(Refiles to fix grammar in first paragraph)
By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. Nov 3 Wild shrimp hauls off
the southern Atlantic coast have plunged in recent months as a
parasite has made it harder for the creatures to breathe,
according to state wildlife officials in Georgia and South
Experts said they believe black gill disease, caused by a
tiny parasite, contributed to a die-off of white shrimp between
August and October, typically the prime catch season.
The disease does not kill shrimp directly but hurts their
endurance and makes them more vulnerable to predators.
"It's like the shrimp are smoking three packs of cigarettes
a day, and now they're having to go run a marathon," said Mel
Bell, director of South Carolina's Office of Fisheries
"Shrimpers are reporting to us that they dump the bag on the
deck, and the shrimp are just dead."
South Carolina shrimpers hauled in 44,000 pounds of shrimp
in September, less than 6 percent of the September, 2012 catch
of more than 750,000 pounds, Bell said.
The August take was down nearly 75 percent from the same
month the previous year, he said.
Georgia shrimpers have caught fewer than half the number
they usually catch in August, September and October, said
Patrick Geer, chief of marine fisheries for the Georgia
Department of Natural Resources.
Wild-caught shrimp generate $6 million to $8 million in
annual revenue in South Carolina and about $12 million a year in
Georgia, officials said.
Bell said the shrimp is safe to eat as long as it has not
spoiled. The parasite is only on its gills, which come off when
the head is removed for human consumption.
A shrimp company operator in Florida said she had not seen
black gill disease there this year.
"We have seen it in the past in Florida, but it's when the
shrimp in Georgia have moved down," said Marilyn Solorzano, who
operates Miss Marilyn Louise Shrimp Co. on the St. Johns River
"There haven't been enough shrimp in Georgia this year to
move down to Florida," she said.
Researchers in Georgia are studying the life cycle of the
parasite that causes black gill disease in hopes of finding a
way to combat it, Geer said.
Officials blamed drought for earlier outbreaks in the last
decade, but this year the U.S. Southeast saw record rainfall.
Too much rain changed water salinity and upset the delicate
balance of salt and fresh water in the creeks where shrimp grow
up, Bell said.
"When the shrimp are stressed, they're susceptible to being
infected with the parasite," he said.
Wildlife agency officials in Georgia will meet with the
state's shrimp association this month to determine just how bad
the crop has been.
If data indicate a major decline, Georgia will apply for
relief funds from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Geer
South Carolina officials have not determined whether to seek
disaster relief, Bell said.
Tommy Edwards, a veteran shrimper in Charleston, said he is
barely getting by.
"I'm not making any money," said Edwards, 52. "Normally, we
have enough money where we're set for the winter and repairs and
so forth, but we don't have enough for a month's worth of
Black gill disease tends to taper off as waters get colder
in November, officials said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Ellen Wulfhorst)