Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

4 Theories on How Tiger Prawns Ended Up in the Gulf of Mexico

Courtesy of Acme via Flickr's Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/acme/with/28902101/

When you post a story online you never quite know what to expect. Some stories attract an army of visitors right out of the gate, while others fade into obscurity with nary a visitor.

Then, there’s the slow burn. It’s the news story that doesn’t initially inspire much interest, but gradually attracts a steady amount of traffic. It’s the tortoise in the race.

Recently, the tortoise has been a Tiger Prawn.

When I first reported on the arrival of foot-long Asian Tiger Prawns in the Gulf of Mexico, fewer readers took noticed than I had hoped. But over time, the piece has provoked some comments and continued to attract visitors. For all of you concerned or curious about this invasive species and it’s impact on the Gulf ecosystem, here are several theories of how the prawn first established itself in the Gulf of Mexico:

  1. Thanks, South Carolina. In 1988, an accident at an fish farming facility in South Carolina inadvertently released pond-raised tiger prawns into the ocean where they were caught off shore for years afterward. “Like a lot of introduced species, they got out, everybody was concerned, but nature took its course and we never saw them after 91,” says Texas Parks and Wildlife Leslie Hartman, “until again after 2006.” Hartman is participating in genetic testing to see if the Tiger Prawns that are now showing up in shrimping nets in the Gulf could be related to those South Carolinian escapees.
  2. Blame it on the Ballast. Ballast is weight that ships take on to stabilize their voyage. A lot of strange things get carried around the world in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels. If a ship is in Asia and takes on water to stabilize its journey to the Gulf, who’s to say some Tiger Prawns couldn’t come along for the ride? Ballast water has been blamed for the introduction of many invasive species, including the appearance of the hyper-destructive zebra mussels to the Great Lakes.
  3. Maybe It Was a Hurricane? While there are no known Tiger Prawn aquaculture operations in Texas, they do exist in the Americas.The Houston Chronicle speculates that “the prawns may have escaped from flooded industrial shrimp ponds in the Caribbean Sea during recent hurricanes.” Martin Bourgeois with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says he’s heard the theory that Tiger Prawns came “after accidental releases from aquaculture facilities in central America or the Caribbean.” But he says he doesn’t know “if we’ll ever figure out where they came from.”
  4. Their Introduction Was Intentional. Remember about ten years ago when the U.S. was about to be taken over by the Snake Head Fish? The media made quite a fuss over the voracious predator that can actually walk on land, though the Asian Carp has likely had a worse impact as an invasive species.  What both those fish have in common is that they were probably both intentionally introduced. Is it possible someone has been seeding the Gulf with Tiger Prawn?

Efforts to get to the bottom of the Tiger Prawn mystery continue, and Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Hartman expects genetic testing to yield some answers by the end of this year. Why is it important to know where the prawn came from?

“If you do not know where they’re coming from, you cant stop the introduction of additional ones,” said Hartman.



About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »