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. sloppybroom

    Anyone else thinking Shrimp Boil?

    May 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff

    Why do I not see these in the grocery store...on the cheap? Do I need to get a fishing boat and catch them myself?

    May 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ECO Friendly

    Can the marine life not evovle? Hmmm. maybe there is something from their home that is driving them away? Pollution, Off shore Oil Drilling etc.
    Maybe they should check why they are leaving their waters.

    May 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      Maybe you should check you definition of evolve...and a map

      May 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cs

    You CANNOT stop evolution. You can help facilitate it, but you can't stop it. I bet these babies are here to stay.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. edwin

    the answer to this problem is easy... push the shrimp to mexico and let the ceviche feast begin. 2 weeks tops and problem will be done.

    May 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Boo

    Holy creepers!!!!

    May 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. donz0

    I love shrimp... I don't blame 'em.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kim Smith

    After reading these comments, I am astounded at the reader's utter lack of understanding and knowledge of marine ecosystems and an introduced species–to call it evolution?? Ignorance is bliss–and also pathetic.

    May 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seems familiar

      I understand the need to preserve marine ecosystems, but you are faulting the shrip for simply doing in the ocian what humans have done all over earth. invade, adapt, take over, deforest, and force other creatures from their habitats.

      May 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les

      Evolution is not static. It clearly shows different species moving into areas and, being better adapted to that niche, increase and expand until it is a dominate species. Doing so may lead to the extinction of species that cannot adapt to the new predator. While not explaining all of evolution's machinery, migration has contributed to many extinction events.

      Beyond that this thing is a shrimp and a big one at that. If it is a problem then catch them for the seafood market. An activity that has brought many ocean species to an unjust end. OTOH, if they are truly "cannibals" they are eat each other so there is already a check and balance system going on. Nature is continually fueling the spread of "introduced" species all over the world to maintain balance. The introduction of man is the single primary reason for most extinctions in the last 10,000 yrs. with climate change and migration being the next largest contributor.

      May 20, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Who said they were introduced? If you read the article, they say that they don't actually know how they got there, it is all speculation. It may well be natural.

      May 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marlin


      This is not natural evolution this is anthropogenic interaction causing this.

      And as a note, to those saying just catch them and eat them.. trophic dynamics state that about 90% of energy is lost when one animal consumes another. This comes in fueling the animal and biological inefficiency. So for every pound worth of giant shrimp caught, 10 pounds worth of other shrimp had to be consumed. If these shrimp become well established, it will lead to a decrease in overhall shrimp harvests.

      May 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MrMagoo

    This is an awesome story! where's Bubba gump shrimpin company when ya need it?

    May 3, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. mike_t

    Sounds like Homeland Security has been overwhelmed.

    Let me load up a truck with lemons and butter and see what I can do to bring this invasion to a halt.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nonyabidnes2

    Nothing that a shrimp boil can't resolve. Just add butter......

    May 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. slaveworld

    This isn't the only Asian invasion we need to worry about

    May 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. olderbut

    since they are edible, why don't we just over-fish them to the point of extinction, like fishermen have done with other marine life?

    May 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cs

    These bleeping scientists accidentally released killer bees too. We need them to study the problems they are causing?

    May 20, 2012 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
    • MaryInBoise

      Please re-read the article, for comprehension this time. Scientists didn't release the shrimp into waters. The aquaculture industry (most likely) did that. Also, killer bees? Please, let me guess. You're a fan of grade-z horror movies and conspiracy theories, right?

      May 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mattski

    Funny. Scientists know that the earth's natural balances are constantly changing, yet they get nervous when they see change. The environment will take this change and adapt around it in its typical self-correcting way. The best thing we can do is stay out of the way IMO.

    May 20, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
    • MaryInBoise

      Except, there's nothing "natural" about this change. This is a species from a different ecosystem introduced accidentally. It didn't evolve there. But have fun there, burying your head in the sand and "just letting things happen".

      May 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
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