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Demand for jellyfish aids Florida shrimpers


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Posted by on January 06, 2008 at 09:42:48:

Gelatinous species dried for wafers eaten in Asia

ST. ANDREWS - Somewhere in China right now, there's a cannonball jellyfish from the waters off Florida's Panhandle about to be eaten.

Shrimpers trying to stay afloat during the off-season have been scooping them out of the Gulf of Mexico by the thousands since September. The gelatinous masses have turned out to be a profitable commodity on the Asian market, once they are processed into crispy protein wafers.

"Cannonball is a whole new business to us," said shrimp boat operator Steve Davis, 68. "We used to run from them when we were shrimping because they would fill up the nets. Now we run to 'em."

Roger Newton, owner of Gulf Jellyfish Inc., based in Panama City, was on the dock at the St. Andrews Marina recently, watching crews unload their cannonball catch. He said he has been in the business about seven years, more of them good than not.

The cannonballs, rounded, non-stinging jellyfish that can grow to almost a foot wide, typically start showing up in September and usually stay about three months, though he never can be certain, Newton said.

Davis, from Apalachicola, said the cannonballs seem to move west along the Gulf in the fall, with the shrimpers following them from Port St. Joe to Panama City. After 40 years of catching shrimp, he still is learning his way around jellyfish, Davis said.

"What we know about them wouldn't fill but about half a page in a one-page book," he said with a wry grin.

But what he does know is they are a good way to make money, especially when Asian imports are keeping wholesale shrimp prices low. A day's work and about $70 in fuel can bring in $1,000 worth of jellyfish, he said.

Two trawlers were busy netting cannonball in the bay within sight of the marina, while another boat was tied up to the dock to unload. A large vacuum hose sucked the jellyfish off the boat's sunken deck and delivered them to a conveyor belt, where a crewman with a shovel scooped them into plastic bins.

They are slimy and their mucus-like covering will cause a burning sensation if it gets in your eyes, Davis said.

"You can't hardly pick them up. We were going to call that man that's got the dirtiest jobs on television," he said, referring to the Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe.

Another worker with a forklift loaded the bins into a pair of tractor-trailers. The jellyfish go to a processing plant in Georgia, where they are dried out, and salt is removed. Then they are packed into 50,000-pound containers for shipping to China and Japan, Newton said. He retrieved a plastic bag from his truck to show to curious visitors. Inside were three yellowish wafers about 5 inches across.

"They're all protein and taste like whatever you put on them," he said.

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the dried jellyfish are popular in Asia as salad toppers or with cooked vegetables. A four-ounce serving contains 30 calories, eight grams of protein and 120 milligrams of sodium.

Researchers think the jellyfish might be useful in fighting certain types of arthritis because of the collagen they contain.



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