shrimp Giant Asian Shrimp Invade Gulf Waters

(credit: CBS)

DULAC, La. (CBS NEWS) – Shrimping season opened Monday off Louisiana, and fishermen can’t get over what they’re finding in the nets. From Texas to North Carolina, fishermen have been catching giant shrimp, big enough to stretch across a 12-inch dinner plate.

Shrimp captain James Mason has fished off of Louisiana’s coast for 44 years. But he had never caught an Asian tiger prawn until last April, when he netted seven in one month. “I didn’t know what to think,” Mason said. “We dumped the net and that popped out on top, and I said, ‘My god, what a big old shrimp.'”

Mason has sold a few for top dollar — $8 each. “That’s the most expensive shrimp I’ve ever sold in my life,” he said. If Mason could sell every shrimp for $8, he wouldn’t be shrimping for very long “No, you could retire real quick, real quick.”

The Asian tiger prawn, native to the western Pacific, is edible, but worrisome — an invasive species in waters off the southeastern United States. The U.S. Geological Survey says that they may have escaped from Caribbean aqua-culture farms, or from the water tanks of passing ships. The first few were spotted in 2005. But between 2010 and 2011, the number caught off the Gulf and Atlantic coasts spiked from 32 to 569.

The size is astounding, but the arrival of the creatures gives even a seafood seller pause. “That’s the worrisome part,” said fourth-generation seafood wholesaler Kim Chauvin, “because you’re wondering what the feeding part is. You’re going, ‘Wow, how much does it eat in one day?'”

Asian tiger prawns feed on crabs, mollusks and smaller shrimp. And each female can produce 1.5 million eggs a year.

Chauvin and some marine ecologists worry that the prawns could eat through native habitats. “It’s the unknown, the fear of the unknown,” Chauvin said, “because in our industry, you need to know what’s going on all the time, just for the ecosystem.”

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