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A brine shrimp bid for Utah’s state crustacean

Small pink brine shrimp floating over a dark background
John P. George
Brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) from Great Salt Lake.

Brine shrimp are an abundant crustacean in Great Salt Lake, providing a critical source of food for migratory birds, and brine shrimp eggs are sold across the world as feed for aquaculture facilities, bringing in millions of dollars to Utah’s economy. Now, a group of Utahns are looking to instate brine shrimp as Utah’s state crustacean.

Jaimi Butler is the coordinator for the Great Salt Lake Institute and a brine shrimp enthusiast.

“About three years ago, one of my students, Bobby Bruggeman, went in this deep dive into Wikipedia about brine shrimp…and Bobby came to me one day, and he's such a character. He's like, ‘Jaimi! Did you know that only seven states have a state crustacean and Utah is not one of them?’” Butler said.

Since then, Butler has wanted to nominate brine shrimp as Utah’s state crustacean, but only recently got enough momentum to push the idea forward. Partnering with Utah Representative Rosemary Lesser and Josh Craner’s sixth grade class of the Salt Lake City School District’s Emerson Elementary, they drafted a bill detailing why brine shrimp deserve the state title.

Brine shrimp harvesting has significant history in Utah, and Butler said naming brine shrimp as the state crustacean honors the successes the industry has achieved.

“I don't think brine shrimp need more protection, I think the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, and the Division of Natural Resources is doing a great job of managing and even optimizing brine shrimp. To me, it's this recognition of decades of work that people have done in partnership with industry and academia and conservation groups,” Butler said.

While Butler argued brine shrimp may not need more protections themselves, she hoped this bill will spur more interest in protecting Great Salt Lake as a whole.

“I think there's a misconception that there's going to be a silver bullet...and if we all do this one thing, then it'll fix the lake. And that's not how it is…everybody kind of has to do everything from me in my daily life, and the sixth graders that want brine shrimp to be our state crustacean, to lawmakers that can vote for smart water laws,” Butler said.

Visit Change.org to learn how you can help brine shrimp become Utah’s state crustacean, and stay tuned for part two of this story, where we share the Emerson Elementary’s sixth graders’ journey to creating the brine shrimp bill.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.