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.