White shrimp with black gill disease are pictured aboard a boat just off Otter Island near St. Helena Sound, South Carolina, in this handout photo obtained 1 November 2013. Photo: Reuters

By Harriet McLeod
3 November 2013

(Reuters) – "Shrimpers are reporting to us that they dump the bag on the deck, and the shrimp are just dead," one fisheries director said.

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 Carolina.

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 Management.

"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. […]

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. [more]

Tiny parasite threatens Georgia shrimp in prime season



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