A prawn shock tale

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The Independent Online
THE world's most frightening animal in the next century could be . . . a prawn. Yes, I know it's hard to envisage as you gaze at those naked little bodies nestling among the seafood sauce. But if the fish- farming industry is allowed to continue its uncontrolled breeding programme, it won't be long before the prawns are pulling off your legs.

Don't believe it? Then listen to this. Richard Klein, who runs Prawn Park in New Zealand, reckons it will only be a few years before he is breeding metre-long freshwater prawns. Imagine that! A prawn bigger than most dogs! If he can create a yard of prawn that easily, how long before we're seeing them two, three or four times that size?

Klein (or should it be Frankenklein?) is conducting his fiendish experiments using a variety of Dublin Bay prawn which grows to about 6in. We know them better as scampi, but it may not be long before you're calling them "Sir". These prawns, unlike those pinkish excuses for a crustacean, carry a hefty set of claws. Klein reckons that Prawn Major will have foot-long nippers.

The mad scientist spotted that the adult males go through two stages: when their claws are golden, and when they are blue. Cunning intermixing of blue and golden clawed males in a tank of females will, he is convinced, result in larger and more aggressive males until he has one more than a metre long, and weighing at least 450g. His plan, of course, is to develop the sort of prawn that only requires one to feed a family - but things could end up the other way round.

If you think this is fantasy, I should point out that Klein (a singularly inappropriate name for someone obsessed with size) knows what he's talking about. He already raises 60,000 prawns a year in his hatchery at Waireakei. It raises around two million larvae, which he feeds royally on scrambled eggs and mashed mussels. The females spawn five times a year, producing up to 80,000 eggs.

Simple maths will tell you that with a few sexy females, a prawn farmer can get rich quick. But it's not just a matter of digging a few ponds and chucking in what's left over from breakfast. It's a jungle down there, and at least one in three prawns becomes part of the food chain, eaten by their mates. Even our common prawn, which grows to 2in and has no claws to speak of, will grab and eat a fish half its size.

There's a lesson for us here. Imagine what a superprawn - aggressive, powerful and with a taste for fresh meat - could do. Unless Klein starts mixing a few sheep genes with the scrambled egg, there's every chance that one dark night his charges will be out of the tank. Anyone who has watched a science fiction movie can write the next scene. Yes, Klein will be feeding his charges in a way he never expected.

What happens after that is anyone's guess, but as an angler I'm apprehensive. I often use shrimps and prawns as bait. They are wonderful for bass, wrasse and pollack, while flounders and plaice just love shrimps. They're easy to catch, too. Find a suitable harbour and go out on a moonless summer's night with a net and torch. Shine your light on the water. When the prawns come to the surface to investigate (you can see their little eyes shining) scoop 'em out.

New Zealand may be a way off, but I reckon the Revenge of the Killer Prawns will be directed first at those who have abused and tortured their relations. First fish farmers, then anglers. It might be a good idea to become a vegetarian before Claws grows up.