The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that 331 Asian tiger shrimp were counted in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011, up from just 32 in 2010.
The sudden rise is troubling because it may signal that the shrimp are breeding in Gulf waters, rather than being washed in by currents, according to a report by USAToday. "The reason we're alarmed about this is that we've been monitoring this species for 15 years, and last year the numbers suddenly increased tenfold in one year," said James Morris, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, North Carolina.
The next step will be to test the DNA of the shrimp that have been caught. Differences -- or lack thereof -- in the DNA will tell whether the shrimp are closely related, which would indicate that they are breeding in the Gulf.
What's at stake? An NOAA fact sheet states that the giant prawns may "carry disease, compete for the same food source, or prey directly on native shrimp."
For more about the Asian tiger shrimp, read our previous report, "Asian Tiger Prawn Poses Threat in Gulf of Mexico".