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October 29, 2013

United States

Florida—Tiger Shrimp Invasion


The Asian giant tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) has been more of an oddity than a concern to marine researchers over the past 25 years.  Sightings were sufficiently rare for the Florida Department of Natural Resources to put out a “wanted poster” on the big crustacean, asking anyone who came across one to report it to a hotline.


Interest in tiger shrimp in USA waters, however, ramped up in late October 2013, especially around St. Augustine, Florida.  That’s because tiger shrimp showed up in numbers unheard of until recent weeks.  Both the Triton II and Miss Renee shrimp boats came to the docks with about 25 pounds each of the tigers mixed in with their normal catch of white shrimp.


Matt Sweeney of the Seafood Shoppe fish house says the numbers of tiger shrimp have been rising for a couple of months.


Gerald Pack of Mayport’s Safe Harbor Seafood says his boats may pick up two or three tiger shrimp with every drag—“Maybe a dozen in a day,” he said.  “It’s clear they are running with our local stocks of shrimp.”


Pam Fuller is the gatekeeper on all the data and all the studies on invasive tiger shrimp as the United States Geological Survey’s program leader for the National Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Data Program.


She wasn’t surprised by the recent catches.  She was shocked.  Has there ever been a report of such large tiger shrimp catches? “No,” she said, “Never… everything else has been maybe a handful of individuals here and there…nothing like this.”


Researchers from the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida are teaming up to try to answer the question of origin.  A researcher at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric (NOAA) research center in North Carolina is interested in getting DNA samples of the specimens caught in Florida to compare them to other samples in a worldwide database.


Are the invasive tiger shrimp a threat to local shrimp populations?  No one knows.  They are known to be a more aggressive predator than native shrimp, and local shrimp fishermen worry that they will prey on existing stocks of shrimp.


Two decades ago, the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton, South Carolina, conducted an experiment to see if tiger shrimp preyed on white shrimp.  Two very large tiger shrimp were not fed for 24 hours and then put into a 20-gallon aquarium with six dozen 31-count (to the pound) white shrimp.  After 48 hours, the white shrimp were unharmed.


Pam Fuller (above) said that one experiment does not convince her.  She adds that, even if the tiger shrimp doesn’t kill native shrimp stocks, it still has a size and strength advantage when competing with them for food.


Perhaps the biggest concern is the tiger shrimp’s susceptibility to viral diseases—and the transmission of those diseases to native shrimp stocks.  Transmissions are well-documented at shrimp farms, but Fuller admits that disease and its transmission are much more likely in the confines of a farm pond than the open ocean.


If tiger shrimp continue the apparent spike in numbers without damaging existing ecosystems, their presence could be a plus for the maritime economy in general and shrimpers in particular.  It’s another commodity for the seafood industry.


Are tiger shrimp a potential seafood best seller?  Yes! The bottom line is the tiger shrimp really shows its stripes in the kitchen.  They are delicious.  The few people who have ever put a wild tiger shrimp to the palate describe it as combination of Maine lobster and jumbo white shrimp.  In a blind taste test, you couldn’t tell one from Florida’s spiny lobster in either taste or texture.


Sources: 1.  St. Augustine Ground Zero of Tiger Shrimp Surprise.  The Great Escape.  Jim Sutton (  Part One. October 27, 2013.  2.  Tiger Shrimp: Why Here, Why Now? Feeding and breeding?  Jim Sutton (  Part Two. October 28, 2013.

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