeconomic needs of communities. The program also provides technical assistance to aquaculture producers to support environmentally friendly and economically viable operations.

Contact

Graham Gaines
Living Marine Resources Specialist
(843) 470-5109
graham.gaines@scseagrant.org

Sarah Pedigo
Shellfish Aquaculture Program Specialist
(843) 953.2074
sarah.pedigo@scseagrant.org

Our Recent Work: 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.

Shrimp boats at the dock.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.

Our Recent Work: Understanding the Shellfish Aquaculture Market

South Carolina is ideally situated to be a leader in shellfish aquaculture production. Healthy estuaries, warm temperatures, fast growth rates, and a growing coastal population are attributes attesting to this. Previous Consortium activities have focused on the technological capacity of the shellfish aquaculture industry to simply grow a better oyster. As a result, from 2012-2019, the nominal dockside value of oyster mariculture production in South Carolina increased by 3,326%, from just over $29,000 in 2012, to just under $1 million in 2019. With 20 permits distributed to oyster mariculture companies (bottom gear and floating gear combined) and rising interest in participation, the Consortium now focuses on the current and prospective market for shellfish products.

Raw oyster.The Consortium has partnered with Clemson University to better understand shellfish consumption preferences. Using a variety of assessment methods sponsored by several funding sources, we have a better understanding of the shellfish market. In the first round of surveys, we were able to capture aquaculture consumption habits, such as frequency of seafood purchases (37% purchase once a month); attitudes towards mariculture growth (76% of respondents agreed that local aquaculture enhances the economic diversity of a community); prioritized purchasing attributes (taste > quality > cost); and willingness-to-pay for locally produced seafood (65% would pay a premium for locally grown aquaculture products) among many other important purchasing considerations.

A second phase of the study will be assessing new market potential in various regional urban areas (e.g., Charlotte, N.C., Greenville, S.C., Atlanta, GA, etc.), and a third component will ask about direct marketing preferences. Direct marketing preferences will inform aquaculture producers on the viability of investing in operational changes that will allow more direct order and delivery of fresh seafood. Also on the horizon is an Industry Status and Outlook report, which will detail shellfish mariculture production in 2020 to serve as a baseline to assess industry growth.

Our Recent Work: Facilitating Research for Federally-Managed Fish Stocks

The Consortium is participating in two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant programs to better understand and assess the stocks of greater amberjack and red snapper.

Amberjack fish school.A cooperative research program developed by the NOAA National Sea Grant Office and the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) intends to generate an absolute abundance estimate for the entire South Atlantic red snapper stock.

Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is a highly-sought commercial and recreational species, and its production is dependent on management decisions based on stock assessments. Historical overharvesting has resulted in a depleted population in the South Atlantic, although current management measures are expected to promote a full recovery by 2032. Some controversy surrounds the current stock assessment for South Atlantic red snapper, particularly with regard to the accuracy of population estimates.

To achieve an absolute abundance estimate, the Consortium, in serving as the lead principle investigator for this research program, has convened a Steering Committee of scientists, fishery managers, and industry representatives. The Steering Committee developed the research objectives and parameters. The Consortium is managing a $1,575,000 budget for this project, and the research will be implemented from March 8, 2021 to February 28, 2023.

Additionally, the Consortium is playing a supporting role in assessing the stock of greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili) in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic under a $10 million grant to be administered by NOAA NMFS and the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program. The goal of this research program is to develop additional data sources, assessment approaches, and knowledge to improve agency and agency-independent estimates of the abundance of greater amberjack throughout the species’ range. Specific approaches will be informed by stakeholder input to provide critical knowledge gaps and may include techniques such as a tagging program, genetic assessment of South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico stock connectivity, and reproductive dynamics studies.

The Consortium helped conduct a pre-assessment by interviewing stakeholders – primarily recreational, charter, and commercial fishing industry members – to determine attitudes and perceptions of greater amberjack science and management in South Carolina. The Consortium also will assist in a visioning workshop which will convene stakeholders to formally advise the research priorities. Research will be implemented from July 2021 to July 2023.

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