From AP News, November 16, 2009:
KOKONOGI, Japan - A blood-orange blob the size of a small refrigerator emerged from the dark waters, its venomous tentacles trapped in a fishing net. Within minutes, hundreds more were being hauled up, a pulsating mass crowding out the catch of mackerel and sea bass.
The fishermen leaned into the nets, grunting and grumbling as they tossed the translucent jellyfish back into the bay, giants weighing up to 450 pounds, marine invaders that are putting the men's livelihoods at risk.
The venom of the Nomura, the world's largest jellyfish, a creature up to 6 feet in diameter, can ruin a whole day's catch by tainting or killing fish stung when ensnared with them in the maze of nets here in northwest Japan's Wakasa Bay.
This year's jellyfish swarm is one of the worst he has seen, Hamano said. Once considered a rarity occurring every 40 years, they are now an almost annual occurrence along several thousand miles of Japanese coast, and far beyond Japan.
The gelatinous seaborne creatures are blamed for decimating fishing industries in the Bering and Black seas, forcing the shutdown of seaside power and desalination plants in Japan, the Middle East and Africa, and terrorizing beachgoers worldwide, the U.S. National Science Foundation says.
In 2007, a salmon farm in Northern Ireland lost its more than 100,000 fish to an attack by the mauve stinger, a jellyfish normally known for stinging bathers in warm Mediterranean waters. Scientists cite its migration to colder Irish seas as evidence of global warming.
Increasingly polluted waters — off China, for example — boost growth of the microscopic plankton that "jellies" feed upon, while overfishing has eliminated many of the jellyfish's predators and cut down on competitors for plankton feed.
Here on the rocky Echizen coast, amid floodlights and the roar of generators, fishermen at Kokonogi's bustling port made quick work of the day's catch — packaging glistening fish and squid in Styrofoam boxes for shipment to market.
Two nets in Echizen burst last month during a typhoon because of the sheer weight of the jellyfish, and off the east coast jelly-filled nets capsized a 10-ton trawler as its crew tried to pull them up. The three fishermen were rescued.
"We have been getting rid of jellyfish. But no matter how hard we try, the jellyfish keep coming and coming," said Fumio Oma, whose crew is out of work after their net broke under the weight of thousands of jellyfish. "We need the government's help to get rid of the jellyfish."
The invasions cost the industry up to 30 billion yen ($332 million) a year, and tens of thousands of fishermen have sought government compensation, said scientist Shin-ichi Uye, Japan's leading expert on the problem.
Hearing fishermen's pleas, Uye, who had been studying zooplankton, became obsessed with the little-studied Nomura's jellyfish, scientifically known as Nemopilema nomurai, which at its biggest looks like a giant mushroom trailing dozens of noodle-like tentacles.
"No one knew their life cycle, where they came from, where they reproduced," said Uye, 59. "This jellyfish was like an alien."
He artificially bred Nomura's jellyfish in his Hiroshima University lab, learning about their life cycle, growth rates and feeding habits. He traveled by ferry between China to Japan this year to confirm they were riding currents to Japanese waters.
He concluded China's coastal waters offered a perfect breeding ground: Agricultural and sewage runoff are spurring plankton growth, and fish catches are declining. The waters of the Yellow Sea, meanwhile, have warmed as much as 3 degrees Fahrenheight over the past quarter-century.
"The jellyfish are becoming more and more dominant," said Uye, as he sliced off samples of dead jellyfish on the deck of an Echizen fishing boat. "Their growth rates are quite amazing."
The slight, bespectacled scientist is unafraid of controversy, having lobbied his government tirelessly to help the fishermen, and angered Chinese colleagues by arguing their government must help solve the problem, comparing it to the effects of acid rain that reaches Japan from China.
In the short term, governments are left with few options other than warning bathers or bailing out cash-strapped fishermen. In Japan, the government is helping finance the purchase of newly designed nets, a layered system that snares jellyfish with one kind of net, allowing fish through to be caught in another.
Some entrepreneurs, meanwhile, are trying to cash in. One Japanese company is selling giant jellyfish ice cream, and another plans a pickled plum dip with chunks of giant jellyfish. But, though a popular delicacy, jellyfish isn't likely to replace sushi or other fish dishes on Asian menus anytime soon, in view of its time-consuming processing, heavy sodium overload and unappealing image.