The Asian Tiger Prawn can grow over a foot long. It’s a species from the Western Pacific Ocean that first showed up off the coast of Alabama in 2006, when a single, solitary prawn was reported. If the story ended there, we wouldn’t have much to talk about.
But it doesn’t.
“The next year in 2007, you had some pop up in Louisiana just one or two, in 2008, three or four, [and in] 2009 a couple,” Leslie Hartman, the Matagorda Bay Ecosystem leader with Texas Parks and Wildlife, told Stateimpact Texas.
But that was just the start.
“Suddenly, this past August when we opened our fall in-shore shrimp season the numbers suddenly exploded. We have gotten over 100 reports of Tiger prawns,” said Martin Bourgeois, a Marine Fisheries Biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Bourgeois says for every report he receives there are probably three or four tiger prawn catches that go unreported. This last year reports started coming in from Texas.
“In Texas we’ve only had reports so far in our offshore waters,” said Hartman. ” We expect that we will be catching some inside of our bays in the near future. We haven’t so far, and that’s a good thing for Texas Shrimp.”
Why is that a good thing? For one, the Tiger Prawns’ diet is a lot like humans. It likes to eat shrimp.
“So we have some concerns that they’ll be active predators on our shrimp and crabs,” said Hartman.
There are still a lot of unknowns. But some researchers worry that the prawns will introduce new shrimp diseases to the ecosystem.
Yet the prawns are reportedly delicious. Louisiana’s Marty Bourgeouis says that has its upside.
“I’ve seen Tiger Prawns in the seafood case, priced at $20 a pound. And then I turn around and look at fresh shrimp a kiosk in that same supermarket priced at $5.99 a pound,” said Bourgeois.
Though marketing the prawns could have a downside.
“That might be nice for the shrimpers, but it wont be nice for the ecology. Our fish are not designed to eat foot-long shrimp,” Hartman said.
For the time being shrimpers don’t seem to be selling the tiger prawns they’ve run into. “Nobody has brought them in to be sold. Most [shrimpers] will keep them for themselves or show them or give them to some of their friends or maybe eat them on the boat. They’re not keeping them to where there’s a market for them,”Jim Gossen, CEO of Houston-based Louisiana Foods told Stateimpact Texas.
“You know it’s alarming though, to find out that they’re continuing to spread through the Gulf in more areas,” Gossen added.
Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Hartman says the first step to containing the tiger prawns is to figure out where they came from. To that end, researchers are conducting genetic testing.
For shrimpers who end up catching a tiger prawn and want to eat it, Hartman had these words of compromise: “In all honesty I just need a little bit of the tissue. So if some people are saying “Hey I just would rather eat it!” Let’s talk. We can make a deal, I’ll just take a little bit of the tissue and you can go ahead and boil them up,” she said.
Hartman believes genetic testing will yield some answers by the end of this year about how the prawns got to the Gulf.