The ice machine at Charleston Maritime Center broke in November 2018. As a result, shrimp boats throughout Charleston and Shem Creek are starting to fret about how they’ll keep their shrimp cold this season.
Jack O’Toole, director of communications for the City of Charleston explained that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently changed ice machine regulations. He said the refrigerant used in the ice machine at the Maritime Center will be illegal to import into the United States in 2020. Therefore, instead of paying repair costs for the ice machine currently in place, the city would have to buy a new machine estimated at $1 million, according to O’Toole.
“At the height of shrimping season we had fewer than two boats a week on average picking up ice there. And it would have been a million dollars to keep it going. So we’re working with Mount Pleasant Mayor (Will) Haynie seeing if there’s an alternative maybe on the other side of the water, which would be closer to the shrimpers and there are actually more boats looking for ice.” O’Toole said.
He explains that once the machine broke last fall, the city made a decision within a few months that it was not feasible for them to fix it. O’Toole said that a total of about seven boats regularly use the ice machine, so they just notified them as they came in or when they called expressing interest. O’Toole shared that they’d be happy to give the Town of Mount Pleasant the ancillary items involved with the ice machine; including the large hold that the machine goes in.
“The city is happy to work with the town any way we can,” OToole said.
Although the city will no longer make ice available to the shrimp fleet, there are existing ice machines on the creek that could keep the shrimp boats stocked.
Cindy Tarvin, owner of Tarvin Seafood Inc. on Shem Creek, owns two shrimp boats, Miss Paula and Carolina Breeze. Currently they tie up to Wando Dock, which is currently under contract to be sold. Tarvin shares that they stopped getting ice from the Maritime Center due to problems they experienced several years ago.
“Unfortunately it was a great idea but it has been beset by problems really from the beginning,” Tarvin said.
Instead of venturing downtown for ice, they purchased two ice machines and currently sell ice to shrimp boats on the creek. When it comes to providing ice for the entire fleet, Tarvin has some changes to make.
“If that was going to happen we would need to make modifications to our existing ice machines. I think there’s a possibility that could happen but can’t commit to it without knowing a little bit more. For example, if we’ll be on this property, the Wando Dock,” Tarvin said.
She adds that the season is not likely to start until the end of April or May, so there is still breathing room for the boats that were reliant on the Maritime Center.
“If everybody gets ice on the same day it could be an issue with the existing ice machines on the creek. But I think that together we can plan around that,” Tarvin continued. “Not very many boats have relied on the Maritime Center because it has been so unpredictable when it would be up and when you could get your boat to it.”
She knows that the city has offered the town parts of their old machine. Tarvin said if it were up to her, she’d be hesitant to take over a problematic machine that’s bigger than Shem Creek needs.
“I’m sure that people will be thinking a lot about it going forward and hopefully coming up with a solution. We’re happy to try and be a part of that solution if we can be,” she said.
Tommy Edwards, captain of the shrimp boat Playboy, docks his boat at Wreck of the Richard & Charlene. Edwards said he’s been going to the Maritime Center since they opened for ice because it’s the only resource he has. He explains he’d buy 6,000 pounds of ice twice a month during shrimping season for $200 per visit.
Edwards said that he called the Maritime Center on March 4 and found out they didn’t have plans to replace the ice machine.
“The only way I found out is I called them. They didn’t notify us. They’re letting us hang on thinking it’s back to the regular routine,” Edwards said.
He explained if he didn’t call the Maritime Center and waited to go when the season started, there wouldn’t have been any ice for him. Edwards said there are about 10 boats in the shrimp fleet that work and about five or six of them depend on the city for ice. He thinks that those boats will either have to move or find a new outlet for ice. He hopes the city will fix the ice machine and leave it downtown.
“You can’t move that hunk of metal on Shem Creek. We don’t have property, structure, or a place for boats to pull up and get it,” Edwards said.
He said the problem is that the shrimp fleet is coming off a bad season and they need ice to be successful. He remembers when there were 40-50 boats in the creek and says they’re slowly disappearing.
“Our season’s getting ready to start here in a month and we’re expecting a good run. We’re going to need a lot of ice to ice down our product. Unfortunately, the beginning of the season is when you use the most ice. The heat is a factor. It takes a lot of ice to cool ‘em back down and sell ‘em and give ice to your customers when you sell them. We go through a lot of ice,” Edwards said.
He said they use more ice than people realize. When people tell him to go get bags of ice from a corner store, he laughs and says they wouldn’t even make it back to the boat before it melted.
“We’re going to have a real good season to start with. I can see what’s going to happen. We’re going to get where five to six boats are scrambling for ice. It’s going to be an ice war,” he said.
Edwards explains that the fleet is in a bind and that it’s a shame the city didn’t let them know in November the machine wasn’t going to get repaired.
“Hopefully the Tarvins allow us to get enough ice to get started, which I’m sure they will. If we catch a lot of shrimp they’re going to look out for their boats first. Their ice machine is not that big,” Edwards continued. “That’s it. You’ve only got the Tarvins to get ice. Other than we could take our boat six hours to McClellanville, six hours back to go get ice. But you know that’s a day’s work that you’re going to lose. Or we could try some way or another to get our own ice machine somehow.”
He suggests the Town of Mount Pleasant looks into spending some money to help the shrimp fleet.
“Wando (Dock) is supposed to be up for sale. I don’t know if the town’s trying to buy into that over there. This was supposed to happen last November. It ain’t happened yet, so this is still in the works,” Edwards added. “You can’t go waiting on something to happen for them to do something, that might not even follow through. Problem with our business is when you lose a day, you don’t get it back.”
Haynie says that town council has been hard at work since they were elected working toward protecting the land of Shem Creek to help the shrimp fleet flourish instead of dwindle.
“The town would not be a very good operator of any shrimping operation, fuel operation or ice operation. But what the town can do is try to secure the property so the people who do that best do that for their benefit for the fleet,” Haynie said.
He explained council has held Executive Session meetings since before Christmas about the possible purchase of property. He said that the continued efforts are to get a property under contract on Shem Creek, but cannot say which property.
“The intention of us trying to spend and having been in negotiations for months now to spend millions of dollars... its best use is that there is a complete service run by a private sector on land that is owned by the town. That’s the ultimate goal,” he said.
He said that Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg approached him in the fall about discontinuing the Maritime Center ice machine. Haynie said his response to Tecklenburg was if they could get this property bought for the town rather than having someone run an ice machine there was a distinct possibility. He is hopeful the town will have good news to announce soon.
“We have shown all along, through this, through our hiring a consultant for the Shem Creek Taskforce to ensure the longevity of our shrimping fleet. We spent $100,000 on our own consultant core of engineers to renourish Crab Bank so that our shrimp fleet is not hindered by shallow water. This is another action that shows the Town of Mount Pleasant is behind our shrimpers in the most appropriate way,” Haynie added.