Town of Port Royal, state enter uncharted waters with proposed jellyfish industry

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 16, 2013 

Jellyfish are mostly avoided in Beaufort County waters, but the marine creatures have fans oceans away.

They're also a favorite of Millenarian Trading Co., which hopes to capitalize on Asian markets' desire for cannonball jellies.

The company plans to create a jellyfish catching and processing operation in the county, bringing as many as 250 jobs to the area in two years.

The Port Royal Shrimp Docks would be the home for the harvesting operation. A processing plant would open in Gardens Corner.

Company representative Steven Giese plans to meet Friday with representatives from the S.C. State Ports Authority, which owns the shrimp docks and leases them to Port Royal for use as a seafood market and an intake point for shrimpers. Ports Authority officials have been in contact with Millenarian and plan to learn more about the proposal at the meeting, authority spokeswoman Allison Skipper said.

State environmental officials say there are many questions that must be answered before the company could start operations.

Harvesting jellyfish is essentially nonexistent in South Carolina, said Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Years ago, DNR looked into the possibility of starting a jellyfish industry in South Carolina, but determined there wasn't a market for it.

Millenarian would have to be licensed by the state and obtain commercial fishing permits before it could start operations, Bell said. A special permit with conditions might need to be created, he said.

The effect of jellyfish harvesting on the ecosystem also is unknown. Jellyfish are a food source for many animals, including sea turtles.

But there may be enough jellyfish for both harvesting and for creatures that depend on them for food.

"When these things are out there, they're pretty thick," Bell said of jellyfish. "So obviously, they're not eating all of them."

The impact of jellyfishing would need to be monitored and researched, Bell added.

Millenarian is purchasing a building and about 11 acres at the intersection of U.S. 21 and U.S. 17, near access to Interstate 95.

The jellyfish would be brought into the Port Royal docks, prepared for shipping and trucked to the Gardens Corner plant, Giese said.

They'd then be dried in salt and alum for several days, a labor-intensive process, and then packaged for distribution.

Though the idea of eating jellyfish is foreign to Lowcountry residents, they are considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, Giese said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

Related content:

Seafood company wants to bring jellyfish industry to Port Royal, up to 250 jobs to region, March 6, 2013

Shrimp dock putting less strain on Port Royal, June 18, 2012

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