“I can't remember a year this bad,” said Doug Jones, Captain of the Dying Breed.
Mayport shrimp have supported the Jones for decades, but are getting harder and harder to find. Instead, their nets are filling up with a strange, invasive creature called the Asian Tiger Shrimp, which are two to three times the size of a typical white shrimp.
Named for their stripes, Asian Tiger Shrimp grow to more than 13 inches long, and weigh as much as pound.
“There were originally brought into this country as an aquaculture project,” said Dr. Quinton White, of the Marine Science and Research Institute at Jacksonville University.
White says the problem is that Asian Tiger Shrimp were never supposed to enter local waters, so they eat other shrimp, but nothing locally eats them.
Native to Japan, Southeast Asia and South America, Asian Tiger Shrimp escaped from a South Carolina research center during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Months later, Jones caught one for the first time.
“It was like, what is this about?”
At first, Jones didn’t worry, but in recent years, the southeast United States has become their breeding ground. Female Asian Tiger Shrimp lay one million eggs over their 14-month lifespan, and northeast Florida’s warm, sandy bottom is an attractive home.
“In the last three or four months we've been catching them every day,” said Jones.
Jones, and his wife Nancy have tried to turn a profit from their catch.
“There's been one person that we sold to,” said Nancy Jones.
But so far, the monster shrimp are too strange for the local Mayport market. However, in St. Augustine, markets tell Action News they can’t keep them in stock.
“These guys are good to eat,” said White, but you’ve got to cut them up and process them, because their size is intimidating to many customers.”
Dr. White believes Asian Tiger Shrimp could eventually become a viable local industry, but that’s going to take time that the Joneses and this struggling shrimping community may not have.
“The only hope I've got is that they die off,” said Jones.
“I’m afraid there’s not a whole lot we can do,” said White. They were introduced to the environment, and there is not a whole lot we can do.”
Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey tell Action News that Asian Tiger Shrimp farms no longer exist in the United States. The government does not have a plan to help control them, because they’re already too out of control.
Asian Tiger Shrimp are usually seen locally in August through February.