Scientists: Giant cannibal shrimp invasion growing
This black tiger shrimp was caught in 210 feet of water off the coast of Louisiana.
April 26th, 2012
02:20 PM ET

Scientists: Giant cannibal shrimp invasion growing

An invasion of giant cannibal shrimp into America's coastal waters appears to be getting worse.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday that sightings of the massive Asian tiger shrimp, which can eat their smaller cousins, were 10 times higher in 2011 than in 2010.

“And they are probably even more prevalent than reports suggest, because the more fisherman and other locals become accustomed to seeing them, the less likely they are to report them,” said Pam Fuller, a USGS biologist.

The shrimp, which can grow to 13 inches long, are native to Asian and Australian waters and have been reported in coastal waters from North Carolina to Texas.

They can be consumed by humans.

"They're supposed to be very good. But they can get very large, sorta like lobsters," Fuller said.

While they may make good eatin' for people, it's the eating the giant shrimp do themselves that worries scientists.

"Are they competing with or preying on native shrimp," Fuller asked. "It's also very disease-prone."

To try to get those answers, government scientists are launching a special research project on the creatures.

“The Asian tiger shrimp represents yet another potential marine invader capable of altering fragile marine ecosystems,” NOAA marine ecologist James Morris said in a statement. “Our efforts will include assessments of the biology and ecology of this non-native species and attempts to predict impacts to economically and ecologically important species of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.”

Scientists are uncertain how many of the giant shrimp are in U.S. waters.

In 1998, about 2,000 of the creatures were accidentally released from an aquaculture facility in South Carolina. Three hundred of those were recovered from waters off South Carolina, Georgia and Florida within three months.

Farming of the giant shrimp ended in the United States, but they were caught again off Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida.

Five were caught off Texas last year, according to Tony Reisinger, country extension agent for the Texas Sea Grant Extension Service.

Scientists don't know if  there is a breeding population in U.S. waters. Tiger shrimp females can lay 50,000 to a million eggs, which hatch within 24 hours.  Or the shrimp may be carried here by currents or in ballast tanks of marine vessels.

The latest study will look at the DNA of collected specimens.

“We’re going to start by searching for subtle differences in the DNA of Asian tiger shrimp found here – outside their native range – to see if we can learn more about how they got here,” USGS geneticist Margaret Hunter said in a statement. “If we find differences, the next step will be to fine-tune the analysis to determine whether they are breeding here, have multiple populations, or are carried in from outside areas.”

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Filed under: Aquaculture • Shrimp • Texas
soundoff (531 Responses)
  1. raven

    Double ick.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John

    looks like im eating shrimp from now on.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michael

    Wow! Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water...

    April 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rob

    I surely hope the aquaculture facility in South Carolina was shut down and the morons that released them were taken to jail.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Umptysquat

    I'm thinking some serious shrimp gumbo.. If they're here and breeding let's add them to the menu.. There's no putting the cat back in the bag..

    April 26, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. almxx

    Can't call them "shrimp" anymore.Who knows what other gifts weather changes will bring.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sharon

    Are they tasty when steamed with Old Bay?

    April 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. driranek

    Since they're edible, once a market is developed they'll be wiped out within months.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kam

    Definitely not the prettiest thing to look at, but the flip side is that they're probably delicious with a side of butter and they're invasive. So capture away!

    April 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. citizenUSA

    Giant shrimp. I guess George Carlin is having a good laugh...

    April 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dan

    I want to try some, they sound tasty!

    April 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. moka

    Darwin isn't concerned, so why are we?

    April 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jackola

    1 will feed a family

    April 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Darwin's younger brother

    This is simply survival of the fittest. If they're a stronger species, they'll survive. If the other shrimp are weak, they won't survive. No tears need be shed – it's NATURE, and crap happens.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • jslicer

      "it's NATURE" – ah, no. Not when we've pulled the species out of its native habitat and released it into a completely foreign one. It's deliberate human intervention and stupidly contrary to what nature was intending.

      April 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • neptewn

      Incorrect, they were introduced by man and are not native to the area. Meaning the other indigenous species have not had an opportunity to also adapt to their existence.

      April 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexk

      Nature did not place them in these waters, that was the result of human intervention. We put them in waters where they have a large food supply and no predators.

      April 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • David in Corpus

      jslicer, not necessarily, you people who take human animals out of the equation are not thinking things through. So what if humans brought them here, that is a part of nature. Humans are not seperate and special as many like to think. Our actions count just as much or little as a volcano spewing gases, a new migration of a species, or the extinction of another. It is all nature so stop making humans out to be any more or less evil than all the other organisms on this planet competing for limited resources. Plus they look delicious to me.

      April 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lea

      You're forgetting about all the species who are going to be left w/o a food source when the smaller shrimp are gone to this artificially introduced larger one. We are not the only ones eating of this bounteous food source and when the system gets unbalanced this way it starts an entire chain reaction.

      May 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Let Them Eat Shrimp

    OK, sell them cheap and eat them. Create a market for these invasive species like the snake fish, asian carp, and tiger shrimp. Even if it is cat food. We seem to overfish everything else so why not these. Get all those cooks on the Food Channel involved too.

    April 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
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