Bokeelia shrimp fisherman David Parsons caught the first Asian tiger shrimp in Lee County last Friday.
Asian tiger shrimp are an invasive species in Florida waters. Unlike indigenous shrimp they can grow to an amazing 12 inches long and can weigh nearly 2/3rd pound.
"I fish the waters from Charlotte Harbor to Fort Myers Beach," Parsons said. "When I was out last Friday on my boat Capt. Trey Bear I was checking the size of the shrimp in the net to be sure they meet the size requirements. When I pulled the net up the shrimp were 80 count and then when I dumped the catch it was the first thing I saw - it was so large it looked like a lobster.
Last week, David Parsons, aboard the Capt. Trey Bear caught the first tiger shrimp in?Southwest Florida waters.
"We always receive bulletins from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notifying us of different things to look out for," Parsons said. "About a year and a half ago the FWC sent out a bulletin asking fisherman to be on the lookout for 'non-native giant tiger shrimp.' I believe one was caught in East Bay near Panama and that catch was the first time a giant tiger shrimp was reported in Florida's northern Gulf of Mexico waters. They send out the bulletins for us to report these right away. So that's what we did."
Parson's first called Florida Fish and Wildlife. Larry Connor of FFW said, "I believe this is the first tiger shrimp caught in Lee County. They've been reported as far south as the Keys and up north but never before in the Southwest Florida, Lee County area."
Pam Fuller, biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, confirmed this is the first report of Asian tiger shrimp in Southwest Florida.
"Since there isn't as much shrimp fishing going on, it's possible that's why it's not being reported," Fuller said.
Fuller is also the USGS biologist who runs the agency's Non-indigenous Aquatic Species database.
The first known report of the Asian tiger shrimp occurred in 1988 when approximately 2,000 were accidentally released from an aquaculture facility in South Carolina. In the aftermath, nearly 300 tiger shrimp were caught off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
In 2006, 18 years later, a single adult male was captured by a commercial fisherman in Mississippi Sound near Dauphin Island, Alabama. Between 2007 and 2011 tiger shrimp were caught in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
"We can confirm there was nearly a tenfold jump in reports of Asian tiger shrimp in 2011," explained Fuller. "And they are probably even more prevalent than reports suggest, because the more fisherman and other locals become accustomed to seeing them, the less likely they are to report them."
Researchers from USGS are working with state agencies from North Carolina to Texas to look into how this transplanted species from Indo-Pacific, Asian and Australian waters reached U.S. waters, and what the increase in sightings means for native species.
In addition to their size, mature tiger shrimp caught in the wild can be distinguished from native American panaeid shrimp by their overall rusty brown color and the distinctive black and white banding across their back and tail.
DNA researchers are going to start looking for subtle differences in DNA to see if they can learn more about how they got here. If they find differences, the next step is to fine tune the analysis to determine whether they are breeding here, have multiple populations or are carried in from outside areas.
"I think it's quite possible they're being swept up from the Caribbean," Fuller said. "There are large farms there that appear to be connected directly to the ocean. Some of those were destroyed in hurricanes. We don't know if perhaps a large bunch got loose and swept up here and became established. Nobody knows. That's one reason we want to do the genetic work."
Parsons is on the lookout too.
"I've seen some strange things - eels that I've never seen before, fish that walk across the deck, but this was something prehistoric and I'll be happy to get it out of my freezer," he said to The Eagle Monday. "Florida Fish and Wildlife is sending us a box on Monday with instructions about shipping the shrimp back to them and I'm going out fishing on Monday. If I catch another tiger shrimp, you'll be the first person I call."