Rio History: Invasion of the Giant Jellyfish

Special to the PRESS

A couple of years back, I wrote about a massive influx of Portuguese Man of Wars that washed onto the beaches of South Padre island in 2012. In that article, I explained to my readers that under normal conditions, colonies of Man-o-Wars travel with the currents and usually wash ashore during the spring to late summer. They have been known, however, to inundate the beach in great numbers during and after bouts of severe weather like what we experienced here on the Island over Christmas 2004 and then again in 2012.

The inconvenience caused by our little “purple balloons” pales though, when compared to the impact that the giant Nomura jellyfish has made on the fishing industry of Japan.

Japanese fishermen first noticed Nomura’s jellyfish in 2005 when large numbers of the blob-like creatures which can exceed 450 pounds, became ensnared in their nets. Once considered a rarity occurring every 40 years or so, they are now almost a daily occurrence along the Japanese coastline.

The giant Nomuras, which would not be out of place battling Godzilla on a drive-in movie screen poison fish, sting humans and have even been known to disable nuclear power stations by blocking the seawater pumps used to cool the reactors.

In a country like Japan where fish is dietary staple, the result was disaster. Fishermen in some areas of the country stopped going out altogether while many more cited an 80 per cent drop in their income.
The many-tentacle armada has spawned dozens of studies by the Japanese government into the animal’s little-understood mating and migration habits.

The 2009 swarm was one of the worst anyone has ever seen. In one instance, the weight of the jelly-filled nets capsized a 10-ton fishing trawler as the crew tried to haul in the catch. The damage caused by the jellies is estimated to be around $332 million a year. Scientists believe climate change and pollution are major factors in a worldwide explosion in the population of the more than 2000 of the world’s jellyfish species. One 2008 study estimated that over 500,000 people a year are stung by jellyfish in the Chesapeake Bay alone. Twenty to 40 die each year in the Philippines from jellyfish stings.

And now we come to the “meat” of the story. The bonanza of protein has inspired entrepreneurs to concoct recipes for everything from jellyfish ice cream to pickled plum dip laced with chunks of the giant jellyfish.

After soaking the jellyfish in fresh water and refrigerating it overnight, roll up the flesh and slice it, so that you get thin julienne strips. Blanche these strips in boiling water and then immediately immerse them in chilled cold water. Repeat the blanching and then drain off all the water. Marinate these pieces with vinegar, salt, or other spices and then let them sit in the refrigerator overnight. Drain and rinse before adding them to salads, vegetables or other sea-food dishes.

The best type of jelly for consumption is the cannonball jellyfish, which has a high level of collagen in its protein content, which is essential building cell tissues, cartilage, teeth and bones of the body.

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