Houston Chronicle by Shannon Tompkins 3/13/2019
As happens tens of thousands of times each year, a Texas angler walks into a bait shop, fishes a thin cardboard box or plastic bag holding a pound or so of frozen shrimp from the stack in the storeâ€™s freezer, pays for the bait and heads out for a day of relaxing recreation.
Maybe itâ€™s to a beachfront pier or a stretch of bay shoreline where the angler plans to use the shrimp to tempt redfish, drum, whiting or other marine sport fish. Maybe itâ€™s to a lake or river, where the shrimp will be used a bait for blue catfish.
As the angler opens the box or bag of bait shrimp, maybe he notices (but probably not) some small printing on the container noting the contents are a product of a country in Asia, Central America or even South America. Farm-raised shrimp. No surprise; as much as 90 percent of shrimp sold in this country are non-native species produced in foreign commercial shrimp farms. The frozen foreign shrimp are less expensive than fresh, never-frozen, wild-caught native shrimp, even if not nearly as effective as bait.
The angler threads one of the thawed shrimp on a hook, casts it into the water â€¦ unwittingly and certainly unintentionally violating a state law and potentially putting native crustaceans at risk of devastating diseases.
â€œItâ€™s a situation most fishermen are not aware of, but one that puts fisheries at risk,â€ Lance Robinson, deputy director of coastal fisheries for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said of the sale and use of non-native, farm-raised shrimp as fishing bait. â€œWeâ€™re hoping to educate anglers and bait dealers about that very real risk so they can make informed choices.â€
Against the law
Texas law classifies all Penaeid shrimp (marine shrimp) other than three species native to Gulf of Mexico waters (brown, white and pink shrimp) as â€œharmful or potentially harmfulâ€ and prohibits introducing them or any part of them into state-controlled waters.
Simply casting a hook baited with a non-native shrimp â€” even one long dead and frozen â€” into a bay, river or other public waterway is a violation of Texas law and could garner a Class C misdemeanor citation from a Texas Game warden. Worse, it threatens to loose two viruses deadly to shrimp, crawfish and other crustaceans into the ecosystem.
The prohibition on introducing non-native shrimp into Texas waters has two aims: preventing introduction of live alien species of shrimp into Texas marine waters where they could become invasive species competing with native shrimp, and preventing the introduction of diseases carried by non-native shrimp. Both have the potential to devastate native crustaceans. And the second threat does not require the shrimp to be alive when it hits the water.
Foreign farm-raised shrimp are prone to outbreaks of several virus-caused diseases, a result of crowded and often unsanitary conditions in the aquaculture facilities. Two of the most common are â€œwhite spot syndrome virusâ€ and â€œyellow head virus,â€ neither of which are native in Texas waters.
The viruses are easily transmitted from infected shrimp to other shrimp and can result in high, often complete mortality of shrimp held in grow-out ponds.