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Shrimpers Finding a Bonus in Jellyfish

CHINA - Somewhere in China right now, there is a cannonball jellyfish from the waters off Panama City just waiting to be eaten.

These nonstinging Gulf jellyfish -- headed for China -- are slimy and no fun to handle. But they offer shrimpers new income.

Shrimpers trying to stay afloat during the off season have been scooping them out of the Gulf by the thousands since September. The gelatinous masses have turned out to be a profitable commodity on the Asian market, once they are processed into crispy protein wafers.

"Cannonball is a whole new business to us," said 68-year-old shrimp boat operator Steve Davis. "We used to run from them when we were shrimping because they would fill up the nets. Now we run to 'em."

The Panama City operation is run by Roger Newton, owner of Gulf Jellyfish Inc. He was on the dock at the St. Andrews Marina recently, watching crews unload their cannonball catch.

He has been in the business about seven years, more of them good than not. The cannonballs are rounded, nonstinging jellyfish that can grow to nearly a foot wide. They start showing up around September and usually stay about three months, though he can never be certain, Newton said.

"If I could play God, I wouldn't be in the fish business," he said.