Reflections of a Veteran Shrimper

Reflections of a Veteran Shrimper

Shem Creek, the tributary for much of Charleston’s celebrated seafood industry, is home to Tarvin Seafood, a home cook and restaurant go-to and where longtime seafood enthusiast and shrimper John Henry Middleton began his retirement as a consultant for their retail operation. For John Henry, functionality is key when you brave the elements, and those iconic white boots? They’re a product of tradition according to Middleton. Herewith, John Henry shares his reflections on the evolution of the industry over the past thirty years.

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How did you end up in Charleston?

I was born and raised in Charleston County. My family is also from Charleston; they have probably been in the area for over 100 years.

How did you find your way into the seafood industry?

I had relatives and uncles that had boats. I started three years before Hurricane Hugo about 1986. I had two boats out here – one named the Stargazer. Hugo took the Evabee, and I wound up with the Stargazer. I worked full time for SCE&G, and I had these boats. I leased one to Magwood Seafood and one to Red’s Icehouse. I retired in ’05 after thirty-seven and a half years with SCE&G. After I retired, I sold the Stargazer. And, that’s when I met the Tarvin’s. They were bumping around trying to find a place to open up. I knew them, but not business-wise. They asked if I’d come help them since I’d retired get started. That’s how we got together.

What is the state of the Charleston shrimping industry?

The temperature of the water is warmer. We see some species of fish that you normally would catch farther south. The manatees are coming up this way – you see more now in the summer, and last year they had to come rescue some.

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What’s your favorite memory of your career?

Twenty to twenty-five years ago, when you had 80 to 90 boats in the creek, the relationship of crew and captain was more or less like family. It wasn’t like it is now where everyone is just for themselves. If you lost, or your boat was broken – most people would go down and help you get it the next day. We would always consider trying to keep the fleet together. It’s not quite that way now with the little bit a’ boats we have left in the creek now. From 80 boats, we have a dozen in the creek now. The closeness is just not there like it used to be.

Any secret fishing or shrimping spots?

Yeah...if I shared them, they wouldn’t be a secret.

Favorite place in Charleston?

I like Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island.

What is one thing you would like for people to know about Tarvin in Charleston?

People can come to Tarvin Seafood and buy straight from the docks. Our season is from June to December. What we do here, all of our shrimp is fresh even the frozen. We take a survey – say you have a restaurant like the Wreck, we go back and see what they used last year and we do that amount plus 10%. We start freezing the shrimp one or two months before the season closes in five pound blocks, so they can have it when they’re ready for it.

What’s your favorite way to eat shrimp?

Any way - boiled, fried, stir-fried...

Anything to add?

Once you get the shrimping industry and being around the creeks in your blood, it’s in there. Once you put your foot on one of those shrimp boats, you can’t get off. It’s hard work, but it’s fun. If everything is going well, it’s just as much fun as it is work.

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Purchase today’s catch by the pound right there on the dock,
or find fresh shrimp from Tarvin’s at various eateries throughout the Charleston area.