How Beverly Bowers Jennings came to produce a book on shrimping

Beverly, a Master Naturalist, created the shrimp, oyster and crabbing exhibits, including mapping and describing the 46 oyster factories in the Beaufort County area, for the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center, Okatie. In addition, she created an exhibit on BASF for the Coastal Discovery Museum on Hilton Head, which demonstrates the important part shrimpers played in helping to preserve the waters of the Port Royal Sound. Over the past 12 years, Beverly has interviewed over 65 of fishermen, marine biologists and others who are part of the world of shrimp. This work served as the basis for “Shrimp Tales: Small Bites of History.”

A love for salt water fishing for Beverly began at the age of 6 in Connecticut when her father built her a small white wooden rowboat with red trim named Little Fish. To protect the boat, he used a relatively new product and covered the hull with a woven fiberglass cloth and covered with pink resin. Beverly loved fishing from the rowboat and piloting friends to their boats. She carried her love and curiosity about saltwater life to Hilton Head and the Lowcountry, a place she reveres and now calls home.

In 2010, Beverly enrolled in the Clemson Extension Service Master Naturalist Program at the LowCountry Institute on Spring Island. There, she met Kathryn Mills, who was just beginning the transformation of the former Lemon Island Marina, Okatie, into the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center. Beverly joined the effort, researching the history of the property back to the Kings Grant. Soon she was given the former shucking room to create permanent exhibits of crabbing, shrimping and oystering.

The histories are portrayed through photographs, videos, tools, pictures, maps and artifacts. In creating the exhibits, Beverly videoed 35 fishermen and conducted extensive interviews and research. It soon became clear to her that the subject of shrimping has not been well represented in histories of the area. The fishermen and their families have embraced Beverly’s efforts to present and preserve that history, and they have contributed generously to the project.

Undertaking the book was a natural extension of Beverly’s years of research and collecting; it is work and time she has donated.  Proceeds from sales of this book will go to the South Carolina Seafood Alliance. Join Beverly in her mantra:  Eat local shrimp!

Why this book?

Who would have predicted that I would write a book on the East coast commercial shrimping industry. But this 10-year journey of research, writing and connecting with those who make their living fishing the open waters of the Atlantic has gripped me and won’t let me go.

I was invited to be on the exhibits committee to help build the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center in the old Lemon Island Marina in Oaktie, SC They gave me three walls in the old shucking room and I designed and created exhibits on the history of shrimping, crabbing and oystering. I loved interviewing the fishermen for my videos and asking them questions. My project on mapping all the oyster factories required lots of visits with fishermen. I soon realized there is a lot more written about the history of crabbing and oystering than there is on shrimping.

Shrimping is a tough, messy business. It is hard physical labor with risks as volatile as the sea. No retirement, zero benefits, fickle pricing, costly fuel, endless boat maintenance, long days that begin before sunup and don’t end until after scorching sundown or a big storm passes, all to chase the often-elusive shrimp. Those who do it are not afraid of hard work. They can’t be.

Atlantic coast shrimping is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. The industry is shifting – imports have pushed down prices while gas costs have gone up. Captains are old, their boats are mostly old, and the fleets are getting smaller. Many have passed, and fewer and fewer are choosing to follow in their wake.

“Shrimp Tales” is my way of helping to preserve the history of shrimping on the southeast coast through photographs, illustrations, and brief words. The book begins with the early methods of fishing, then describes the beginnings of shrimping as a commercial business that started in Florida and eventually found its way to Georgetown, SC It is not a comprehensive history, but contains lots of photos, a collection of fascinating facts, some recipes, illustrations of tools of the trade, some major processes of shrimping, quotes from shrimpers and interesting memorabilia. The goal of this project is to preserve some of the history of this interesting and challenging industry.

The shrimpers and their families have been hugely generous with their time, recollections, photographs and stories. I dedicate this book to them. Thank you is not enough!

All proceeds from “Shrimp Tales: Small Bites of History” will go to the South Carolina Seafood Alliance.

Early shrimpers and fishermen had no fancy navigation devices. They just lined up trees and ranges and had to figure out and remember. When they worked the same place, they could remember it. A new fishing area could take a week or so to figure out and remember. There was a lot of trouble back then because it was guesswork, and you did not know exactly where there was bad bottom and you would get too close to hangs and there were different things on the bottom such as stumps and debris. Using ranges you could guess where you were, but you did not know for sure. Especially out there at night and in bad weather was scary and very lonely and more so before the radios for chatting from boat to boat.