Most Floridians, Georgians, and Carolinians do not like to eat jellyballs. That's what most coastal Southerners call cannonball jellyfish—Stomolophus meleagris—which are also known as cabbage-head jellyfish. They're harmless, small, and among the least venomous of all jelly species, and they're particularly abundant on the southeastern seaboard.
According to Hanna Raskin of the Charleston Post and Courier, jellyballs are "bland at best," and they've often been subject to culinary derision. But perhaps it's time to stop joking about jellyfish sandwiches.
The small creatures have been an economic lifeline for American shrimpers, who export them to Asia, where, especially in China, Japan, and Thailand, dried jellies are standard fare. There are full-fledged jellyball fisheries in Georgia and Florida, and South Carolina may be about to get its first jellyball processing plant. The growth of this market is a sign of economic and environmental changes on scales large and small, but it's also surprisingly controversial.
Carolina Jelly Balls, a new harvesting facility in South Carolina, was supposed to start operating in February 2014, but it ran into fierce opposition. Jellyball fisheries pose threats to sea turtles and oyster farms, and they're dirty and smelly, naysayers argue. The coalition behind stopthejellyballs.com says that Carolina Jelly Balls would "destroy the local groundwater, pollute the air with noxious odor of processed jellyfish, and poison the Whale Branch [River] with its discharge."
|Sea Nettles in Chesapeake Bay|
Since 1998, shrimping boats in Georgia have been spending part of the year trawling for cannonball jellyfish under a pilot program, but they only had their first official season as a commercial fishery in 2013.We in the Chesapeake suffer a dramatic Sea Nettle bloom each summer starting about July 4, and we'd be more than happy to sell as many as possible to China.
"The jellyfish industry has been about the best thing that's happened to us," said Howell Boone, a Georgia shrimp trawler, in a January interview with NPR. "The shrimp season [of 2013] was the worst ever in history here."
The CEO of Carolina Jelly Balls, Steven Giese, told NPR that fishermen can make up to $10,000 a day by trawling for jellies, and, "In one jellyfish season, a fisherman can make as much money as he makes in three or four shrimp seasons."