U.S. white shrimp are caught from August to November, and are usually available frozen as tail meat year-round. White shrimp is low in saturated fat and is a very good source of selenium and vitamin B12. Random tests are recommended to ensure that the shrimp that arrives is actually what was ordered. Buyer Beware: Most shrimp is treated with the preservative sodium tripolyphosphate, but too much will make the shrimp appear translucent and give them a soapy feel. Buyers recommend asking for specific moisture content since processors sometimes undercook the shrimp to increase weight. Many fishermen prevent black spots on shells by using bisodium sulfates but overuse causes pitting on the shells.
Based on average landings of white shrimp (Penaeus setiferous) from 2016-17 and based on the most recent Seafood Watch ratings as of July, 2019, the sustainability breakdown of white shrimp is as follows:
~65% of landings meet a Seafood Watch "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (~40% from Louisiana, ~30% from Texas, and ~10% from North Carolina)
~30% of landings meet a Seafood Watch "Avoid (red)" (~95% from Louisiana)
~5% of landings are unrated / unknown (from Mexico)
Landings from Louisiana are split ~50/50 for white shrimp that meet "Good Alternative" and "Avoid" ratings
Global landings of white shrimp were +/- 3% from each other in 2016 and 2017 and are ~30% increase from the average across years 2013-2015
White shrimp can live up to four years old, though most don’t survive to two years. Juvenile white shrimp grow and molt quickly in estuaries during late spring and summer in temperatures warmer than 18 degrees Celsius. This growth rate decreases in the cooler fall and winter months. Temperatures colder than eight degrees Celsius can be critically dangerous for these populations, and temperatures at three degrees Celsius or colder is fatal.
Females grow larger than males, typically up to eight inches in length. Males can grow up to seven inches in length. Both males and females mature at about five inches in length. The antennae of white shrimp tends to be longer than that of other shrimp species, growing up to three times longer than the rest of their body length. White shrimp have ten long walking legs and five pairs of shorter swimming legs.
Spawning behavior is initiated by an increase in offshore bottom water temperatures, and can occur through May to September. Up to one million eggs are released per spawn. Eggs are then fertilized and sink to the bottom of the water column – hatching within 10-12 hours after fertilization. White shrimp remain as larvae for 10 days, where they then enter estuarine nursery habitats to live and grow before migrating to the ocean in the spring.
Larvae feed on zooplankton and phytoplankton. Juvenile and adult white shrimp feed on detritus, plants, microorganisms, small fish, and small invertebrates. Sheepshead minnows, water boatmen, and insect larvae eat larval shrimp. Grass shrimp, killifishes, and blue crabs prey on young shrimp. Many finfish feed on juvenile and adult white shrimp.
White shrimp are found along the Atlantic Coast of North America from Fire Island, New York to St. Lucie Inlet, Florida. In the Gulf of Mexico, they are found from the Ochlockonee River, Florida to Campeche, Mexico – with their greatest abundance being in the Mississippi River Delta of Louisiana. White shrimp inhabit estuaries, marshes, and coastal areas generally to about 100 feet offshore. Juveniles live and grow in protected nursery areas with muddy ocean bottoms and low to moderate salinity. As they grow older, white shrimp move further offshore where they will spawn. Though white shrimp generally occur higher in the water column, they have also been found in association with other shrimp species – particularly brown shrimp.
Science & Management
The Annual Economic Survey of Federal Gulf and Atlantic Shrimp Permit Holders conducts research about operating expenses and costs of owning and maintaining shrimp vessels. The information is gathered in order to assess trends in the financial and economic state of the shrimp fisheries, and the economic and social effects of regulations on these fisheries. The Gulf Shrimp System provides an overview of procedures used to collect fishery statistics for the shrimp fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. The end goal is to provide catch, value, area caught, and effort data for commercial fishing trips.
NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council manage the US Atlantic white shrimp fishery under the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The FMP and its amendments:
Establish a permitting system for the harvest of shrimp in federal waters
Requires fishers to submit reports for each trip
Requires fishery observers to be onboard fishing vessels (if selected) to collect data on catch, bycatch, gear, and fishing effort
White shrimp are relatively short-lived can be particularly impacted by severe cold weather during the winter months along the South Atlantic. As such, fishery managers establish catch limits based on historic harvest amounts and fishing effort – rather than on abundance. Stocks can be periodically decimated by cold weather snaps in the South Atlantic, especially in South Carolina and Georgia. When this occurs, the FMP allows individual states to close the shrimp fishery in their waters – as well as in adjacent federal waters – to protect the remaining populations.
NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manage the white shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Mexico under the Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The majority of white shrimp harvested in the United States (96 percent in 2014) come from the Gulf of Mexico – particularly from Louisiana and Texas. Implemented in 1981, the Gulf of Mexico Shrimp FMP and its amendments:
Establishes a permitting system for the harvest of shrimp in federal waters (currently no new permits are being issued to limit the number of boats participating in the fishery)
Requires fishers to install electronic logbooks and to submit trip reports for each fishing trip
Establishes an observer program where observers must be aboard vessels (if selected) to collect data on catch, bycatch, gear, and fishing effort
Sets a seasonal, 45 day shrimping closure in the federal waters off Texas (from mid-May to mid-July) to protect brown shrimp populations
Establishes a cooperative Tortugas Shrimp Sanctuary in Florida where trawling is off limits and sets seasonal closures in Florida Bay to avoid conflict with stone crab fishing
All states enforce federal requirements mandating that otter trawl vessels have and use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to reduce bycatch of threatened and endangered sea turtles and other species of concern. Federal TED regulations apply to all state-managed waters as well. In Florida, skimmer trawl vessels are also required to use TEDs; however, TEDs are not required on skimmer trawl vessels in the other Gulf Coast states (Texas does not allow the use of skimmer trawls). Currently, the only mitigation strategy to reduce sea turtle bycatch in skimmer trawls is through limits on tow time. In regards to bycatch of finfish, Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) are required in the state waters of Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. BRDs are not required in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. In some areas, closures may be instituted if finfish bycatch exceeds certain thresholds.
US shrimp fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic are considered to be both region’s largest and most valuable commercial fisheries. According to a 2015 stock assessment, the white shrimp stocks in both the US Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic are not overfished, nor subject to overfishing.
In Mexico, the white shrimp fishery is managed by a network of federal agencies including: the Secretaría de Agrucultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación (SAGARPA, the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food), the Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca (CONAPESCA, the National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries), and the Instituto Nacional de Pesca (INAPESCA, National Fisheries Institute). These agencies employ management measures such as closed seasons, gear modification, and bycatch reduction programs. Despite management efforts, the white shrimp fishery in Mexico is depleted and it is unclear if measures to reduce bycatch are effective. Noncompliance amongst fishers in regards to gear restrictions and seasonal closures, as well as illegal fishing, further limit rebuilding efforts.
White shrimp are highly fecund and can grow fairly quickly, allowing them to rebound quickly from unfavorable environmental conditions such as extreme cold weather. The population levels of white shrimp, which are particularly abundant in the Gulf of Mexico, are high and overfishing is not occurring, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. They thrive in marshy, estuary-filled areas and are found higher in the water column than brown and pink shrimp.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Although fishermen use a variety of gear to catch white shrimp, the otter trawl is the most common. Since this gear is meant to maximize contact with the ocean bottom, it can harm marine organisms, damage the seafloor, disturb sediment, lower sea grass production, and cause an increase in algal blooms. Trawling also occurs in the same areas annually. Overall, the effects of trawling on the habitat are a moderate concern in this fishery.
Thousands of sea turtles are caught in shrimp trawls annually in the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Since shrimping trawlers interact with sea turtles so much, U.S. shrimpers are required to have turtle extruder devices (TEDs). Compliance varies but is good in the southeast Atlantic coast shrimp fishery, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. The white shrimp fishery also contributes to mortality in Gulf of Mexico red snapper, which has been overfished for decades. Other species of concern include endangered smalltooth sawfish, endangered Atlantic sturgeon and overfished blacknosed shark.
Commercial shrimp fisheries are working on reducing bycatch impact through time-area closures and bycatch reduction devices, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. The white shrimp fishery abundance is monitored by the NMFS. Despite management efforts in the shrimp fisheries, bycatch continues to greatly outweigh shrimp landings. Bycatch reduction methods depend on compliance, which is not at 100%.