In Georgia, shrimp is king. A cornerstone of coastal Georgia’s culture and economy, shrimping has generated a dockside value of over $8.6 million annually for the state over the past decade. The economic impact to local communities is generally estimated to be three times that amount.

So, in 2013, when commercial landings of white shrimp fell by 74 percent compared to the five-year average, UGA Marine Extension Service (MAREX) and Georgia Sea Grant stepped in. Working with shrimpers, the UGA Skidaway Institute for Oceanography and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), they honed in on black gill, a condition caused by a parasite, as a source for some of the decline. Although black gill has been present in Georgia wild shrimp since the 1990s, studies by DNR indicate that about 43 percent of sampled shrimp were affected by it in October 2013, over 10 percent higher than the long-term average for the month.

While not harmful to humans, shrimp with black gill appear to be struggling. A regional team of scientists, fishers, resource managers and fisheries experts are exploring how it is spreading, what is causing its upsurge and how it is impacting shrimp.

Georgia Sea Grant is funding research to investigate the transmission and environmental triggers of black gill. Scientists are inventing genetic testing to better identify the parasite and compare it with parasites affecting shrimp in neighboring states. MAREX is hosting regional workshops to educate shrimpers about the parasite and teach safe practices to reduce its spread.

In August 2014, the MAREX water quality field crew started a pilot project to track black gill in Glynn County. Shrimpers were asked to help by calling a hotline to report black gill as it moves, helping MAREX identify hot spots.

In October, scientists, extension leaders and shrimpers spent a full day on the R/V Savannah collecting samples, which allowed them to share protocols and discuss new research directions.

DNR submitted a request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare 2013 a disaster year for the Georgia white shrimp fishery. If approved, it would allow Georgia to pursue federal disaster assistance funding.