By Jeff Dennis
Captain Woody Collins is retired from the shrimping industry after a lifetime at sea. He has written down his wealth of knowledge and teamed up with publisher Steve Plummer to produce a coffee table book: “Where Have All The Shrimp Boats Gone?” It is on sale now at the Colleton Museum for $50. To celebrate the book launch, Collins came to Walterboro at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 24th for a book signing and book presentation.
The subtitle of the book is “A 100-Year History of the Shrimping Industry in the Lowcountry,” but the dozen or so folks in attendance heard shrimping history going back much further. Collins is an animated speaker, and has a strong grasp on the history of shrimping.
“I ran five different shrimp boats during my career,” said Collins, speaking to those in attendance on Saturday. “My book tells the story of how the shrimping industry started, and offers my conclusions about how we got to present day.”
The book published in 2020 and offers 300-photos over 300-pages as a visual reference to the past. “In 1980 the shrimping industry peaked in the Lowcountry and we had 1500-boats licensed to shrimp,” said Collins. “The decline in boats after that was drastic with 750-boats in 1985, 350-boats in 1990 and then down to 150-boats by 1995.
“By the way, I asked the Colleton Museum if we could stop here because Walterboro has the best museum of any town around here,” said Collins. “My book is also for sale at Twigs on Washington Street. It took me six years to write down everything I wanted to say, which was something like 120,000-words. I worked with the publisher to help organize sections of the book with subtitles and to layout the photos. That process took about a year and a half, and I’m probably the least likely guy to write a book,” he said.
“I went to Sicily to do research on this book since an immigrant named Salvatore Solicito came here and brought the idea of netting from the back of a boat,” said Collins. “He eventually connected with relatives in New York that were stevedores and they figured out how to ice down barrels of shrimp for transport to the Northern market. Railroad access was key, and also the oyster industry played a role, when canneries began canning shrimp too.
“The Maggionii Oyster Company was very successful and employed lots of workers.”
According to Collins, the towns of Bluffton and Beaufort were “sort of the epicenters” for the shrimping industry in the late 1920’s.
“In fact, these two areas were so prosperous with shrimping success, a relatively new money market, that it blunted the effects of the Great Depression here,” he said. “However, World War II robbed the industry of manpower, and raw materials and this staggered the industry. Without twine to mend nets, and paint for the boats, shrimping was much tougher. But after the war, military surplus boats came into the industry, and many of them came with radios which were a breakthrough for shrimp boats that had never had them before.”
Collins said the shrimping industry took “decades” to recover, but shrimp is now the number one consumed seafood in the world, he said.
“Something like nine out of 10 shrimp eaten in North America are foreign-raised or foreign caught, and that really hurts our market,” he said. “Tiger Shrimp are not native to our waters but they coexist here now, and that is just the way its going to be from now on.”
Collins said more information on the book can be found on the Internet at www.ShrimpBoatsGone.com . His statewide book tour will continue as he travels to the Georgetown Museum, Sun City Hilton Head Island and to Sheldon.
Collins resides in Beaufort County and “will continue to keep an eye on the evolution of the shrimping industry from shore,” he said.