Pink shrimp are marketed fresh or frozen, shelled or unshelled, raw or cooked. They are caught year-round but tend to be most abundant during the winter and spring. These shrimp are tender and mild with sweet-tasting flesh in their tails. Raw pink shrimp should smell like the ocean without any ammonia smell. Pink shrimp landed in northern Florida can be difficult to distinguish from brown and white penaeid shrimp when raw, as they all can look translucent pink to gray in color; Key West pinks are easy to distinguish as they have a bright pink color when raw. Cooked and shelled pink shrimp should be plump.
Based on average landings of Gulf pink shrimp from 2014-2016 and using the most recent Seafood Watch ratings as of February 2019, the sustainability breakdown of Gulf pink shrimp is:
~60% of global landings and ~95% of U.S. landings for Gulf pink shrimp meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" recommendation
~30% of global landings for Gulf pink shrimp meet a Seafood Watch "Avoid (red)" recommendation (from Mexico)
~10% of global landings for Gulf pink shrimp are unrated (primarily from Cuba)
Gulf pink shrimp are crustaceans with five pairs of slender, long walking legs, and five pairs of swimming legs that are located on the front of the abdomen. Their carapace, which functions as a protective cover, has grooves and part of the shell is a well-developed, toothed rostrum that extends forward beyond their eyes. The eyes of pink shrimp are on top of flexible stalks which can help them detect predators. This species typically has a dark-colored spot on each side between their third and fourth abdominal segments. The tail usually has a dark blue band.
Pink shrimp have a fairly fast growth rate which can depend on factors including water temperature and salinity. They can grow up to 11 inches long. Although they grow quickly, the species has a short lifespan, normally living for only 2 years. Gulf pink shrimp start reproducing when they reach around 3.3 inches long and spawning periods can vary from one location to another – in North Carolina waters, spawning lasts from late spring to July and in Florida, pink shrimp will spawn multiple times, with a peak lasting from April to July.
Along the outer continental shelf, males will mate with females by anchoring their sperm to the females. Females release upwards of one million eggs near the ocean floor and the eggs are fertilized as they are released. Traveling along shoreward currents, newly hatched shrimp make their way to nursery habitats in estuaries during the late spring into early summer. Those that survive the winter will grow rapidly in estuaries and then migrate back to the ocean.
Larvae feed on plankton, while juvenile and adult shrimp are opportunistic feeders. They will eat a variety of things including copepods, small mollusks, diatoms, algae, and detritus. Sheepshead minnow and aquatic insects and their larvae feed on post-larval pink shrimp. Other crustaceans, such as grass shrimp and blue crabs prey on young shrimp. A variety of finfish also feed heavily on both juvenile and adult pink shrimp.
Gulf pink shrimp are found from the southern portion of the Chesapeake Bay, southwards to the Florida Keys and around the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, to Cape Catoche and the Isla Mujeres on the Yucatan Peninsula. They are most abundant off the southwestern coast of Florida and in the southeastern Gulf of Campeche. Gulf pink shrimp are commonly found on sand, silt, or mud bottoms as well as amongst shells. Juveniles inhabit nursery areas with marsh grasses and may overwinter in estuaries where they will bury deep in the sand and mud to protect themselves from the cold. As juveniles grow into adults, they will move offshore into deeper and saltier waters. Gulf pink shrimp are nocturnal and will bury themselves during the day and are much more active at night, especially around dusk. They are found at depths ranging from 6.5 to 300 feet (two to 70 meters) and exceptionally up to 755 feet deep (230 meters) – though they are most abundant around 36 and 118 feet deep (11 and 36 meters).
Science & Management
In the past, the National Marine Fisheries Service has studied how Gulf pink shrimp populations could be an indicator for whether or not the Florida Everglades are getting healthier as a result of restoration work. Looking at the effects of salinity, freshwater flow, nursery habitat availability on pink shrimp growth and survival can help determine if restoration efforts in the Everglades have had positive results.
NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SFSC) has conducted shrimp research for decades. Scientists have learned more about the dynamics of pink shrimp movement, growth, and survival in southern Florida. Studies conducted in the 1960s showed the importance of mangrove estuaries as nursery habitats for pink shrimp. In the late 90s, research was done to better understand the ecology of pink shrimp and how their growth and survival is influenced by salinity and temperature. In recent years, information has been gathered on the behavior and migration of larvae and juvenile pink shrimp.
NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council manage the Gulf pink shrimp fishery in the US South Atlantic under the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the South Atlantic Region. Additionally, various state resource management agencies manage the fishery in inshore state waters (zero to three nautical miles). The Shrimp FMP for the South Atlantic Region regulates the Gulf pink shrimp fishery in federal waters off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Atlantic Florida. The FMP was first written in 1991, was effective as of 1993, and has subsequently been amended throughout the years. Management measures outlined in the FMP include:
Commercial permit requirements;
Mandatory post-trip fishing reports;
Mandatory observer coverage (if selected); and,
Established catch levels (based on historic abundance and fishing rates as shrimp stocks are highly influenced by environmental factors).
NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manage the US Gulf of Mexico pink shrimp fishery under the Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The FMP was first implemented in 1981 and has been amended several times since. It regulates the Gulf pink shrimp fishery in federal waters off of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Gulf Coast of Florida – the latter accounting for 80 percent of the total Gulf pink shrimp harvest in the US. As with the South Atlantic states, various resource management agencies manage the fishery in inshore state waters. Management measures outlined in the FMP include:
Commercial fishing permits (currently no new permits are being issued);
Electronic logbook requirements (for all shrimpers) and mandatory trip reports after each fishing trip (for select shrimpers);
Mandatory observer coverage (if selected); and,
Area and time closures (all federal waters off Texas are closed from mid-May to mid-July to protect spawning brown shrimp).
Shrimpers are also subject to gear restrictions to prevent bycatch of sea turtles and finfish. Shrimpers using otter trawl gear in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are required to use sea turtle excluder devices (TEDs). TED regulations extend to state waters as sea turtles are covered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the ESA does not distinguish between state and federal waters. Gear configurations vary state by state. For instance, Texas does not allow the use of skimmer trawls, but other states do. Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Florida all allow the use of skimmer trawls; however, Florida requires shrimpers use TEDs on this gear. Skimmer trawls have been exempted from TED requirements if they operate with alternative tow time restrictions meaning that the trawl times cannot exceed 55 or 75 minutes during specific times during the year. In an effort to reduce bycatch of finfish, shrimpers operating in the state waters of Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina must install bycatch reduction devices (BRDs). If bycatch exceeds a certain threshold, the area can be closed to fishing. BRDs are not currently required for shrimpers operating in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
All shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico must have a weak link in the tickler chain (which hangs in front of the net and drags along the ocean floor stirring up shrimp from the seafloor) that will allow the tickler chain to drop away if it is hung up on bottom structures.
According to a 2016 stock assessment Gulf pink shrimp in the South Atlantic and the US Gulf of Mexico are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing.
Shrimp fisheries in Mexico are managed by a number of federal agencies and laws. The Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food (SAGARPA) is the agency responsible for establishing public policies to ensure optimum development of resources. The National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries (CONAPESCA) is a branch of SAGARPA responsible for fisheries management, monitoring, and enforcement. CONAPESCA is also responsible for the sustainable development of fisheries and aquaculture resources. The National Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA) is responsible for gathering data that provides the scientific and technical basis for decision-making. Additionally, INSAPESCA assesses the status of wild stocks and evaluates the impacts of fishing gears. Together these three bodies implement a network of management measures including:
Seasonal closures (the Gulf of Mexico is generally closed between May and September);
Permanent, year-round area closures;
Mandatory TED use (in both the industrial and artisanal trawl fleets) and finfish excluded device use (in the industrial trawl fleet only);
A voluntary buyback program (aimed at reducing fishing pressure); and,
Onboard vessel monitoring systems (for the industrial fleet only).
While these measures are currently in place, the Mexican Gulf pink shrimp fishery is depleted and there are currently no comprehensive stock assessments. Therefore, fishery managers have not determined if current fishing levels are sustainable. It is unclear as to how successful the buyback program has been at reducing fishing effort and as there are no observer programs in the Gulf of Mexico, the actual success of the bycatch reduction efforts is unknown. While it is thought that these efforts have generally reduced bycatch, bycatch levels in both the artisanal and industrial fleets in the Gulf of Mexico are still thought to be high. Fishery managers have made improvements – in particular strengthening inspection and enforcement of the industrial fleet – but there are still concerns regarding illegal fishing in some of Mexico’s general artisanal shrimp fleet.
Pink shrimp is a kind of penaeid shrimp that is fast growing and has a short life span of less than two years. They tend to be fairly resilient to fishing pressure but are very dependent on favorable environmental conditions. The abundance of pink shrimp, which are found in the western Atlantic from Mexico to Maryland, varies greatly due to shrimp populations’ short-lived nature and differing environmental conditions. Severe winters can negatively impact their abundance. Although there was concern in past years about pink shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico and the south Atlantic being overfished, the stock in the south Atlantic has been declared rebuilt and there is now no indication that Gulf of Mexico pink shrimp are overfished.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Most pink shrimp caught in the U.S. come from Florida’s west coast, and they are mainly caught using bottom trawls, also called otter trawls. Some pink shrimp is also caught with butterfly nets and beam trawls. Bottom trawling is designed for maximum contact with the seafloor, and in this fishery the trawls frequently return to the same areas annually, causing great damage to shallow coastal areas. This trawling also releases nutrients into the water column, diminishing marine grass growth while increasing algal blooms. Overall, the effects of trawling on the habitat are a moderate concern in this fishery.
Bycatch in this shrimp fishery is high and includes finfish, sea turtles, and overfished red snapper. U.S. shrimp trawlers are required to use bycatch reduction devices that allow fish to escape fishing nets. They are also required to use turtle extruder devices (TEDs) that are designed to prevent turtle deaths. However, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service noted that in 2010 and 2011 the number of sea turtles stranded in the Gulf of Mexico spiked, possibly due to interactions with shrimp trawlers. Other species of concern include endangered smalltooth sawfish, endangered Atlantic sturgeon and overfished blacknosed shark.
The pink shrimp fishery falls under the aegis of the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, which have put substantial management measures in place to reach conservation and sustainability goals. Measures include permit requirements, closures following severe weather, mesh size restrictions, catch reporting for every trip, bycatch reduction device requirements, and scientific monitoring. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council issued a 10-year moratorium on issuing commercial shrimp vessel permits in 2005 and capped the number of vessels allowed in federal waters.