Grand Strand fishing industry adjusts amid coronavirus impacts

Updated: Mar. 23, 2020 at 11:29 PM EDT
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MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WMBF) - The closure of dine-in services across South Carolina last Wednesday set an immediate wave of impact not just to restaurants and bars but to the businesses who supply them.

Murrells Inlet fisherman Larry Wilson was out at sea last week when sweeping changes were implemented across the state to combat coronavirus.

“When we came back to land that’s when everything kind of hit the fan,” Wilson said.

Wilson distributes his fish to restaurants and markets through Wicked Inlet Seafood.

"These guys came back in all excited and had the best trips of their year so far and we had to tell them that the market is gone and we didn’t know where their fish was going to go and how much we were going to be able to pay them for it and would they even be able to make their last paycheck,” said Dylan Foster, owner of Wicked Inlet Seafood.

Wilson said the joy in his heart just hit the floor when he heard the news.

“It was kind of like, ‘What we going to do now? How we going to feed our family? We can’t deliver no fish,’” Wilson remembered feeling. “We got a problem.”

This challenge comes after fishermen have already been battling bad weather this year.

“I have 15 families that rely on us on a daily basis to feed their families and their children so it’s a lot of pressure on us to figure out how to make it work,” Foster said.

Foster’s eight boats distribute fish to markets and restaurants but now those kinds of businesses are having to change in order to stay afloat. Most of the fish brought in were sold directly to individuals, something Foster plans on continuing.

“It was great. Everyone was laughing and it wasn’t like a sad thing, it was a jolly uplifting thing. People weren’t talking about something bad they were talking about good things,” Wilson said about the customers helping out.

Foster said he plans to also start a delivery service by hiring hospitality workers who are currently unemployed. Moving forward he is still trying to figure out the best way to safely sell the product.

“I want to make sure it’s not only productive for the fisherman but also safe for the community because we need to do our part to flatten the curve and keep everybody safe and if I’m inviting hundreds of thousands of people down to the docks to get the resources they desperately need, I understand they are going to come rushing but I need to be more responsible on my end to keep my team safe and our fisherman safe,” Foster said.

Down the street from the docks, Rick Baumann owns the seafood market Murrells Inlet Seafood.

He said he hasn’t felt much impacts yet but knows he soon will.

“A lot of the folks that came in last week were folks that were here vacationing, we do a good local trade but the vacationers during this time of year really start to make up the majority of our business so we’re going to suffer greatly before it’s over, I’m sure,” Baumann said.

He said he doesn’t know if he’ll have to adapt his business yet.

“We’re calling our shots by the day, saying our prayers, working hard, leaving the rest to chance,” Baumann said.

He said many of the locals that have come into his market have expressed angst but as for him, he’s trying to stay positive.

“At my age and with all I’ve been through with hurricanes, it’s old hat really but it’s a new old hat. We’ve never been through this before,” Baumann said. “It might be the most profound experience of our lives.”

Foster and Wilson are also trying to take it day-by-day and stay positive.

Wilson is headed back out to sea Tuesday and plans to return with fresh catches next week.

“We’re pretty seasoned in this, we know how to survive, we’re pretty strong, we’re pretty resilient, resourceful, so we’re going to get through it,” Foster said. “I’m not worried about that, it’s just a matter of how we get through it, how long it takes to get through and how we can get through it with the least amount of heartache possible.”

If you are interested in supporting local fishermen like Wilson, Wicked Inlet Seafood will post when they will have fresh fish available online and on its Facebook page.

Local and fresh catches are also still available at Murrells Inlet Seafood

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