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Shrimp, Brown (Farfantepenaeus aztecus)
Also known as: Brazils, Brownies, Spring shrimp
Source: Wild-caught in Gulf state waters from West Florida to Texas

Brown shrimp are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to the Florida Keys and throughout the northern Gulf to the northwestern Yucatan in Mexico. Young brown shrimp are found in estuaries during late winter through early summer. They prefer shallow vegetated habitats but also live on silty sand and non-vegetated mud bottoms. In late spring/early summer, adult brown shrimp move offshore to deeper, saltier water where they live on silt, muddy sand, or sandy bottoms. They are most abundant in waters 10 to 180 feet deep but have been reported at depths as great as 540 feet. Adults are active at night but may burrow during the day.

Brown 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 two years, essentially making them an “annual crop.” These unique biological characteristics make them more resilient to fishing pressure.

Brown shrimp spawn, or release fertilized eggs, in the open waters of the Gulf. Once hatched, shrimp larvae move inshore with the assistance of tides and currents, typically in late winter. The shallow bays and marshes of coastal estuaries provide abundant food and some protection from predators for young shrimp as they feed and grow. In late spring/early summer, brown shrimp begin migrating back to the Gulf to mature, mate, and spawn, completing their life cycle.

Brown shrimp are an important part of estuarine and offshore food webs. They’re omnivorous scavengers and eat anything from detritus and algae to small invertebrates and fish tissue, depending on their size. A number of predators, including foraging and carnivorous fishes and crustaceans such as blue crabs, feed on brown shrimp.

Brown shrimp are crustaceans with 10 walking legs and five pairs of swimming legs located on the front of their abdomen. They have medium length antennae and grooves down both sides of their head and the last segment of their tail, which distinguish them from white shrimp. Their color varies depending upon water clarity and bottom type, but they’re generally brownish with tails that have a purple to reddish purple band and green or red pigments.

The Gulf’s estuaries provide important nursery habitat for shrimp. With about 52% of the total estuarine area in the United States (excluding Alaska), the Gulf is home to abundant shrimp populations which support one of the most economically important fisheries in the country.

Commercial fishermen have been harvesting shrimp in the Gulf since the early 1800s. The shrimp fishery has grown and advanced over time with the introduction of new harvesting gear and technology, coupled with expanding markets for shrimp. Brown and white shrimp are the two main species of shrimp harvested in the Gulf, making up 94% of the total Gulf shrimp harvest in 2013. Harvests of brown shrimp in the Gulf were about 52% of this total and about 96% of the total amount of brown shrimp landed in the United States. In 2013, commercial fishermen harvested more than 106 million pounds of brown shrimp from the Gulf with landings revenue of nearly $246 million. Most brown shrimp are harvested offshore at depths of 60 to 180 feet and are landed in Texas and Louisiana.

Brown shrimp migrate between coastal estuaries and offshore waters during their life cycle and are harvested in both areas. Through this migration, they cross boundaries between state and federal waters; as a result, both state management agencies and federal authorities (NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council) are responsible for managing shrimp fisheries. Brown shrimp’s biological characteristics make them fairly resilient to fishing pressure. In general, management focuses on maximizing the volume and value of shrimp harvests in addition to reducing the impact of the shrimp fishery on other species, such as finfish and sea turtles, and bottom habitats.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

About 96% of the brown shrimp harvested in the United States comes from the Gulf, mainly landed in Texas and Louisiana. In 2013, commercial fishermen brought in more than 106 million pounds of Gulf brown shrimp with revenues of nearly $246 million. Nearly 49 million pounds came from Texas (with revenues of $148 million) and 39 million pounds from Louisiana (with revenues of nearly $50 million). Environmental conditions, as well as fishing effort and market prices, can influence annual harvests of brown shrimp year to year.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics

Landings Summary Data :  

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Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries use abundance data from joint federal and state groundfish surveys, along with data from state-run surveys and commercial catch data, to assess the status of the brown shrimp stock throughout the Gulf.

Shrimp harvests are monitored through state-run trip ticket programs—docks purchasing shrimp directly from commercial fishermen submit information about their catch, for example, what it is, where and how it was caught, shrimp sizes, and quantities. Commercial fishermen who sell their catch directly to consumers are also required to complete and submit trip tickets with this information.

Current Abundance

The most recent brown shrimp stock assessment (2012) showed that shrimp spawning biomass and recruitment have increased in recent years, while fishing mortality has decreased. This assessment also concluded that the Gulf brown shrimp stock is abundant (not overfished) and is fished at an appropriate rate (no overfishing).

Although scientists monitor shrimp abundance to ensure the stock is healthy, it’s not as an important consideration for fishery managers as with other seafood species. Since shrimp are essentially an “annual crop” (most shrimp seldom live longer than one year), it’s more useful for managers to review historic harvests and fishing rates, the amount of surviving parents, and environmental conditions, such as weather and water temperatures, in developing a management strategy for the fishery. As long as environmental conditions are favorable, shrimp are highly productive and can rebound from low abundance one year to high abundance the next.

Additional Research

NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center Shrimp Research

The Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation is currently working with the shrimp industry to assess new bycatch reduction devices for the shrimp trawl fishery. This work should provide additional gear configurations that more efficiently catch shrimp and more effectively reduce catch of non-target species.

Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

Commercial fishermen harvest brown shrimp from state waters (within the jurisdiction of individual states) and from offshore federal waters of the Gulf.

Each Gulf state is responsible for managing the brown shrimp fishery in their state waters. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission helps coordinate management of interjurisdictional fisheries like brown shrimp, gathering scientific data and organizing management strategies across the Gulf States.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries are responsible for the brown shrimp fishery in adjacent federal waters.

Management Program

As shrimp populations are fairly resilient to fishing pressure, the general goal of shrimp management programs is to use scientific information about the shrimp population and fishery to maximize the volume and value of harvests while minimizing the fishery’s impact on other species, such as finfish and sea turtles, and bottom habitats.

Specific management measures vary across the state and federal management authorities but are generally consistent and include seasonal and area closures, gear restrictions, and licensing and permitting requirements. For more on state management, click the individual state tabs; for more on federal management, see FishWatch.gov.