The Asian tiger prawn, a foot-long crustacean with a voracious appetite and a proclivity for disease, has invaded the Texas Gulf Coast, threatening native species of crabs, oysters, brown shrimp, and and white shrimp.
Though no one is sure what the ecological impact will be, scientists fear a tiger prawn takeover could knock nature’s balance out of whack and turn a healthy, diverse marine habitat into one dominated by a single invasive species.
A collapse or significant reduction of native shrimp populations could have a ripple effect on game fishes such as speckled trout, flounder, redfish, and oth4er species whose diets consist largely of native shrimp species.
“It has the potential to be real ugly,” said Leslie Hartman, Matagorda Bay ecoystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “But we just do not know.”
The tiger prawns–which can grow up to 13 inches long–have been spreading along the Gulf Coast since 2006, but their numbers took off this year. Shrimpers pulled one from Texas waters for the first time in June.
According to the Texas Sea Grant program at Texas A&M University, shrimpers have found three tiger prawns in Aransas Bay, one in Sabine Lake, and one in the Gulf about 70 miles offshore from Freeport.
The giant crustaceans prey on smaller shrimps, crabs, and young oysters.
Marine scientists will conduct genetic studies on the shrimp to determine their origin. Hartman said they will need at least 60 prawns for an accurate analysis.