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Shrimp boats at the docks in McClellanville.

Working Waterfront Spotlight: McClellanville

About the Project

As many traditional working waterfronts become vulnerable to high-end residential development, commercial activity, and climate change, much of the South Carolina commercial seafood industry has been affected by changes in waterfront property use. The changes make it increasingly difficult for commercial fishermen to secure dependable and affordable docking space, fuel, and ice. This is cause for concern among McClellanville, S.C. watermen and their community, as the town’s largest seafood business owner is approaching retirement and the future of the working waterfront along Jeremy Creek is uncertain.

Background

McClellanville is a small fishing village with a population of less than 500 that has sustained itself economically by the commercial harvest of approximately 47 species. McClellanville’s seafood wholesalers rely on a healthy demand for South Carolina seafood to sustain their local economy and support the livelihoods of the families who live there. In fact, according to the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Services’ Social Indicators for Coastal Communities (Jepson and Colburn, 2013), McClellanville is more reliant on commercial fishing than any other town or city within the geographic region of Wilmington, N.C. to Key West, FL (Figure 1; commonly known as the South Atlantic Bight). Not only does the town need commercial fishing to sustain itself, but the southeastern region needs McClellanville to continue to serve as a regional seafood hub to supply the U.S. with healthy, domestically-sourced protein.

Figure 1: Commercial Fishing Reliance in South Atlantic Bight.

Status of Work To-Date

Since 2017, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium has collaborated with the Town of McClellanville, its citizens, industry partners, watermen, and local nonprofit organizations to develop and implement a comprehensive master management plan and viable business model to protect and sustain the cultural and economic values of the town’s working waterfronts.

Recognizing that the seafood industry is a core economic and cultural asset, the Town reached out to the Consortium for assistance with the “Preserving McClellanville’s Working Waterfront Initiative.” The Consortium and partners collaborated to leverage funding and resources from two Municipal Association of South Carolina Hometown Economic Development Grants and a Catch Together grant with the Consortium’s S.C. Coastal Communities Initiative mini-grant program. Input from community visioning sessions and recommendations from the waterfront master plan were used to achieve additional goals.

  • The McClellanville Community Foundation (MCF) was formed as a non-profit to assist with working waterfront ownership and protection. The McClellanville Watermen’s Association (MWA) was formed to operate the working waterfront and act as stewards – organizing a cooperative ownership and operation business model of wholesale and retail seafood distribution. The MWA was formed based on the model of the Working Watermen’s Association of Ocracoke Island, N.C.
  • These watermen, as well as others in the state, possess vast knowledge of fisheries habitat and ecosystems. They are aware their actions have direct, short-term, and long-term impacts on these ecosystems. Consortium specialists worked with the Town of McClellanville and the MWA to determine how the McClellanville fishing community can best express their commitment toward sustainability. While the watermen themselves have always been intentionally mindful of their ecological impact, it was determined that a collective set of guidelines will be an appropriate supplement to the direction that the MWA is taking—ensuring the industry and fisheries are sustained for future generations. In December 2020, the watermen signed off on the “McClellanville Watermen’s Association’s Collective Commitments to Sustainability and Ethical Fishing Practice.” The document highlights the watermen’s commitment to stewardship of coastal waters and fishing grounds; legal and ethical practices in seafood harvesting and sales; and ethical and non-discriminatory labor practices.

Our partners for this effort include the Town of McClellanville, McClellanville Community Foundation, McClellanville Watermen’s Association, East Cooper Land Trust, Robin Payne Consulting, and Carolina Common Enterprise.