Black gill condition affecting Georgia shrimping industry

Black gill condition affecting Georgia shrimping industry

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Recently, we got a look inside some important research that examines a parasite affecting shrimp of Georgia’s coast - causing a condition known as “black gill.”

As the Research Vessel Savannah set out for yet another black gill cruise, the scientists, interns, shrimping industry advocates, and other stakeholders aboard looked for answers.

“It’s kind of like forensics for me, and I think that’s exciting. and if we answer the question, that would be really awesome," said Tina Walters, Researcher, Skidaway Institue of Oceanography.

The question is - what are the causes and impacts of black gill in shrimp?

“It’s really a symptom of a parasite that infects the shrimp, and when you see shrimp that have black gills, that is actually the shrimp defending itself from the parasite," said Marc Frischer, Professor, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

While black gill is harmless to humans, but it can have devastating effects on the shrimp. A shrimp that has black gill has about half the endurance than one that doesn’t.

“We’ve also done experiments with predators. We’ve put predators in the presence of shrimp with or without visible black gill, and the ones with visible black gill get consumed almost twice as much as the ones without," Frischer said.

“Shrimpers are definitely concerned about it. Again, it’s something they’ve seen, and if you talk to several of them, they’ll talk about the fact that they really do feel like that’s having a significant negative impact to the industry," said Bryan Fleuch, Assoc. Marine Extension Director, UGA.

Fluech says chances are, the parasite, called a Ciliate, isn’t going away, so the goal of research trips like this is to definitively identify the parasite causing the black gill and how it affects fishery performance. A better understanding of this will help protect the future of the shrimping industry.

“Although it’s gone through a lot of change, it’s still a multi-million dollar industry in Georgia for a lot of coastal communities. They depend on our fisheries, so we want to make sure we’re taking every step necessary to ensure that it remains healthy and sustainable," Fluech said.

Click here to see an additional video about black gill, created by the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute, click here.

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