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Hilton Head Island’s dwindling shrimping industry pivots towards tourism

Published: Jul. 5, 2021 at 4:11 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 5, 2021 at 5:08 PM EDT
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WTOC) - Decades ago the shrimping industry ran the waters on Hilton Head along with its economy. Now, tourism has taken over and the shrimping business isn’t the same.

“The time of the local shrimper who had a trailer or house on the island and a little shrimp boat and goes out there during shrimp season and feeds his family for the year, those days are pretty much gone here,” said Keith Walston, owner of Vagabond Cruise.

There are only a few people left in the game around Hilton Head and the big business of shrimping has, for the most part, drifted away from the island.

“The shrimping industry here as a result of the cost of living has kind of been replaced by tourism, right? Where someone can rent their house for a whole bunch of money to visitors, they’re not going to do a long-term rental for guys that are shrimping and doing stuff like that, so you don’t see as many boats around anymore,” said Andrew Carmines, owner of Hudson’s.

One company, Vagabond, decided to combine the two industries — shrimping and tourism — into a shrimping boat experience. Captain Spike Ivory says he knew how to entertain but didn’t know how to shrimp.

“Boss threw me the keys and said figure it out, I’m a shrimper,” said Ivory. “I never shrimped before in my life, so we figured it out, talked to a couple old-timers around on the island, and a lot of trial and error, so we finally got it to where we’re catching pretty good.”

The Tammy Jane is five years in now. On the two-hour tour this morning they caught about 40 pounds of shrimp. For Vagabond, it’s about creating a unique experience.

“This does not exist anywhere else. There might be a couple small little boats that you can do something similar to this, but nothing as interactive as we have here on the Tammy Jane,” said Lauren Hedden, boatswain of Vagabond Cruise.

It’s an example of how an industry and an economy can evolve together. Tourism fueling the economy, as shrimping once did.

For more on the shrimping industry along the Georgia coast, click here.

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