NEW ORLEANS — Stuffed shrimp are decor rather than dinner for some of the folks who have caught the really big sort – invasive Asian tiger shrimp – in the Gulf of Mexico or along the East Coast, including in South Carolina.
Sometimes the shrimp become both food and a wall display. Joe Strange of Joe’s Taxidermy in Houma said he mounted three last year, dining on the meat he removed from the two smallest, about 7 and 10 inches long.
“I just threw them quick in a frying pan with butter, salt and pepper,” he said. “That way you get the true taste.”
He liked them. “They were better tasting than our shrimp. I would trade them off for our shrimp anytime.”
Scientists and others are worried that might happen, with possible devastating effects on native shrimp and the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem. The invaders could gobble up the tiger’s share of native shrimps’ diet, not to mention crabs, snails, oysters and other bivalves, and the local shrimp themselves – because all shrimp are carnivores. And, in turn, that could affect the larger animals that eat those critters.
Tiger shrimp are named for their black-and-white or black-and-yellow stripes. They’re known from the “slip an extra shrimp on the barbie” line that brought actor Paul Hogan to U.S. fame through an Australian tourism TV ad in the mid-1980s.
The shrimp – native to Indo-Pacific, Asian, and Australian waters – are bigger enough than native species that they could both outcompete and just plain eat their smaller cousins out of existence.
Scientists say there’s no evidence of that happening so far. But the numbers of tiger shrimp reported, with more in inshore nursery areas and juveniles caught along both coasts, indicate that they’re probably breeding, said Pam Fuller, who keeps a federal invasive species database at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southeast Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, Fla.
The shrimp have become so numerous in U.S. waters that federal scientists don’t have a good handle on just how many are out there, even though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division asked last year for shrimpers to report and freeze them for DNA analysis.