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Declining shrimp market gets a boost

US - South Carolina's shrimping industry may be recovering after decades of hard times, thanks to concerns about imported foreign shrimp and plans to open a new shrimp processing plant in the state.

During its heyday in the mid-1980s, as many as 1,500 trawlers plied the state's coastal waters. This year, there are only 429 licensed trawlers, said Anna Martin of the state Department of Natural Resources.

The industry has also lost dock space as coastal property becomes more valuable.

But in late June, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced that imports of several types of Chinese seafood, including farm-raised shrimp, are being blocked until tests show they are not contaminated with drugs.

Since then, the prices SC. shrimpers have been getting for shrimp off their boats has increased as much as 30 percent, said Clay Cable, the vice president of the SC Shrimpers Association.

"People are realizing what they're getting," he said.

The industry has been hit hard by foreign imports and rising fuel costs. But the shrimpers have been promoting local shrimp as fresher and tastier.

"People are learning you just don't walk in and ask for shrimp any more than you would ask for generic wine," said Eddie Gordon of Mount Pleasant, the director of the Wild American Shrimp trade group.

Still SC. shrimp make up only two percent of the domestic market, and shrimpers have had to ship their catch to processing plants in the Gulf states.

Now there are plans to open a regional processing plant in Georgetown County. With financing in place, the plant should open in time to process next spring's harvest.