UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant funds projects that support Georgia’s seafood and tourism industries

A seafood pitch competition launched by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will award funding to seven projects that support Georgia’s working waterfronts and seafood products.

The competition, called What’s the Hook?, is funded by the National Sea Grant College Program and is designed to help individuals and businesses in the seafood industry recover from economic disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, small business owners, university professionals and non-profit organizations presented their ideas to a committee representing diverse businesses, cultures, and communities in coastal Georgia.

One of the awardees, Amy Spinks will use the funding to relaunch a web site for The Darien Social, an online blog she owns and operates to highlight social events and historical places around Darien, Georgia. Spinks says the website will feature six new blogs that spotlight Georgia’s fishing community, seafood industries, local businesses and cultural experiences.

“I love Darien. I want to see the businesses succeed, and with a social marketing platform they have more exposure and can get more business,” said Spinks, who launched The Darien Social after moving there from Atlanta in 2020. After trying and failing to find a central platform for events in the area, she decided to start her own.

“[The Darien Social] has just grown and grown, and to see it go to the next step, I really feel like it’s going to bring financial revenue and impact to the businesses that we support and businesses in the community,” said Spinks.

Bob Pinckney, director of entrepreneurship at the UGA Terry College of Business, also received funding. His project, “Georgia Seafood on My Mind,” will support diverse, off the beaten path businesses and restaurants in each of Georgia’s six coastal counties through the development of marketing content that businesses can use to promote their seafood and tourism offerings.

“In working with startup businesses all the time, one of the biggest challenges is how do you market yourself and how do you do it cost-effectively?” said Pinckney. “This looked like a great opportunity to match up some [university] resources and give some of these restaurant owners a leg up in terms of getting people to be made aware of what they have to offer.”

Pinckney will be working with students at the UGA New Media Institute as well as students in the UGA Entrepreneurship Program on capstone projects to assess businesses and help them come up with strategies for expanding to the next level. They will also create promotional content, like videos and photos, that businesses can use to market themselves on social media or in other materials.

“We’re really excited about this grant and the opportunity for students to have to work with local businesses and promote something that we think is very important for the state of Georgia,” said Pinckney.

The projects selected for funding were awarded based on their ability to promote Georgia’s unique coastal seafood-related experiences, build the resilience of Georgia’s working waterfronts, strengthen Georgia’s local seafood and tourism-related industries, and assist businesses with redefining their operations or business models in response to the pandemic.

The full list of awardees include:  

  • Oyster Trail Development – Patrick Holladay, Georgia Grown Trail 17
  • The Agnes Marie Experience – Don McGraw, Coco’s Tybee Island
  • Coastal Georgia Aquaculture Exhibit & Tours – Charlie Phillips, Sapelo Sea Farms, Phillips Seafood & The Fish Dock Bar & Grill
  • Georgia Seafood On My Mind! – Bob Pinckney, UGA Entrepreneurship Program
  • A Catalyst for Coastal Seafood Eco-Tourism – Alex Smetana, Darien-McIntosh County Chamber of Commerce
  • The Darien Social Relaunch – Amy Spinks, The Darien Social
  • More From the Shore – Marty Williams, God’s Oceans, LLC

More information about the projects, including the videos of the pitches are available at https://gacoast.uga.edu/whats-the-hook/



UGA seafood pitch competition aims to boost coastal economy

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is looking for innovative ideas to help individuals and businesses in the seafood industry recover from economic disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s the Hook?” is a seafood pitch competition, funded by the National Sea Grant College Program and designed to generate ideas that support Georgia’s working waterfronts and seafood products. Winners can receive up to $15,000 to complete their projects.

“We hope the competition serves as a creative means to help coastal entities adapt to the changing conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, while also building resiliency in our working waterfronts and further promoting what makes our coast unique and attractive to our visitors,” said Bryan Fluech, associate director of extension for UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Fluech, who is leading the program, modeled it after Maine Sea Grant’s successful Buoy Maine competition, which funded 10 projects covering a variety of topics, from promoting women-owned seafood businesses to creating a brand for specialized seafood products.

Georgia’s seafood industry suffered from supply chain issues, market uncertainties and staffing shortages during the pandemic. Despite the setbacks, the interest in locally sourced seafood continues to grow, providing new opportunities.

Any business or non-profit is eligible to participate in the competition. Ideas should accomplish one or all of the following objectives: Promote Georgia’s unique coastal seafood-related experiences; build the resilience of Georgia’s working waterfronts; strengthen Georgia’s local seafood and tourism-related industries; and assist businesses with redefining their operations or business models in response to the pandemic.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant faculty and staff will select the applicants they believe have the most competitive projects and meet the objectives of the competition. Those will be asked to present a five-minute pitch during the What’s the Hook? Seafood Pitch Competition in January 2022. The pitch will be evaluated by a committee representing diverse businesses, cultures and communities in coastal Georgia. Winners will have six to eight months to complete their projects.

More information about how to apply for the competition is available here https://gacoast.uga.edu/whats-the-hook/


Writer: Hayley Hunter, hayley.hunter@uga.edu
Contact: Bryan Fluech, fluech@uga.edu, 912-264-7269

Donations to the UGA Shellfish Research Lab upgrade the facility and allow for expanded operations

The UGA Shellfish Research Lab can increase oyster production, as well as produce more algae to feed the baby oysters, thanks to new water tanks and a concrete pad to hold the tanks donated to Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

The 24 x 24-foot concrete water storage pad was donated by Peeples Industries, Inc., and poured next to the shellfish research facility at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island.

Photo of tanks at the Marine Extension hatchery

Water collected in the donated tanks will be used to grow algae in tanks outside the lab.

The pad holds three 10,000-gallon water tanks and a 2,000-gallon tank that were donated by the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, also on Skidaway Island.

With the new holding tanks, the Shellfish Research Lab can now bring in up to 10,000 gallons of water daily from the Skidaway River that will be used for the lab’s oyster hatchery. The water in the tanks will settle for 24 to 48 hours before being pumped into smaller tanks in the hatchery where larval algae and oyster seed are kept.

“In the water, we have a lot of fine particulate matter, such as different types of sediments and detritus,” said Tom Bliss, director of the Shellfish Research Lab. “Those tanks allow the water to sit very still and [the sediment] slowly settles down to the bottom, so it’s more efficient for us to do water changes.”

The tanks will also be used to supply water to the algae tanks, which play a crucial role in oyster growth. Extension specialists at the lab started growing algae three years ago to supplement store-bought and natural food used to feed the oysters. The new water tanks will allow the team to expand algae production and increase the amount of food available to the oysters.

Baby oysters in the hatchery rely on water brought in from the Skidaway River. The holding tanks will allow for increased oyster production in the hatchery.

Baby oysters in the hatchery rely on water brought in from the Skidaway River. The holding tanks will allow for increased oyster production in the hatchery.

According to Bliss, the tanks not only give them the flexibility to expand production by using more of their available resources, but they also act as a safety net should storms knock out the lab’s power. The tanks are able to supply almost a week’s worth of backup water supply in the event of a power outage.

Thanks to the donation, the concrete pad and new holding tanks were placed just in time for oyster spawning season, which will allow the lab to produce more oysters and algae this spring.

UGA helps shape the future of seafood safety

Seafood specials at the Nam Dae Mun Farmers Market in metro Atlanta can include Caribbean red snapper, crawfish or golden pomfret, a popular southeast Asian fish with soft white flesh.

With eight stores and hundreds of employees, it’s important that the Norcross-based retailer ensures safety of its seafood.

“We deal with so much seafood that knowing how to transport [and] carry it safely for our consumers is essential,” says Kathy Rivers, human resources director for the international Nam Dae Mun Farmers Market.

Nam Dae Mun has sent at least 14 employees through UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) seafood safety course. The government-mandated training helps seafood professionals learn to spot and prevent potential safety hazards from the time seafood arrives on the loading docks until it goes out the market doors.

“Learning how to create a HACCP plan was pretty important to us,” says Rivers, who participated in one of the training sessions herself a few years ago. “Figuring out how it was all connected, not just to my consumers’ lives, but to my own life because I eat a lot of seafood in my house, was important as well.”

Federal and state regulations require that all wholesale facilities processing, distributing or storing seafood have at least one employee—or hire a consultant—who has been trained in seafood HACCP.

“The training teaches participants how to identify and prevent biological, chemical, physical, and other food safety hazards to protect their products, company reputation, and ultimately, consumers,” says Tori Stivers, seafood specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

HACCP is the primary program for assuring the safety of fish and fishery products processed and imported for sale in the US.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has offered HACCP training since 1997; Stivers has been the point person since 2011.

In the last 24 years, the organization has trained 889 seafood professionals.

Typically, the training occurs in-person over three days. Stivers and instructors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Georgia Department of Agriculture educate participants about the principles of HACCP, teach them how to identify species and process-related food safety hazards, and determine critical points in their process where hazards can be controlled.

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Stivers transitioned her in-person HACCP training to a virtual format so that businesses could continue to operate.

“During a time when a lot of businesses were struggling, some food retailers and wholesalers actually saw a huge increase in demand because consumers started rushing to grocery stores,” says Stivers. “Offering virtual HACCP training ensured that businesses could continue to operate and meet the needs of consumers.”

Thirty-five people from 10 different businesses and state agencies participated in the seafood HACCP trainings in 2020. Through these trainings, the economic value of jobs created or sustained last year reached $1.74 million.

In addition to continuing the training, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant received funding from the National Sea Grant College Program to implement a COVID-19 rapid response program for seafood processing facilities in Georgia. As part of the program, Stivers is providing free, on-site assessments of facilities to evaluate how they have adapted their operations during the pandemic and recommend additional cost-effective interventions.

“We were constantly making sure we were keeping up with the latest guidelines for handling food for customers,” says Rivers. “Tori assisted in the review of our pandemic plan for our business and what safety measures and protocols we put in place. Some of the foundation of what we had [in the pandemic plan], like contact tracing, was part of the preventative controls that are in a HACCP plan.”

UGA updates Georgia fishing guides for recreational anglers; makes information available online

Looking for the best fishing hot spots in coastal Georgia?

You’ll find them and more in the Guide to Coastal Fishing in Georgia map series, recently updated by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant thanks to a Coastal Incentive Grant from the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The series includes six guides, one for each of Georgia’s coastal counties: Chatham, Liberty, Bryan, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden. Originally published in the late 1970s, the guides provide information about recreational saltwater fishing in Georgia. Each guide includes a map of the inshore coastal waters within each county and features popular fishing spots for different types of species.

“Whether you are new to saltwater fishing or a seasoned pro, the updated guides will help better connect anglers to our state’s coastal resources, while highlighting the importance of responsible harvesting practices and coastal stewardship,” says Bryan Fluech, associate director of extension at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and lead on the map project. “Although the guides were originally designed for recreational fishermen, anyone who is interested in learning about coastal Georgia will benefit from their content and maps.”

The updated guides feature locations of public boat ramps, marinas, tackle shops and public fishing locations, as well as how to measure fish, guidance on tying different types of knots, and tips on responsible harvesting practices for finfish, blue crab, shrimp and shellfish.

In addition to reprinting the maps, the project team worked with the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government to design a digital version of the fishing maps that allows anglers to search for their favorite fishing locations from their computer, tablet or smartphone.

The interactive map allows users to turn on and off various layers to find out where to go when targeting specific species or locating boat ramps and marinas. Information about Georgia’s artificial reefs and recreational shellfish harvesting areas along the coast is also featured. Downloadable, high-resolution PDFs of each county-based map are part of the new online resource.

The Coastal Georgia Online Fishing Map along with details on how to obtain physical copies of the new guides can be found at: https://gacoast.uga.edu/outreach/resources-outreach/fishing-resources/.

Writer: Emily Kenworthy, ekenworthy@uga.edu, 912-598-2348, ext. 107
Contact: Bryan Fluech, fluech@uga.edu, 912-264-7269

Georgia Sea Grant awards funding for seven coastal research projects

The Georgia Sea Grant College Program at the University of Georgia has announced funding for seven new projects that will advance coastal science in Georgia. The diverse projects include investigations into policy barriers related to oyster aquaculture, tidal river flooding in upland communities, the development of artificial bait for the commercial blue crab fishery, impacts of black gill on shrimp, oyster pathogens, and the function of salt marsh ecosystems.

The projects are part of Georgia Sea Grant’s request for proposals process, which occurs every two years to address research priorities identified by coastal stakeholders.

This year, Georgia Sea Grant is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Acidification to fund a project looking at whether sediments increase or decrease the susceptibility of Georgia’s coastal waters to ocean acidification.

“By leveraging our federal partnerships, we can expand coastal research that addresses Georgia stakeholder concerns,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “These projects will help coastal communities, allow resource managers to plan and implement better policies, and engage scientists throughout Georgia in applied research and outreach.

The two-year projects include researchers from five universities in the state, including: The University of Georgia, Savannah State University, Georgia College, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia Southern University.

The 2020-2022 research projects and the lead investigators are:

  • Optimizing Georgia’s Shrimp Fishery in the Age of Black Gill – Marc Frischer, University of Georgia
  • Addressing Policy Barriers and Promoting Opportunities for the Success of Oyster Aquaculture in Georgia – Scott Pippin, University of Georgia
  • Tidal Channel Network Dynamics and Salt Marsh Ecosystem Functioning along the Georgia Coast – Amanda Spivak, University of Georgia
  • Expanded Head of Tide Determination of Georgia’s Coastal Rivers: Influences of Upland Riverine Flooding, Tidal Inundation, and Stochastic/Storm-surge Events – Christopher Hintz, Savannah State University
  • Field Testing a New Synthetic Sustainable Bait for Georgia’s Blue Crab Fishing Industry – Charles Derby, Georgia College
  • Role of Sediments in the Susceptibility to Ocean Acidification in Coastal Habitats – Martial Taillefert, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • How do Environmental Conditions and Oyster Population Genetics Influence Pathogen Prevalence and Intensity? – John Carroll, Georgia Southern University

Information about Georgia Sea Grant research topics, funding and current opportunities can be found at https://gacoast.uga.edu/research/funding/current-projects/

UGA Brunswick Station Open House scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 26

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is hosting its second open house at the Brunswick Station on Sept. 26 from 4-7 p.m.

Visitors of all ages are invited to tour the facility, engage with coastal experts, and learn about Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s research, education and extension efforts on the coast.

“The whole idea is to connect people in the community to the resources that we have here at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant,” said Bryan Fluech, associate marine extension director. “From helping residents prepare for hurricanes to installing a rain garden, we have in-house experts ready and willing to serve people on the coast.”

Staff will have stations set up throughout the facility that feature live marine animals and reptiles, hands-on marine debris activities and information about Georgia’s shellfish industry.

A new virtual reality demonstration station will allow visitors to experience what it’s like when an 8-foot storm surge impacts a home on the coast. The program, which was developed in collaboration with the Games and Virtual Environments Lab in the UGA Grady College and Mass Communication, takes users through a hurricane event with storm surge and then allows them to elevate their house and obtain flood insurance to protect their family and property against future flood risks.

The R/V Georgia Bulldog, a 72-foot shrimp trawler that has been converted into a multipurpose research vessel, will be open to visitors. The Bulldog has been providing logistical support for research projects that involve fishery development, bottom mapping and sea turtle conservation since the 1980s.

Visitors are also invited to explore the station’s half-acre native plant demonstration garden with more than 115 types of native plants.

Staff at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s Brunswick Station have been serving coastal Georgia communities for over 40 years, conducting important water quality research, ensuring safe seafood, preparing communities for coastal hazards and educating Georgians about stormwater management.

Additional details about the event can be found here: https://gacoast.uga.edu/event/brunswick-station-open-house/

Learn more about Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at https://gacoast.uga.edu/.

Contact: Emily Kenworthy, 912-598-2340 ext. 107, ekenworthy@uga.edu

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant welcomes Adam Stemle

Adam Stemle recently joined UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant as the marine economics specialist. In his role, he will provide statewide leadership and coordination for developing, maintaining and evaluating a comprehensive marine economics and applied research economics program.

Stemle has been an avid fisherman, waterman, boater, diver, and surfer since childhood. His interest in the ocean desire to learn more about marine life and marine ecosystems shaped his education and professional career. In college, he studied environmental economics and management at the University of Georgia and earned his master’s in environmental and natural resource economics from the University of Rhode Island.

“I knew I wanted my life to be dedicated protecting and promoting the thing I love the most, but I wanted to figure out the most effective method of communicating these ideas,” says Stemle. “Economics provides the language of ‘value’ when communicating the importance of our marine resources.”

As he works to build Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s marine economics program, Stemle will work closely with seafood dealers, local governments and marine aquaculture operators to communicate the economic importance of Georgia’s coastal resources. Building stronger relationships with these audiences will help promote the sustainable use and conservation of these resources.

Prior to this role, Stemle worked for the North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries as the Fisheries Economics Program Manager, which involved analyzing the economic and social effects of fisheries statutes, rules, and proclamations.

Hands-on course prepares UGA Extension agents to share health benefits of Georgia seafood

Barbara Worley grew up on the coast of North Carolina and considers herself an oyster connoisseur. La Keshia Levi, on the other hand, shudders at the thought of eating an oyster. But after attending a two-day Ocean to Table workshop, both University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) agents are prepared to encourage residents in their counties to eat more Georgia seafood.

The brainchild of Chatham County Extension FACS Agent Jackie Ogden, the workshop series is designed to increase consumers’ and UGA Extension agents’ knowledge and awareness of Georgia seafood.

“Living here on the coast, I eat Georgia seafood, but I see that not everyone in Georgia does,” Ogden said. “With the current growth of Georgia’s oyster and clam industry, I saw the need to encourage Georgians to see the health benefits of eating seafood.”

The seafood most commonly harvested from the Georgia coast are shrimp, clams, oysters, blue crabs and fish. Georgia fishers catch favorites like sea bass, snapper and mahimahi as well as lesser-known species like triggerfish and sheepshead.

Funded by a UGA Extension Innovation Grant, the workshops are presented through a partnership between UGA Extension and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“With these grants, I wanted to foster innovation, partnership and collaboration in Extension programming. This particular project brings the expertise of UGA Extension and Marine Extension together to create a better program,” said Laura Perry Johnson, associate dean for Extension. “That exemplifies the true spirit of the land-grant mission.”

Three workshops were presented to educate the public, then two train-the-trainer workshops prepared county agents to teach seafood programs.

The most recent workshop was held May 23 and 24 at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island, Georgia. This Ocean to Table workshop included an overview of the nation’s seafood industry and taught the county agents who are piloting the program how to handle and cook seafood, read product labels, and know proper portion sizes.

The county agents also cracked and ate Georgia blue crab, dined on deviled crab, roasted oysters and had a low country boil, took a boat trip on the waterways near Skidaway Island, tried crab fishing, and toured Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s oyster hatchery at the Shellfish Research Lab on Skidaway Island, the only such hatchery in the state. To better understand the deep history of Georgia’s seafood industry, the group also toured the Pin Point Heritage Museum, the former home of A.S. Varn & Son Oyster & Crab Factory located in the heart of a Gullah/Geechee community.

“I’ve lived in Georgia since 2000, and I didn’t know that we produced so much seafood,” said Levi, who is based in middle Georgia’s Houston County. “I knew I was going to learn a lot in this program, but I had no idea that I was going to get to try all the different types of seafood and get so much hands-on experience, and I went on my first boat ride.”

Levi even ate roasted oysters.

She plans to incorporate the health benefits of eating seafood into the trainings she offers, especially those for pregnant women. She will also encourage Houston County restaurants to serve more Georgia seafood.

Worley was amazed by how much she learned in the workshop.

“I’m a scuba diver. I’ve picked up lots of oysters, but I never knew they were transgender until we toured the hatchery,” she said.

Her goal was to return to Forsyth County with information about the type of Georgia seafood available to her clients and how they can access it. She now plans to brainstorm with other metro area FACS agents to develop a seafood education program that can be used in multiple counties.

Ogden says she knew the key to reaching Georgians was to train her fellow FACS agents, who share health and wellness information year-round and are constantly on a mission to improve the health of Georgians.

Americans consume 4.8 million pounds of seafood each year, but the average American eats less than 15 pounds of seafood a year, according to Bryan Fluech, associate Marine Extension director at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“Living in Brunswick, my family probably ate 15 pounds of seafood last night,” said Fleuch, who helped to organize and teach many of the Ocean to Table sessions. “But when I was a child, I thought of shrimp as a special-occasion food, something that was served on holidays.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating two to three servings of seafood per week, but only 1 in 5 Americans meets that dietary recommendation. Fatty fish are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fluech believes Georgians would increase their consumption of seafood if they knew seafood contains essential vitamins and minerals like zinc, iodine, iron, calcium and selenium.

“People may think they don’t like fish, but there are hundreds of species, and they don’t all taste the same,” Fluech said. “Fish is very affordable, too, if you just learn to diversify your palate.”

It’s rare, but eating too much seafood can increase a person’s mercury levels. Fleuch said the key to keeping mercury levels low is to eat a variety of seafood, such as shrimp, salmon, pollock, cod, catfish, crab, scallops, clams and oysters, which are low in mercury.

Workshop participants also took advantage of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s mercury hair-testing program and submitted a few strands of hair to be tested. This test is available to the public for $20. Call 912-262-3338 for details.

“The agents are now prepared to answer questions about seafood consumption, like knowing the mercury levels in fish, and are ready with suggestions and specific seafood recipes to help clients prepare seafood for their families,” Ogden said.

To learn more about incorporating seafood into your diet, go to www.GeorgiaSeafood.org.


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