Friday, September 5, 2008


We saw this painting in Mazatlan on a trip to Mexico a few years ago and I loved it and took a picture. I am sorry, but I didn’t get the artists name. Please tell me if you know. I would be pleased to amend this caption.

Alice and I love shrimp. They are exotic beautiful creatures with pointy heads, lots of legs and graceful antennae flowing about. They fall into the category of crustaceans, salt water creatures with their skeleton on the outside. Despite this unusual placement it is a convenience for peeling them prior to eating. And, we think they are so good to eat!

What kinds of shrimp are found in our part of the world? Morehead City, NC?

What is their life cycle?

Since what we love to eat them, how can we learn to capture them for food?

We have been prospecting about our new home area with a four foot radius 3/8” mesh cast net casting all over the place while wading. Also we have been pushing around thin water in our little jon boat or one of our kayaks. We have cast our nets around the edges of the marsh. We have cast my net into creeks, channels and waterways onto hard bottom and heavy black mud. We have found ourselves tangled with oyster rocks and pilings and have caught many species of fish while trying to figure out where the shrimp are and when. So far, here is what I’ve learned.

There seem to be several kinds of shrimp native to our North Carolina coastal area. They are commonly referred to as brown shrimp, white shrimp, green tails, pink shrimp, spotted shrimp, bay shrimp, sand shrimp, grass shrimp, rock shrimp, ocean shrimp and so on – many names and confusing to the casual shrimp appreciator.

To get to the bottom of the question of just who our local shrimp are, I checked with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries and got the following info:

‘North Carolina has three main types of shrimp: brown, pink and white. Shrimp are estuarine dependent - that means they live in marshes and estuaries when they are very young because it’s safe and there is plenty of food. They grow very quickly, doubling in size every few weeks. When shrimp are almost full grown, they swim out of the estuaries into the ocean.
Shrimp are considered an annual crop because they do not live very long, only about two years. The amount of shrimp we have from year to year varies, depending on the weather. If we have a very cold winter, then we will have a small shrimp population the following spring. If we have lots of rain, then the shrimp will move out into the ocean before they are fully grown.
Shrimp are one of the most economically important fisheries in North Carolina. Most of these shrimp are caught with trawl nets in our sounds and rivers.’

Brown Shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) are North Carolina’s most abundant shrimp species and support a major commercial fishery along our central and southern coastline. Brown shrimp are spawned in the ocean and carried by tides and wind driven currents into our estuaries in late winter and early spring.
Most brown shrimp are caught in the summer and have a maximum life span of 18 months. They can grow as large as nine inches. Brown shrimp account for 68% of North Carolina’s shrimp landings.*

Pink Shrimp (Penaeus duorarum),or spotted shrimp, rank as North Carolina’s second most abundant shrimp species. Pink shrimp are spawned in the ocean April through July and carried by tides and wind driven currents into our estuaries where they overwinter.
Pink shrimp are harvested in the spring and the fall, and have a maximum life span of 24 months. They can grow as large as 11 inches. Pink shrimp account for 28% of North Carolina’s shrimp landings.*

White Shrimp (Penaeus setiferus), or green tails, are a minor species in North Carolina. White shrimp are spawned in the ocean from March to November and are carried by tides and wind driven currents into our estuaries. White shrimp are harvested primarily in the fall. These shrimp have a maximum life span of 24 months and they can grow as large as eight inches. White shrimp account for 4% of North Carolina’s shrimp landings.*

*These percentages will vary slightly from year to year.’

We have also come to believe that Grass Shrimp may make up a significant portion of the small shrimp we have taken. We identify Grass Shrimp by their more prominent little claws. Grass shrimp are locally called jumpers or popcorn shrimp.

Brown Shrimp on left, White Shrimp on right

Following is a chart describing the annual economic value of Shrimp to the state of North Carolina.

Shrimp (Heads On)
Includes brown, pink, white, and rock
1972 5,563,261 $3,549,492
1973 5,003,417 $4,738,223
1974 8,440,203 $4,606,363
1975 5,163,610 $5,053,944
1976 6,642,713 $8,171,394
1977 5,600,329 $7,239,080
1978 2,960,762 $3,883,836
1979 4,941,240 $9,728,917
1980 9,823,490 $17,184,994
1981 2,557,426 $5,295,209
1982 7,027,164 $16,411,472
1983 6,115,278 $13,564,846
1984 5,046,163 $10,482,761
1985 11,683,427 $21,130,303
1986 6,162,438 $13,934,191
1987 4,416,636 $8,178,180
1988 8,139,190 $16,509,108
1989 8,922,932 $15,620,436
1990 7,839,457 $15,885,027
1991 10,740,936 $18,586,613
1992 5,496,019 $10,859,283
1993 6,778,999 $13,590,604
1994 7,294,027 $19,001,229
1995 8,669,398 $20,318,768
1996 5,271,731 $13,375,325
1997 6,988,825 $18,204,849
1998 4,636,343 $10,856,450
1999 9,004,430 $21,737,061
2000 10,334,915 $25,405,916
2001 5,254,214 $11,911,070
2002 9,969,026 $18,364,776
2003 6,167,371 $10,930,616
2004 4,880,817 $9,462,853
2005 2,354,611 $4,403,318
2006 5,736,305 $9,141,172

As can be seen above, the annual landings vary from just over 2 million pounds per year to over 10 million pounds per year. Note that Rock Shrimp are included in this count. They are an offshore species and are not a species that I am likely to encounter with my cast net although Mantis Shrimp are often misidentified as Rock Shrimp. The mantis shrimp, or stomatopod, is a flattened crustacean that has front legs modified into long, stabbing appendages. Though mantis shrimps may be eaten, the meat yield is small and of rather poor quality. They are also not my quarry.

Anatomy of a Shrimp

Brown and pink shrimps have grooves along the upper midline of the head and the upper midline of the lower region of the abdomen. The grooves on pink shrimp are slightly narrower than
those of brown shrimp. White shrimp do not have grooves, and typically have longer antennae and a longer rostrum (horn).

Postlarval and juvenile shrimp occupy the shallow, brackish waters of the sounds where they feed and grow. Growth of the young is rapid when waters are warm (above 20C). Young shrimp remain in the estuary until they approach maturity. Adult shrimp migrate offshore to spawn, and the cycle is repeated. There are seasonal variations in the spawning times of pink, brown, and white shrimp. Brown postlarvae enter the sounds in large numbers during the spring (March, April, May), with a smaller wave of immigration in the fall. Brown shrimp postlarvae that arrive on the nursery grounds in early spring will be of harvestable size by early summer. White and pink shrimp postlarvae arrive during the summer and fall, with white postlarvae being more abundant. Of the three species, white shrimp spawn closest to inshore waters with brown shrimp spawning the greatest distance from shore. Estuarine nursery areas are essential to shrimp survival, and their maintenance in a condition suitable for growth is crucial.

The two main kinds of shrimp we get here are Brown Shrimp and White Shrimp. We have caught far more White Shrimp than any other kind. White Shrimp are most readily identified by their beautiful green tails. The Spotted or Pink shrimp are mostly caught along with Brown Shrimp and are distinguished by the spots on their sides. Many locals have told us that they prefer to eat the Pinks - that they are "sweeter". They are good. We have carefully separated them from the Browns and they really may be a little sweeter, but we can't be sure that we have tasted enough of them to make a definitive statement. -yet.

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