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Tiger shrimp - blessing or curse for local shrimpers?

8:39 PM, Oct 28, 2013   |    comments
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A big shrimp has entered First Coast waters.

"When we first started pulling them up, it was like, 'Holy mackerel! Look at this!'"  Shrimper David Ponce still laughs about the latest thing caught in his nets: tiger shrimp.  

"When you hold it up like this, you can tell how big it is," he held up a tiger shrimp that measured about 8 inches long Monday.

That particular tiger shrimp was about a third of a pound. He said some have weighed one pound each.

Ponce said, "They're the biggest shrimp we've ever seen!"

Ponce and other shrimpers have started netting more tiger shrimp in St. Augustine waters. They just come in with the rest of the catch.

Tiger shrimp are native to the Pacific Ocean, but they have started to appear in the Atlantic.

"About 4 years ago, we started getting one or two," Ponce said. 

Stacia Raybon - who also has a shrimp boat said, "Now we're catching 20-30 pounds a week."

Shrimpers and even scientists reportedly aren't sure why so many tiger shrimp are showing up off the St. Augustine coast. 

While there is concern and intrigue, there is also delight.  Tiger shrimp tastes like lobster.

"Sautee it in a pan and then bake it," Raybon said. "Oh my goodness! So good! Delicious!"

It's so good in another way too.  A catch of tiger shrimp can bring in big bucks for shrimpers who are dealing with a slumping season this year.

"The minute they come in, we sell out," Candice Hinds explained. She manages The Seafood Shoppe in St. Augustine Beach. She now has started a waiting list for tiger shrimp.

"It's because calls were coming in all day for tiger shrimp. As they [tiger shrimp] come in, we don't even put it in the case. We just call off the list," Hinds smiled.

At her store, tiger shrimp with the head on is selling for $14.95 pound -- about $5 more than regular shrimp.

However, it's a non-native species and possibly an invasive species.

"We're not sure what kind of environmental impact it will have. We don't know," Ponce noted.

Some shrimpers are worried this blessing of a shrimp could be a curse.

Raybon said she is very concerned. 

"Obviously the population is getting bigger. They eat a lot of the brown and white shrimp, and that's what we catch. So that's a big concern," she said.

Raybon hasn't caught enough of the tiger shrimp to really balance out her losses this year. Her bread and butter is still white shrimp.

But for now, the big tiger shrimp is a big seller.

"The only thing we know is they're good eating. And we can sell them, so it's good for us," Ponce nodded. 

First Coast News

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