No one knows quite how the tiger shrimp made their way into the Gulf of Mexico; some suggest that the invasive species, which can be over a foot long, hitched a ride from Asia, while others posit that the shrimp were whipped to US waters by a hurricane, or perhaps simply escaped from captivity in South Carolina. Whatever the cause, experts now suggest that the giant predatory prawns are here to stay, and that has some in the coastal region worried.

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Tiger shrimp are native to Indo-Pacific, Asian, and Australian waters, but in 2007 Louisiana encountered the first Gulf Coast sighting of the giant creatures, and in 2011 their population seemed to rocket with a tenfold increase in reports to NOAA. Shrimpers in the region report that the black and white-striped shrimp can be as large as ones forearm, and the can commonly weigh up to a pound.

The invasive creatures are of significant concern to locals, fishermen and ecologists. While the brown and white shrimp that are native to the waters are scavengers, the tiger shrimp are predatory and believed to be carnivorous—and could potentially deplete the stock of native shrimp. Were this to happen it would constitute quite a blow to a population and profession already hit hard by successive hurricanes and Deepwater Horizon.

In addition to concerns that the shrimp may eat the shrimp, there’s also little certainty as to the greater impact the tiger shrimp could have on the Gulf’s unique ecosystem. And it’s not just limited to the Gulf-the shrimp have been seen as far afield as North Carolina. But while those on the coast wait for answers, the shrimp appear to be here to stay.

Pam Fuller, who works with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southeast Ecological Science Center explained to the AP “the numbers of tiger shrimp reported, with more in inshore nursery areas and juveniles caught along both coasts, indicate that they’re probably breeding.” But as it stands, the USGS and NOAA have relatively little data on the creatures, and the impact that they may have—or are having—on the Gulf Coast, and are continuing to ask shrimpers and fishermen to report and collect the tiger shrimp.

Of equal discussion among residents however, is the issue of flavor—tiger shrimp are a delicacy in their native regions. poll revealed that 31% of readers were scared by the tiger shrimp and 24% were hungry.


Lead image © Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries