Non profit trying to save the fleet

  • Thursday, February 27, 2014

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With great anticipation, local shrimpers are waiting on the opening date so they can hit the waters in hopes for a great catch. However, word is the shrimping season now won't open until June. This is a great setback for those still hanging on in the struggling industry.

And worse, it has been announced that Wando Shrimp Company is closing its doors.

What this means is anyone's guess. What is known is that the boats tied up at those docks may have to move.

In 1949 Jeffrey Phelning started Wando Shrimp Company because he wanted to own a shrimp dock, his daughter and now owner, Lisa Sigman said.

When he passed away in 1995, he turned the business over to Lisa and her husband Chuck Sigman.

Through the years the company has carried all types of seafood purchased from local boats and caught by Chuck who is himself a commercial fisherman.

But the couple, and their longtime employee Hambone is ready to retire. “We are not going to lease the building,” Lisa said. “We don't know what we're going to do with it.

“The boats will stay and probably pay dockage. But that will be left up to them,” she added.

The shrimp boat captains there have all been given notice. She said that Wando Shrimp Company will close its doors within the next week or two, when their fish inventory has sold out.

Hambone started working for Phelning when he was just 16. Lisa, a former educator, worked there on weekends and during the summer.

“I thank all of our customers for their support and business. I will miss them and Hambone will miss them too. So will my husband. It is sad,” she said, “but that is the way of life.”

As for Wayne Magwood, a fourth generation shrimper, he has been out of state working another job.

And while gone, his nephew Rocky Magwood's shrimp boat sank in Shem Creek.

Wayne owns the shrimp boat Winds of Fortune. That boat will now be operated jointly between Wayne and Rocky and is being prepared for the season and their seasonal debut at the annual Blessing of the Fleet Festival.

And while uncertainty looms on this industry, one bright spot is the year-old nonprofit Shem Creek Fisheries.

It was started by Grace Edwards, wife of Capt. Tommy Edwards who runs Miss Judy Too.

“We banded together as an organization to 'Save the Fleet' on Shem Creek. We hope to provide opportunities to help out our fellow brethren on the creek along with their families and to educate the public about fresh local seafood. Our overall goal is to protect the heritage of our fishing village. Over the years, docks have been replaced by waterfront houses and restaurants which has slowly dwindled down boats along the creek,” she said.

In addition, Shem Creek Fisheries' primary function is to raise funds to help out the dock workers, the employees, the crews and the captains of the boats. “If they have someone in the family with a sickness, or their boat burns or sinks, we can help,” Edwards said.

“We've helped bury three people. We've raised money to buy medicines, oxygen, chemotherapy medicines. When a boat sunk recently we raised $2,800 to help with expenses.”

All this was done by having fundraisers to garner the money. “We're trying to get the town to help us. They said they would but they haven't,” Edwards said.

“The $500 is something. But that will only pay for the fuel to be in the Blessing of the Fleet.”

More help is needed, she explained. According to Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Elton Carrier, Shem Creek Fisheries was loosely organized when they sought financial help from the town. He said it is wonderful that they just got their 501 (c)3 and that perhaps now they can do better promoting their mission and their events to help garner public awareness.

He added that the Blessing of the Fleet charitable recipients are decided well in advance of the event by a special committee. This year's recipient is East Cooper Community Outreach and the Charleston Port and Seafarer's Society. Each trawler that participates receives $500 as a fuel expense.

“The Town of Mount Pleasant said they would help us through the Blessing of the Fleet fund to keep the livelihood going - but we had to form a nonprofit. We've done that and now this year they voted not give us more than $500 per boat and that goes only to the boats that participate in the Blessing of the Fleet,” she said.

According to Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page, the Town of Mount Pleasant Blessing of the Fleet was started 27 years ago by Shem Creek shrimpers as a way for them to give back to the community and for many years all proceeds benefitted local nonprofits. From 2005 to 2011, portions of the festival proceeds were given to the South Carolina Shrimpers Association to assist with its “buy local shrimp” marketing campaign for the benefit of all fishermen in our region.

In 2011, Shem Creek fishermen began the process of forming their own nonprofit. “Unfortunately, despite numerous efforts by the town on behalf of Shem Creek Fisheries to expedite its IRS paperwork, the organization's Federal 501(c)3 designation was not granted in time for the town to legally be allowed to issue funds to the group for the 2012 festival,” Nicole Harvey, Special Events Planner, Community Development and Tourism for the Town of Mount Pleasant explained.

“It was unclear whether the issue would be resolved in time for the 2013 festival, so the town investigated other ways it could directly support our Shem Creek fishing industry. Modeled after a couple of other southeastern shrimp festivals, the Town decided to offer captains a participation fee of $500, which is well above what other seafood festivals offer. In 2013, compensation of $500 was given to each of the 10 participating boat captains to be used however they determined individually,” Harvey added.

Shem Creek Fisheries is hosting a t-shirt fundraiser to raise money and another big function at Goldbug with a reverse raffle.

“This may be the last blessing of the fleet,” Edwards said. “There are only two boats as of now that are functioning. Everyone thinks they're supporting us by going to the Blessing of the Fleet but we don't see a dime of the money.”

“The Blessing of the Fleet was started by the Magwoods in order to help other non-profits but over last ten years it is changed and now we need the help,” Edwards said.

If anyone would like to make a donation to the Shem Creek Fisheries, contact Grace Edwards at shemcreekfisheries@gmail.com or mail a check to 202 Freeman St., Mount Pleasant, South Carolina 29464.

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