Scientist on Skidaway Island are reaching out to the public to share their work on the front line in the fight against Black Gill. It’s a mysterious condition that’s affecting shrimp from Florida to North Carolina. The shrimping industry in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry and beyond are bracing for the rise of Black Gill as they head into the height of the 2015 season. The University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is releasing a new video that updates their progress and efforts in researching the condition. Black Gill started showing up in coastal waters here in the last decade according to shrimp boat captains in Savannah. The Skidaway Institute began research more than a year ago, coinciding with the worst shrimp harvest ever recorded in Georgia. One former president of the Georgia Shrimp Association estimated it as a $20 million dollar loss.
Dr. Marc Frischer, a professor with the Skidaway Institute and one of the leading researchers, says there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but they have learned a lot in the little time they’ve been focused on black gill. He says they’ve learned that black gill seems to rise as summer wanes. “It’s coming up. We saw it starting to come and it’s progressively been increasing and we expect it to..any week now, we’ll start to see black gill in the shrimp out there,” Frischer said. Research has also revealed that a a single-celled organism, called a ciliate, is what trigger black gill in shrimp. It gets it’s name from the darkening of the shrimp’s gills when affected. Frischer says the darkening is likened to a scab, as the shrimp’s body repels the parasite by molting. The unnatural cycle of this process leaves the shrimp vulnerable to predators they could normally evade. Scientists measure the shrimp’s stamina the same way it’s done with people, they’re put through their paces on a treadmill. It’s how they’ve learned just how vulnerable the shrimp are once they have black gill. The research includes the study of how it’s passed, directly and indirectly, as well as how it robs the shrimp of a vital survival skill: short bursts of speed. “And what they really can’t do is they can’t make those quick evasive maneuvers to get away from a predator,” said Frischer. It’s the leading theory to how black gill is pushing shrimper’s into the red.
While Dr. Frischer and his colleagues try to unravel the mystery of black gill, the clock is ticking on the Georgia Sea Grant Funding- the fiscal source backing their research. That funding stream could dry up in December. “We put another renewal proposal for two years more funding. That’s under review and we should hear in a few months about whether we will continue this research or not.” Last year’s shrimp harvest in Georgia alone was a slight improvement over the 2013, which was the worst in 50 years, the entire stretch since that information has been recorded. Dr. Frischer says black gill does not pose a food safety risk in anyway, nor does it impact the taste of locally caught shrimp.
Click the link below to get more information and see the new video updating their latest research into Black Gill at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.