Give the public answers on jellyfish proposal

Proponents of a new jellyfish harvesting and processing industry in Beaufort County say they want to start fishing for the Asian delicacies by May.

But that's too fast. State environmental regulators say many questions remain unanswered. And the public first got wind of the proposal in early March. It needs more time to ask questions and give feedback.

Cannonball jellyfish are the most common jellyfish in our waters, but they are not harvested or eaten here. In Asia, however, a large market exists for jellyfish as a popular food item. That's why the town of Port Royal is weighing a new proposal.

Harvested jellyfish would be brought to the state-owned docks in the town of Port Royal. The jellyfish would be trucked to a site in Gardens Corner, where they would be dried in salt and alum, and packaged for distribution.

It would help to know more about the Millenarian Trading Co., which has burst on the scene promising as many as 250 jobs for northern Beaufort County in two years. Knowing who is offering the jobs, what the jobs would pay and who would fill the jobs is a key component in weighing the pluses and minuses of the proposal.

Residents need more information on what changes the plan would bring to the town, and what effect, if any, it would have on the hoped-for sale of the port site by the State Ports Authority.

Millenarian Trading Co. has proposed multiple restrictions on its proposed lease for dock space to alleviate potential concerns of officials and residents. The public needs a chance to weigh in on those restrictions.

But more importantly, we need answers to environmental questions. They include the impact on animals that rely on jellyfish as a food source, such as threatened sea turtles.

The state says it has questions, and more time is needed to digest the issues because harvesting jellyfish is essentially nonexistent in South Carolina. Millenarian Trading Co. would have to get state permission to harvest jellyfish, and that could require creating a special permit with conditions, said the director of the Office of Fisheries Management.

The public heavily depends on the state to know the science involved, to protect natural resources as it grants permits, and to monitor and research the results after the fact.

These safeguards do not seem to be in place yet.

At a quick glance, the fishery could offer a number of pluses. It could offer jobs, which would help the local economy. If it could help commercial shrimpers, it might help keep afloat the harvesting of local seafood.

Commercial harvesting of oysters, crabs, shrimp and clams has been a part of the cultural DNA of Beaufort County for more than a century. Perhaps jellyfish would fall right in line with those traditions, but the public needs to know more.

Commercial jellyfish harvesting is not new. Perhaps it could be done successfully here, but first we need more information.