Invasion Of The Giant Shrimp Rattles Gulf Coast Diners
It seems like a horror flick straight out of Hollywood playing out across the Gulf Coast. The giant shrimps, the Black Tiger from Asia, are devouring their own species at an alarming rate. As a result, the shortage of shrimp looms large over the area and the authorities are pressed hard for an immediate solution to the problem. Read more about this ghastly tale of cannibalism.
1) The Invasion
The Asian black tiger prawn is eating indigenous populations of shrimp and since its own numbers have jumped tenfold last year, it has given rise to serious concern among the local seafood-lovers. The black tiger looks more like a small lobster than a shrimp. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), from just 32 jumbo shrimps in 2010, their number is grown to 331 in 2011. These have been spotted in coastal areas from Texas to North Carolina and authorities confess that these shrimps “are cannibalistic as are other shrimp, but it’s larger so it can consume the others.” And big they are – about 13 inches long and weighing as much as a quarter-pound. It is not difficult for them gobble up smaller shrimp, which would otherwise end up on your dinner plate. Well known marine ecologist James A. Morris, who works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, says that the increase in their number “is the first indication that we may be undergoing a true invasion of Asian tiger shrimp.”
2) Threat to Ecosystem
This unwelcome invasion of the US marine space is, of course, capable of altering the marine ecosystems in the region as Morris adds, “The Asian tiger shrimp represents yet another potential marine invader capable of altering fragile marine ecosystems.” And with the increase in their number, it is more likely that people get familiar of them and they start going largely unnoticed, as Pam Fuller, the USGS biologist, explains, “The more fishermen and other locals become accustomed to seeing them, the less likely they are to report them.” Morris adds, “I’ve had fishermen tell me they have quit bringing them in. They are seeing large numbers in their catch – multiples per night.” So, does that mean the end of shrimps from North Carolina to Texas? That is a shuddering assumption.
3) How do They Travel?
It is not clear whether the tiger shrimp came in with the ocean currents from the Caribbean or West Africa, where they are farmed, or were taken up housekeeping in the area. A marine biologist explains her viewpoint, “I think it’s quite possible they’re being swept up from the Caribbean. There are large farms there that appear to be connected directly to the ocean. Some of those were destroyed in hurricanes. We don’t know if perhaps a large bunch got loose and swept up here and became established. Nobody knows. That’s one reason we want to do the genetic work.” Ironically, there have been attempts to raise tiger shrimps in the US but the last such farm was closed down in Florida 8 years ago after none of the attempts were able to raise a single successful crop of tiger shrimp.
4) The Impact of the Invasion
The foremost impact of this invasion, apart from the dwindling number of smaller shrimps, is spread of disease, which, in itself, is detrimental to a healthy small shrimp population in the area. Since the genetic composition of the tiger shrimp and the local shrimp is likely to be different, there is every chance that coming in contact with their jumbo cousins, the small shrimps will also begin to show some signs of cannibalism but that is too early to say. For now, there is every fear that the tiger shrimp is in direct competition with the local species for the food and habitat resources. As a result, the native shrimp may find it hard to survive against the jumbo sized shrimp. This is bound to impact the seafood industry in the long run. As Morris claims, “They can overwhelm the native ecosystem. As we’ve seen with lion fish or even with zebra mussels or kudzu or even termites or fire ants, invasive species can cause real economic and ecological damage.”
The seafood picture looks really dismal in wake of the cannibalism unleashed by the tiger shrimps in the area. However, with the scientists close on its heels, hopefully, it won’t be long before the local shrimp returns back as the delicious dinner of the Gulf Coast residents.