Invading Species Threaten Texas Gulf Coast
December 29, 2011

Invading Species Threaten Texas Gulf Coast

The Asian Tiger Prawn, an invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico that can grow nearly a foot long and threatens native wild stocks, has been found on the Texas coast.

The tiger prawns, native to the western Pacific, have been spreading along the Gulf Coast since 2006 and their numbers have increased this year. Shrimpers pulled the first one from Texas waters in June. So far shrimpers harvested three in Aransas Bay, one from Sabine Lake at the Louisiana Border and one from open waters about 70 miles from Freeport.

To determine the origin of the specimens, marine biologists will need to undertake genetic studies on at least 60 specimens.

The tiger prawn is invasive because they have a voracious appetite and carry several diseases. They are known to eat the native shrimp, crabs and oysters destroying native wild stocks.

Researchers speculate that the prawns were released accidentally from an aquaculture farm in South Carolina in 1988. But some may come from Caribbean farms that were flooded during recent hurricanes.

This threat, by the prawns, shows that there are concerns about large-scale fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico. The federal government opened up the Gulf Coast to large scale farming in 2009 without taking into regard how to protect the wild, native species.

The densely packed fish farms can spread disease to wild stocks and future releases have unknown ecological impacts that could knock nature´s balance out of whack and turn a healthy, diverse marine habitat into one dominated by a single invasive species, according to

Leslie Hartman, the Matagorda Bay ecosystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife said, “it has the potential to be real ugly, but we just don´t know.”

The good news is that scientists have yet to find any juvenile tiger prawns in Texas waters.