4/20/10

BLESS THIS FLEET

A longtime tradition will unfold along the banks of the Cooper River in the coastal South Carolina town of Mount Pleasant this Sunday. And, I plan to be there among the crowd of thousands enjoying an afternoon of shagging (South Carolina’s official state dance) to beach music, admiring local artisan work, and enjoying shrimp eating contests. But the highlight, the heart of this festival, is blessing the local shrimping fleet.

Together we will bow our heads as a local minister makes a public prayer for each freshly painted shrimp boat chugging by on the river. I’m sure that I won’t be the only one in the crowd whispering my own personal prayer for this year’s season to be a bountiful one for our local shrimping families, where every boat trip ends with a safe return to the docks and full nets dripping with plump, wild-caught shrimp.

While the Annual Blessing of the Fleet has swelled in popularity over the last 23 years, the coastal business it celebrates has experienced just the opposite. The Shem Creek boat docks in Mount Pleasant, once boomed with shrimp boats, busily unloading their day’s haul. But today, the number of people in the shrimping business has dwindled so low that this type of lifestyle is threatened. Competition from overseas farm-raised shrimp has been the biggest threat, but the price of diesel fuel to keep the vessels trawling has skyrocketed. So, many of them have left the business in search of land jobs that provide a steady paycheck for their families.

A shrimper’s life is far from a fairytale. However, they will be treated like kings of the waterway this Sunday! With more than 10,000 people attending the annual event, the Blessing of the Fleet has outgrown its usual backyard location of Alhambra Hall and will be held this year at the newly built Memorial Waterfront Park at the foot of the Ravenel Bridge.

On Sunday, when we stand together waving and smiling at our diminishing fleet of shrimp boats, my prayer for them will be that the tide changes in the shrimpers favor. May their nets not only overflow with succulent shrimp, but may they also receive a fair price for their catch. May the tens of thousands of seafood lovers in this coastal community and every city across the country ask for wild, American caught shrimp. May they make their demands known to their local grocers and restaurants.

See you at the Annual Blessing of the Fleet on Sunday, April 25th at Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park!

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All the best,
Mary Alice