Georgia Shrimpers Embrace a Pesky Ocean Creature that China Loves
‘It’s a particularly unsexy ingredient’
The Boone family made their living shrimping along the Georgia coast for generations. As Greg Boone tells it, his grandaddy and his cousins constructed a 45-foot boat and floated down the Altamaha River to Darien, where he built a commercial shrimp boat dock. The Boones have fished there ever since.
But shrimpers are endangered. There were once as many as 1,500 shrimp boats off the Georgia coast, but this season, only 200 registered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources — a third of which were out-of-state vessels.
Shrimpers like Boone had to get creative. In Georgia, that means harvesting jellyfish.
“You have to be a businessman to survive [as a shrimper],” said Julie Califf, a marine biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “You have to think about the market and regulations. Insurance is more expensive, and the price of shrimp has not risen, even if corrected for inflation. You have to be able to juggle all of that and plan for lean and fat times of year.”
Part of that business equation for Boone has been harvesting Stomolophus meleagris, or cannonball jellyfish, for almost two decades. In China and elsewhere in Asia, jellyfish bells are braised or sliced into springy, noodle-like strands tossed in some variation of soy, vinegar, sesame oil, and chiles — sometimes with scallions or cilantro. Lucas Sin, chef of Junzi Kitchen in New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts, is of northern Chinese heritage and grew up in Hong Kong. “Jellyfish is traditionally served as a banquet dish, which is to say when you’re eating jellyfish at a wedding or celebration it signals opulence,” he said. “Opulence in banquet cooking often comes from texture, and jellyfish has an interesting texture.”
For generations of Georgia shrimpers, jellyballs, as they’re locally known, had been nothing more than a nuisance. Boone’s father, Sinkey, even invented a device — the Georgia Jumper or jellyball shooter — to exclude them from his nets.
But when Terry Chuang came to town and launched Golden Island International in 2002 to process Georgia’s jellyfish for the Asian market, the Boone fleet was the…