I’ll have the jellyfish…

“I’ll have the jellyfish!” might be a phrase heard more often as this seafood item gains popularity with chefs and takes a place on more menus.  As we fish throughout the food web, eco-minded consumers are looking for and demanding options that are more sustainable and are mindful of varying impacts of the fisheries on the environment.  Renowned chefs are making conscious choices to put local or more environmentally friendly seafood on their menus, introducing diners to choices they might not have considered before, and being vocal about it.  Mario Batali proudly serves jellyfish on crostini with fresh tomatoes at his Babbo restaurant (recipe below).  He, with other culinary leaders, are calling for congress to have stricter laws and require traceability in the seafood industry.  In addition, the rise of the Foodie trying different and exotic options in restaurants shows a shift in attitudes of consumption that have not been traditionally accepted by the American pallet.  Consumers are looking for the farm-to-table or sea-to-table experience when dining out.

Jellyfish collected in harvest. (Photo Steven Giese)

Jellyfish has been a part of the menu in China for over 2,000 years; maybe it is about time we caught on.  Mainly jellyfish has no taste, so takes on the flavors of it seasonings.  Usually it is salted or dried and sought for the mouth feel and texture—described as crispy-crunchy (dried).  For those worried about the perceived slimy-ness, there really isn’t any after processing.  Health benefits that have been touted include arthritis relief due to high collagen content and help with cognitive functions because it is very high in calcium binding proteins.  Jellyfish could even be marketed as the ultimate diet food as it is high in proteins and low in calories.

Jellyfish processing in Georgia (Photo: GADNR)

Beyond the culinary options for jellyfish, the fishery can be an alternative to fishermen in the flagging shrimp industry.  Georgia opened its first commercial jellyfish season in 2013 and now it is the third largest by weight in the state.  The jellyfish harvested in GA (also in FL, with interest in SC) is the cannonball jelly that has long been considered a nuisance species to beach goers.  These prolific organisms can have great blooms that wash ashore or have even been known to clog water cooling intake systems for power plants.  In GA, the fishermen at a loss after abysmal shrimping seasons repurposed their nets to collect the cannonball jellys that are then processed and shipped overseas to the Asian market.  Thus employing out-of-work fishermen and ridding the area of an unwanted species.  Maybe one day part of that catch will stay in the American market.  Food network even did a special with Justin Warner of “Rebel Eats” on the GA cannonball fishery.

Other states have explored a jellyfish fishery, but the main hindrance is having a processing plant nearby to receive the catch.  Another hurdle is coming up with definitions of the fishery and regulations on type of equipment and catch.  A concern is the possible interaction with leatherback sea turtles, as jellyfish are a main food source.  Nets must be equipped with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) and trawl times limited in deference to turtle survival.  This is ironic considering that TEDs like devices were first imagined in the late 1960’s by fisherman Sinkey Boone, to keep cannonball jellies out his nets and compacting his catch of fish and shrimp.

The jellyfish fishery is growing. (Source: GADNR)

Proponents of the jellyfish fishery consider it sustainable, though critics say there is not yet enough long-term information to be sure of this.  Jellyfish blooms (of many different species) have shown evidence to be on the rise (Purcell 2012).  This maybe due to factors such as eutriphication, overfishing (of other species), and climate change with higher uptakes in regions that have larger populations, developments, and environmental degredation (Purcell 2012).  Harvesting of forage fish removes predators of zooplankton, freeing up more food for jellyfish.  However, even though jellyfish may eat lower trophic levels like forage fish, they do not transfer the production to higher trophic levels which can be detrimental and alter food webs (Brodeur et al 2011).  Shifts in the N:P ratios due to eutrophication may favor jelly blooms (Purcell 2007).  As hypoxia increases throughout the world, fishes suffer from lack of oxygen, but jellyfish are tolerant to hypoxia and in some areas have been found in higher abundances during hypoxic events (Shoji et al 2010).  The culmination of these factors set up jellyfish as an emerging mostly untapped fishery in the United States.

Talk of the jellyfish as a menu item in avant garde restaurants and on popular television shows such as The Chew are putting them forefront into the conscience of the American public.  So give the lowly jellyfish a chance—who knows, who would have predicted salsa taking over from ketchup as the #1 condiment in the US?  When I was in high school (late 90s) nobody really knew about the spicy red sauce found in some Asian restaurants, now everybody is on the Sriracha bandwagon. You can pretty much find fried calamari everywhere, when it used to be “eww gross squid!” and eat it with your kale salad.

By Lindsay Campbell, Guest Blogger


See below for more…

Photo courtesy of Fraser Lewry (Source)

Mario Batali’s Jellyfish Salad with Golden Tomatoes, Opal Basil, and Arugula
Serves 4

1 pound salted jellyfish
4 1-inch slices peasant bread, grilled or tossed
2 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 pint yellow and red pear tomatoes, halved
10 opal basil leaves, finely shredded
1 bunch arugula
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rinse the jellyfish under cold water. Remove and discard the tentacles, then cut the body into thin slices. Place the jellyfish slices in a large bowl.

Drizzle each bread slice with some of the olive oil.

Add the tomatoes, basil, and arugula to the bowl with the jellyfish. Add the vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper and toss well to coat evenly. Divide the salad among four chilled dinner plates and serve with a slice of bread.

* This recipe, and many more delightful delicacies, are featured in The Babbo Cookbook.

Recipe released during Batali’s interview for NPR’s All Things Considered


NPR Story on Jellyfish fishery

Information about GA jellyfish fishery

Jellyfish processing facility by Georgia Department of Agriculture

Brodeur et al. 2011.  Investigating alternate trophic pathways through gelatinous zooplankton and planktivorous fishes in an upwelling ecosystem using end-to-end models.  In Interdisciplinary Studies on Environmental Chemistry: Marine Environmental Modeling and Analysis, ed. K Omori, X Guo, N Yoshie, N Fujii, IC Handoh, et al., pp. 57-63.  Toykyo: TERRAPUB

Purcell, JE. 2007.  Environmental effects on asexual reproduction rates of the scyphozoan, Aurelia labiata.  Marine Ecology Progress Series, 348:183-196.

Purcell, JE.  2012.  Jellyfish and Ctenophore Blooms Coincide with Human Proliferations and Environmental Perturbations.  Annual Reviews of Marine Science 4:209-235.

Shoji, J et al. 2010.  Distribution of moon jellyfish Aurelia aurita in relation to summer hypoxia in Hiroshima Bay, Seto Inland Sea.  Esturine, Coastal and Shelf Science 86:485-490.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz Dean says:

    Very good post! And after watching Justin Warner, I am ready to try this product! A two-minute turn-around for me!

  2. Dennis Lynch says:

    I live in an area of South Carolina where marshes and estuaries are teeming with wildlife. We are resisting development of this industry in the area because there are too many unknowns in terms of the environmental impact and processing of jellyfish. The processing requires high levels of alum and salt and the product is destined for overseas markets.

    1. Linday says:

      Yes I knew about the controversies of the SC jellyfish fisheries, but did as it is a complicated issues did not have enough room to devote to it in this post. As this is a rising fishery being basically all shipped overseas I wanted to bring further attention, so that maybe as consumers we could keep some of this product here. This fishery just shows a different way of looking and utilizing the ocean beyond traditional means. As in all new endeavors I encourage careful consideration of impacts before rushing in. The fishery in GA was a pilot program for 10 years before becoming an official fishery.

      1. Dennis says:

        Linday just a quick follow-up. It may be a novelty to consider consumption but not realistic. The product is destined for overseas markets. The processing part at least in our locality (Beaufort SC) is complicated. Some additional jobs for the area yes but plant development will be on an abandoned chemical processing site (possible PCB contamination) and within close to proximity to oyster beds. Discharges from the processing will be into some very sensitive waters. On balance I’d rather eat our local shrimp and oysters and let the turtles eat the jellyballs.

  3. Mitch says:

    I bet the fishermen I have worked with in the Bering Sea Pollock/Cod fisheries would love to here this! Jellyfish are usually considered a bad omen up there as large schools of them can be mistaken on the fish finder as fishable Pollock schools. With regulations making it illegal to discard any catch in the Pollock fishery, sometimes catcher vessels have to offload ~500,000 lbs of currently worthless jellyfish to their processing plants, literally losing boatloads of money.

    Turning jellys into some sort of profit could be a good way to make this fishery more financially stable for those involved.

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