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July 7 2014

United States

Mississippi/Ohio—The Freshwater Prawn, Macrobrachium ohione


In a new book, America Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood, award-winning, fisheries author Paul Greenberg, uses three species—salmon, oysters and shrimp—to explain why United States fisheries have declined.


In his chapter on shrimp, where he says inexpensive shrimp imports from Asia are partially responsible for the decline in USA shrimp fisheries, he mentions “...a now largely unknown river prawn that had once migrated from the Mississippi’s [River] mouth all the way north to the Ohio River.


Then, in one of his footnotes at the end of the book (Page 275, Note 102), Greenberg writes:


“Macrobrachium ohione is a variety of what are called caridean shrimp, which make fresh water their primary residence.  An odd-looking creature with one oversized claw (Macrobrachium meaning “big arm”), it is nearly transparent in color and, today, just as invisible in its public profile.  In pre-colonial times, though, it had a major market presence, not just in the delta region but throughout the river.  M. ohione made not just a quick jaunt to the sea from the lower river, as brown shrimp have, but in fact journeyed more than two thousand miles upstream— all the way north into the upper reaches of the Mississippi’s main eastern tributary, the Ohio River.  In 1899, two hundred thousand pounds of M. ohione were taken by the poorly documented fishery of the Mississippi River and we can assume many more—perhaps orders of magnitude more—were caught and never reported.  Albert “Rusty” Gaude III in the Louisiana Sea Grant office confirmed this with me.  “I ran the numbers,” Gaude told me, “and that catch was worth $20 million, not in today’s dollars, but in their money.”  Multiplied out, that means a catch in today’s value of nearly half a billion dollars—more valuable than the entire USA shrimp fishery today.”


Shrimp News: Does anyone know if the fishery for M. ohione still exists in the Mississippi River?  If not, why did it disappear?


Sources: 1. American Shrimp/The Fight for Our Local Seafood.  Paul Greenberg.  The Penquin Press/New York 2014.  2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International. July 8, 2014.

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