Shrimp and crab may not be the first foods that come to mind when you think of South Carolina agriculture, but the seafood industry contributes more than $39 million to the state’s economy every year. While a surprising 86 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported, local South Carolina seafood is fresh from the coast or grown at aquaculture farms.
“The greatness of South Carolina seafood is that consumers get it really fresh, often right off the boat,” says Frank Blum, executive director of the South Carolina Seafood Alliance. “You don’t get any fresher than that, unless you catch it yourself.”
South Carolina is widely known for its shrimp, blue crab, swordfish and the rare wreckfish.
Fishing for Generations
For Craig Reaves of Beaufort, fishing is a family tradition. He’s a second-generation fisherman, following in the footsteps of his dad, Laten. His children, Melena, 24, and C.J., 22, are also involved in the business.
“I fished out of Georgetown during my teenage years and was running a boat when I was 16,” Reaves says. “Fishing is in my blood. Like farming, you don’t pick it – it picks you.”
Reaves’ younger brother, Cameron, has his own shrimp boat, and the family has a fleet of trawlers and skiffs they use for clamming, crabbing and oystering. Craig Reaves and his wife, Jana, own Sea Eagle Market in Beaufort, where they sell fresh, wild-caught seafood. They also distribute their seafood all over the state through vendors including Sysco, Piggly Wiggly and BI-LO.
“We try to keep South Carolina seafood in South Carolina,” Reaves says. “By keeping it local, it has a shorter shelf life and doesn’t have to be handled through two or three processors.”
A typical shrimping outing begins at daylight, when a captain and two crewmen head out to sea on a trawler. They stay out on the water three or four days, working until dark and sleeping on the boat.
“The trawler has 70-foot nets that you drag, or trawl, along the bottom of the ocean. Then we dump our catch, sort it and ice it,” Reaves says. “A good day would be 1,000 pounds of shrimp or more.”
Oyster and crab trips are shorter, but can still yield good catches.
“Yesterday, we picked up 100 bushels of oysters. It was a very good catch,” Reaves says. “Fishing brings out the hunter/gatherer instinct we’re born with. It’s satisfying to go out with an empty boat and come back with a boat so full it’s about to sink. We get all we can, and then get one more.”
Certified S.C. Seafood
To save their local fishing heritage, the Reaves family started a Community Supported Fishery program. Members prepay for a season of fresh seafood and receive a weekly share of locally caught, seasonal fish, shrimp and shellfish.
It’s easier than ever for South Carolinians to identify and buy local seafood thanks to the new Certified SC Seafood program, a cooperative effort among the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the S.C. Seafood Alliance and the S.C. Department of Agriculture. Many seafood products grown or landed in South Carolina are now branded with the Certified SC Seafood logo, helping consumers know they’re getting a fresh, local product, and helping producers brand and promote their seafood.
Reaves enjoys being able to meet the consumers who buy his seafood and giving back to the community. Each year at the Beaufort Water Festival in July and the Beaufort Shrimp Festival in October, the Reaves give tours of their shrimp boats, letting curious spectators climb aboard.
“People stand in line to tour the boat. It’s that iconic draw of a shrimp boat, like in ‘Forrest Gump,’” he says. “Like small farms, shrimp boats are kind of disappearing from America. But we’re managing to hold on.”