A most unwelcome immigrant has arrived in the Gulf of Mexico, and ecosystem experts are sounding the alarm. The Asian tiger prawn grows to a length of about one foot and could wreak havoc on the balance of life in the Gulf due to its voracious appetite and tendency to spread disease. Tiger prawns are known to carry 16 or more harmful viruses.
“It has the potential to be real ugly,” Leslie Hartman, Matagorda Bay ecoystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told the Houston Chronicle. “But we just do not know.”
The Chronicle report mentions a couple of theories as to how the oversized crustaceans came to live in the Gulf, both of which point to aquaculture — large-scale fish-farming — as the ultimate reason. Although there is a policy that only native fish be farmed in the Gulf, which would lessen the potential for catastrophe should some escape, that policy is not an enforceable law. The state of Texas allows farming of non-native species with a permit. But according to a marine and coastal resources expert for the Texas Sea Grant program, no one is farming the Asian tiger prawn in Texas.
According to an article in Houma Today, the number of Asian tiger prawn sightings has increased dramatically. In previous years, fishermen reported an average of 30 of the big crustaceans in their nets annually. This fall, there were nearly 100 reports of tiger prawns, with one dock reporting a haul of 100 tiger prawns.