(SAVANNAH) A disease that’s crippling the shrimp industry may be doing more damage than originally thought. Researchers in our region have made new findings about black gill disease, this as the industry is still rebounding from the worst shrimp harvest in Georgia history. The latest findings from scientists with the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is unsettling. It reveals black gill may continue to push the shrimp industry into the red. “We’ve observed in controlled laboratory situations, mortality events, death of shrimp, that could only be caused by them having black gill. We’ve removed all other predators, uh, we have control groups where they don’t die, so it’s not something else in the water, but the ones with the black gill are dying.” said Dr. Marc Frischer with the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

Dr. Frischer leads a small team of scientists who’ve been studying black gill disease for about three years. His team identified the single-cell parasite causing the problem back in 2013. At that time, it was believed black gill only weakened shrimp, making them more vulnerable to predators. The lethal nature of black gill revealed in the lab since then is also observed by shrimp boats working our coastal waters. “When they go out there and there are lots of shrimp. They’re waiting for them to get to the right size. They go back in a couple weeks. gone!” Frischer said. He adds that study shows the window for shrimp succumbing to black gill appears small, but the impact on the affected shrimp is huge. “It can be very significant amounts, like something like up to eighty percent, but over a very short period of time, so a couple of weeks.” Frischer says. The trouble caused by black gill extends beyond the coastal waters in Georgia and South Carolina. Dr. Frischer says the parasite responsible for black gill is present in oceans around the world. “Frankly, I suspect this organism is probably distributed worldwide, globally, so it may actually be an international one as well.” said Frischer.

It may be an international problem that could impact pricing, with black gill having the potential to decimate entire shrimp harvests. Dr. Frischer says right now their research mirrors what’s happening in the oceans. “What we’re seeing in the lab is being confirmed by what actually happened in the field, uh, and that’s contributing to our understanding that black gill is really, is in fact causing the decline of our shimpery.” said Frischer. Black gill does not pose a health threat to humans when infected shrimp are consumed. It doesn’t even impact the taste. Research continues at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, which is one of the few labs in the world tackling the black gill problem. Dr. Frischer and his team are hoping for more resources to help find answers to a lot of the questions that remain about black gill in shrimp. The answers to those questions may be applied to the international shrimping industry as black gill spreads. Dr. Frischer says in the United States, it’s present from the Gulf of Mexico to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.