Jellyfish-catching operation gets trial run in Port Royal

emoody@beaufortgazette.comApril 25, 2013 

The glistening, slimy, pink and gray orbs plopped one after another off the conveyor belt into a white plastic container, while Mark Smith waited to shovel chips of ice on top of them.

When the 1,300-pound container was full of jellyfish, a blue lid was placed on it, and it was removed by a forklift that backed down the Port Royal Shrimp Dock to a refrigerated 18-wheeler.

Port Royal residents and officials got their first glimpse Thursday morning of what a proposed jellyfish-catching operation would look like if it came to Beaufort County.

Millenarian Trading Co. wants to harvest cannonball jellyfish between a mile-and-a-half and three miles off the Port Royal coast, collect them at the dock, then process them at an inland plant.

The company had planned to process them in Gardens Corner, but after some residents objected, it is now considering St. Helena Island.

The demonstration, which will be repeated from 9 to 11 a.m. today, was done with boats from Raffield Fisheries, a Millenarian partner at a jellyfish operation in Port Joe, Fla., company spokesman Steve Geise said.

Geise said that if a deal can be reached with Port Royal for the company to operate at the dock, the company will focus on improvements, such as bringing the dock up to current codes and renovating its seafood market. The company also wants to have a shrimping operation this spring and summer, Geise said.

Port Royal resident Martha Chaplin said she was reassured by the demonstration, which appeared similar to the other seafood operations at the dock.

"It's not going to be any different than when they come in and unload the crab, the shrimp," she said. "It's the same smell, the same slime, the same everything."

The shrimp dock is owned by the S.C. State Ports Authority, which leases it to the town of Port Royal for seafood operation. If the Ports Authority sells the Port of Port Royal, which it also owns, the dock would be swapped for an adjacent parking lot owned by the town.

Bob Bender, Lowcountry Estuarium curator, said he was reassured by the demonstration and a talk with a state biologist in Georgia, who told him few other animals are caught or harmed when catching jellyfish in the Peach State.

Port Authority officials have been leery of the jellyfish proposal, fearing it could harm their attempts to sell the port.

"Based on what we have been told about the unloading-of-jellyfish demonstration this morning, if no processing is done at or adjacent to the dock, then the unloading operation would appear to be no different than what has historically occurred there in the shrimp industry," authority spokeswoman Allison Skipper said.

However, if more processing than what was demonstrated were to occur, then it wouldn't be compatible with the plans for the area, she added.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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