SUQUAMISH – Spot shrimp are an elusive bunch, given they live 250 feet below the surface, making it hard for biologists to study them.
But with a three-year shrimp tagging project now under way in Elliott Bay, the Suquamish Tribe is trying to unveil the mysteries of the wily crustaceans.
Since June 2006, tribal staff have been capturing, tagging and releasing up to 3,000 shrimp a year. Biologists hope the tagged shrimp will be harvested in tribal, commercial and sport fisheries, from which they will collect information on shrimp growth and migration patterns over time.
“Spot shrimp are susceptible to over harvest,” said Paul Williams, Suquamish Tribe’s shellfish biologist. “Shrimp pots can potentially lure all the shrimp in the surrounding area from their hiding places, so we have to set quotas low enough to prevent that. The problem is right now, we can’t estimate the population size and we don’t fully understand their life history so all we can do is set quotas on past catch performance. That can be risky. Catch can be good but then suddenly plummet faster than we can react.”
Managers are cautious in setting spot shrimp quotas. In most areas, catch seems to be steady and the populations healthy. But they’ve disappeared from Port Townsend Bay – possibly replaced by other shrimp species – and catch has drastically declined in other areas.
“We don’t want to wait until more areas are lost before we figure out their life history,” Williams said. “That’s the history of fisheries management world wide – fish ‘till they’re gone and then try to figure out what happened.”
Biologists know little about how long spot shrimp live in Puget Sound, if they survive after spawning and how fast they grow.
“This tagging study will fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge,” Williams said. “We’ll also be able use the techniques to estimate the shrimp population size in an area.”
Spot shrimp are big, tasty, fresh and wild – far superior to their imported frozen farmed cousins. With shorter spot shrimp seasons due to their increasing popularity, and an ever increasing human population, the need to focus on management improvements is widely shared.
Fishermen harvesting tagged shrimp are asked to call the number on the tag to provide general information about the shrimp. There is also a reward.
Several tribes and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are helping with the research. Funding was as provided as mitigation by King County for its Brightwater Sewage Treatment project. The shrimp study started in June 2006 and will continue through 2009.
Spot Shrimp Fast Facts:
– Scientific name: Pandalus platyceros
– Spot shrimp are found in the northeast Pacific Ocean from southern Alaska to southern California, as well as in and around the Sea of Japan; they are the largest shrimp in the North Pacific
– They are named for the white spots behind the head and in front of the tail
– Shrimp are Protandric Hermaphrodites, meaning they live their lives partially as males and later transition into females
For more information, contact: Paul Williams, Suquamish Tribe shellfish biologist, at (360) 394-8443 or [email protected].