Sharks taking bite out of Georgia's beloved local shrimp industry

There were a lot of shark sightings on nearby beaches this summer that may have impacted vacationers. Now those sharks may be impacting what you find in your grocery store.??

ATLANTA — There were a lot of shark sightings on nearby beaches this summer that may have impacted vacationers. Now those sharks may be impacting what you find in your grocery store.

Georgia fishermen tell Channel 2 Action News regulation protecting some sharks from being over fished is deterring fishermen from catching the fish all together. Commercial shrimp fishermen said a booming population is now tearing up their fishing nets and wallets.

“Sharks can be a nightmare. They just eat at your wallet and your time,” explained shrimp boat captain John-Boy Solomon.

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Solomon crews the Agnes Marie, a 40-year-old shrimp boat that docs on Tybee Island. He said a fisherman’s life is not for the faint of heart.

“It’s not a job where you’re expecting a certain amount of money paycheck or something. Whatever gets dumped on that deck is what you made that day,” Solomon said.

Now sharks are taking a bite out of what gets dumped on the Agnes Marie’s deck, literally. Sharks are tearing holes in fisherman's nets, eating shrimp and the small fish caught in them. These nets cost thousands of dollars, so Solomon and other commercial fishermen hand sew the torn nets to repair them. It’s a tedious process that can takes hours.

“A lot of days you spend more time sewing than you do trolling,” said Marcus McCall. He captains the Little Lloyd in Brunswick, GA.


He said over the last few years the problem has become a lot worse. “You could literally walk on sharks… I used to swim off the boat, practically every day. I would not get in the water now.”

Conservationist warn the problem is not as simple as getting rid of the sharks.

“Just as much as shrimp and fishermen are part of our coastal ecosystem, so are those sharks,” said Bryan Fluech with the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension and Sea Grant.

Fluech connects fishermen with resources, and science-based outreach. He said tighter regulation on shark fishing means less people catching them. Now regulators are trying to balance shark conservation with the needs of shrimp fishermen.

“You already have a depressed industry, and when we talk about the shark issue it’s just one other factor that can impact the fishermen trying to make their living on the water,” Fluech said.

Fluech called the decline of Georgia’s fishing industry a "death by a thousand cuts." He said demand for imported shrimp, aging boats and fishermen, along with the sharks are weakening the state’s multimillion-dollar industry.

While shrimp is the number one type of seafood eaten in the U.S., Fluech said 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported from other countries. U.S.-caught shrimp are a sustainable food source, gear on nets keep sea turtles safe and reduce catching unwanted fish. There are no guarantees an imported seafood was caught using the same sustainable methods used in the US.

A group of biologists believe they’ve found a sustainable solution to at least one of the Georgia shrimpers problems.

“We really want are good healthy shark population here, and what we don’t want is for fishermen to get so frustrated that they want to remove all of the sharks,” explained Georgia Southern University biologist Christine Bedore.

Bedore, and her students, area going out on boats with fishermen to learn which of Georgia’s more than 20 shark species are attacking nets.

“We don’t know exactly what species are causing this damage yet, but we think a lot of the damage is caused by black tip sharks,” Bedore said.

Sharks have a special sense called electro reception. They can detect voltage from metals in water
Different species are repelled by certain metals. When Bedore and her students identify which sharks are attacking the nets, fishermen can put a deterrent metal on the shrimp nets to try and repel them.

But John-Boy Solomon said keeping sharks away may not be enough to save Georgia’s commercial shrimp industry

“We had a few chances to bail it out and I think they missed it,” Solomon said. “There's just nobody left.”