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Georgia Sea Grant supports study to enhance understanding Georgia’s jellyfish industry

By: Emily Woodward, Georgia Sea Grant

Georgia Sea Grant funded the development and testing of a turtle excluder device (TED) to help jellyfish trawl fishermen operate more efficiently.

Georgia fishermen recently conducted several 30-hour cannonball jellyfish trawling trips to test the device, which is similar to the TED for shrimpers first developed in 1968.

Cannonball jellyfish, commonly referred to as jellyballs, is the third largest seafood commodity by weight in Georgia. The jellyball industry emerged in the late 1990s but only has been recognized as an official industry in the state since 2013. Considered a delicacy in Asian countries, most of the jellyballs caught by Georgia fishermen are exported to Asian markets, where they’re sold in restaurants and grocery stores.

Trawl fishermen are required by law to use TEDs, but previous designs were seen as a hindrance because the four inch opening which prevents turtles from getting into the net is also too small for the jellies.

“We can’t make any money using it…zero,” said Howell Boone, captain of a commercial fishing boat that trawls for the jellies.

To address the concerns of jellyball fishermen, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the College of Coastal Georgia, and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant proposed a project to develop a TED specifically designed for the jellyball fishery.

“This was a project where we needed to support a developing industry,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “We have to protect our turtle populations, but also need to find a way to support our fishing industries. Much like the shrimping industry and TEDs, we are hoping to find a win-win solution.”

Lindsey Parker, who has a 35-year history with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, worked with Howell Boone, the son of Sinkey Boone who invented the first turtle excluder device, to design a new jellyball-specific TED that has an opening large enough to let 6- to 8-inch jellyballs into the net but still small enough to keep sea turtles out.

“We’ve been involved with TED development and certification since it began in the late 1970s. We are familiar with how government agencies evaluate TEDs,” said Lindsey Parker, a marine resource specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “We know the tasks it will have to perform and how well it needs to perform those tasks when put to the test.”

To test the new TED design, the team conducted 22 paired trawls pulling two identical nets through the water, one with the new TED design and one no TED. Results showed no significant difference in the amount of jellyfish caught between the net with the experimental TED and the net with no TED.

Patrick Geer, chief of Marine Fisheries for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and co-principal investigator on the jellyball TED project, said the new design looks promising and could be considered for use in state waters.

“If we can use the results of this study to support and manage this emerging fishery in an ecologically responsible manner that not only helps the economy but supports commercial fishers, then it’s our responsibility to do so,” Geer said.

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