Net Gain

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When shrimping meets a massive clean-up effort, everybody wins

Written by JESSICA LYNN CURTIS with EMILY KENWORTHY

WE KNOW BY NOW the pandemic has impacted so many areas of business. Shrimping is no exception. Recently, the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant have devised a way to provide financial support to local shrimpers who have suffered a loss of income — and to clean up our local beaches and barrier islands.

The program, funded by the National Sea Grant College Program, is called Trawl to Trash, and it pays commercial shrimpers to sew bags out of recycled shrimp nets. The shrimpers earn $20 per bag, and then the bags are used to collect marine debris.

“It’s exciting to find a new purpose for these trawl nets, and who better to make the bags than the shrimpers who have spent countless hours mending their nets ahead of shrimping season?” says Dodie Sanders, a marine educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant who has taken the lead on the Trawl to Trash project.

Two fishermen work to create a bag from recycled shrimp nets for Trawl to Trash. // Photo by TREY COOPER

Jonathan Bennett is a fifth-generation commercial shrimper from Brunswick. He has been shrimping since he was 4 years old and now captains his own boat, the Flying Cloud. He learned how to repair the nets from his grandfather, Johnny Ray Bennett.

“For years, I was the only man on the boat who knew how to sew, so I got pretty good at it,” says the younger Bennett. He and Johnny Ray, who is still a shrimper, joined the project during the offseason while their boat was being repaired. Bennett then used the money he earned to pay his employees. “It was extra money,” he says, “and it helped us out.”

In an effort to create more outreach, Sanders teamed up with the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium to recruit additional shrimpers. As of January 2022, 15 shrimpers in Georgia and South Carolina had earned a total of $30,700 for 1,535 bags.

Sanders and other educators at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island have been working to distribute these bags to the public through education programs and community science efforts.


“We’re educating and engaging ecotour guides, students, recreational boaters, beachgoers and others who can make a difference by alleviating the impacts of marine debris.” – Dodie Sanders, marine educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant


 As a part of this effort, the team launched their Marine Debris Community Science Program, which engages volunteers in removing marine debris from barrier islands and salt marshes along the Georgia coast. Volunteers then track what they collect using the marine debris tracker app (the app, called Debris Tracker, is available to download for free in the app store).

 Since April 2021, community scientists involved in the program have conducted more than 25 marine debris cleanups along the Georgia coast and have collected thousands of items. They are also working with certified ecotour guides who will provide bags to their customers and encourage them to collect debris while exploring Georgia’s beaches and barrier islands. And this summer, educators will deliver hands-on after-school programs to Boys and Girls Clubs in Chatham and Glynn counties, educating the next generation about marine debris and encouraging them to make a difference by using the trawl to trash bags in their own communities.

“We’re educating and engaging ecotour guides, students, recreational boaters, beachgoers and others who can make a difference by alleviating the impacts of marine debris,” Sanders says. “It reinforces the importance of building community capacity and encouraging behavior change as a way of supporting the long-term prevention of marine debris.”  


Editor’s note: This story was written with quotes and content provided in part by the University of Georgia.