White shrimp are found off the Atlantic Coast as far north as Fire Island, New York, to St. Lucie Inlet on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, and from the Ochlocknee River on the Gulf Coast of Florida to Campeche, Mexico. In the Gulf, there are two centers of abundance: one along the Louisiana-upper Texas coast and one in the Campeche area of Mexico. Young white shrimp inhabit estuaries with muddy bottoms and low to moderate salinity from early summer to fall. They move offshore to spawn in the fall, as they grow large enough and cooling temperatures trigger their migration. In general, white shrimp prefer shallow water, typically less than 90 feet deep but up to 270 feet deep.
White shrimp grow fast, mature in their first year of life, and reproduce quickly and abundantly. They have a short lifespan; most shrimp die after they spawn and do not survive longer than a year, essentially making them an “annual crop.” These unique biological characteristics make them more resilient to fishing pressure.
White shrimp spawn, or release fertilized eggs, in offshore waters when water temperatures rise, generally from April through September. With the help of tides and currents, newly hatched shrimp larvae move inshore to estuarine nursery habitats starting in early summer. These coastal wetlands and bays provide a source of food and protective habitat so shrimp can grow. When they’re large enough to move offshore or when water temperatures begin to cool, white shrimp migrate back to the ocean to spawn and complete their life cycle. (Some stay in the estuaries through the winter and migrate offshore to complete their life cycle in the spring.)
White shrimp are an important part of estuarine and offshore food webs. As larvae, white shrimp feed on plankton (tiny plants and animals). Juvenile and adult shrimp are omnivorous and feed on the bottom on detritus, plants, microorganisms, invertebrates, and small fish. Cannibalism is also common among adult white shrimp. Juvenile fish and some invertebrates eat post-larval and juvenile shrimp, and a wide variety of finfish feed heavily on adult shrimp.
White shrimp are crustaceans with 10 walking legs and five pairs of swimming legs located on the front of their abdomen. Unlike brown and pink shrimp, white shrimp do not have grooves on their head or tail. They have much longer antennae than other shrimp species (2.5 to three times longer than their body length). White shrimp have a light grey body, green coloration on the tail, and a yellow band on part of the abdomen.