Invasive, Tasty Tiger Prawns Prowl Gulf Waters

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Bring out the melted butter and cocktail sauce. There's an invasive species to eat.

Nearly 100 sightings of the giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon) have been reported in Louisiana waters in 2011, according to Houma Today, a big jump from the 25 to 30 reported in past years. Considering that some of the sightings numbered close to 100 individuals, there seems to be a growing population of the nonnative shrimp prowling Gulf waters.

This year, the U.S. Geological Survey received increasing reports of the species in Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, marking the Lone Star State's first taste of the tiger prawn, reported the Houston Chronicle.

The invasive crustaceans can offer up to 13 inches and 11 ounces of deliciousness, which is why U.. farmers brought the prawns here from their home waters on the coasts of Australia, South East Asia, South Asia and East Africa.

The black and yellow striped prawns may have started their invasion after escaping from a aquaculture operation in South Carolina in 1988, noted the Houston Chronicle. Or they could have made their break after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

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“There’s a certain unknown about what ecological impacts that something nonindigenous like this can have on the local environment,” said Marty Bourgeois, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in Houma Today.

Tiger prawn are voracious predators and are known to harbor numerous diseases that could spread to white and brown shrimp, oysters, and crabs in the Gulf.

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There may be one way to lick this problem, literally. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has advised fisherman that the prawns should not be thrown back into any waters other than a boiling soup pot.

“I haven’t had them myself, but I’ve been told they have a sweet flavor,” Bourgeois said.

Tiger prawns could join the list of invasive species humans seek to control by eating, like wild pigs, lionfish and nutria, noted Mother Nature Network.

The tiger prawn also fetches a higher price than many other shrimp. But Leslie Hartman, of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is skeptical the economic value will outweigh the damage to the native shrimp population.

"It could be another crop, but at the expense of our native crop," Hartman said in the Houston Chronicle.

For right now, researchers are trying to track down the source of the prawns using genetic evidence.

“We’re collecting them, and we’ve got some researchers looking at the genetics,” Bourgeois said. “It may help explain if they’re spawning here or if they’re riding the current into the area somehow.”

Only adults have been found in Louisiana waters, so researchers hope they may be breeding farther south and migrating north.

IMAGES:

Penaeus monodon. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

Tiger prawns on sale at Borough Market. (Credit: Rudolph Furtado, Wikimedia Commons).