Marine shrimp is by far the most
popular seafood in the United States. Boiled, fried, or stuffed, shrimp are
delicious. They are high in protein and have many essential vitamins and
Many kinds of shrimp found in the
Gulf of Mexico, however, only those of the family Penaeidae are large
enough to be considered seafood. Brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), white
shrimp (P. setiferus) and pink shrimp (P. duorarum) make up the
bulk of Texas shrimp landings.
Shrimp are strange looking
creatures. Their body is segmented and encased in a shell. The head spine,
walking legs and antennae are attached to the head section, while the edible
portion (the "tail") bears the swimming legs and tail fan. How these tasty
crustaceans wind up on the dinner table or attached to the sportsmen's fish hook
is an interesting story.
The life cycles of brown, white and
pink shrimp are similar. They spend part of their life in estuaries, bays and
the Gulf of Mexico. Spawning occurs in the Gulf of Mexico (a on the map). One
female shrimp releases 100,000 to 1,000,000 eggs that hatch within 24 hours. The
young shrimp develop through several larval stages as they are carried shoreward
by winds and currents(b, c, and d). By the time the young shrimp (postlarvae)
reach the gulf passes and enter the bays, they are one-fourth inch long,
transparent and have a shrimp-like appearance (e).
Postlarvae drift or migrate to
nursery areas within shallow bays, tidal creeks, and marshes where food and
protection necessary for growth and survival are available (f). There they
acquire color and become bottom dwellers. If conditions are favorable in nursery
areas, the young shrimp grow rapidly and soon move to the deeper water of the
When shrimp reach juvenile and
subadult stages (3-5 inches long) they usually migrate from the bays to the Gulf
of Mexico where they mature and complete their life cycles (h). Most shrimp will
spend the rest of their life in the Gulf. The fishery for them begins when the
shrimp are two to four months old and continues for the rest of their lives. If
not caught by anglers or eaten by fish, they may live to be two years
To grow they must cast off their
shell and form another. They get larger before the new shell becomes firm.
Shrimp grow rapidly when the water is 68 degrees F and above. If bay water
temperatures fall below 60 degrees F, shrimp growth is much slower and at
temperatures below 40 degrees F mortalities may occur.
The Texas shrimp fishery is one of
the most valuable and one of the largest seafood industries in the United
States. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sells about 7,000 commercial
shrimp boat licenses and about 2,000 noncommercial shrimp trawl licenses each
year. Texas landings exceeded 73 million pounds of shrimp in 1989, worth more
than 142 million dollars to the commercial fishermen.
Brown, white and pink shrimp
harvested in coastal bays and in the Gulf, account for more than 80 percent of
the Texas catch. The young use bays and begin entering the Gulf in late May or
early June. If growth is fast, they may leave bays early; occasionally this
happens after a warm winter.
White shrimp, which use bays during
late spring, summer and fall, support a large fishery in bays along the upper
coast and near-shore waters off the Gulf beach. They stay in bays longer and
reach a larger size than brown shrimp and go to the Gulf as bays cool in the
Pink shrimp, an important
commercial shrimp in Florida and Mexico, are caught in Texas but do not
represent a major part of the landings. They inhabit bays from late fall through
early Spring, primarily along the middle and lower Texas coast.
Other shrimps of minor commercial
value occur in the Gulf. Among these are the seabob, with its long head spine,
the rock shrimp, with its hard outer shell, trachypenaeids, with their
rough carapace, and a deep-water type called the royal red shrimp.
With few exceptions, shrimp are
caught with trawls. These are winged nets that form a cone- like shape in the
middle that tapers to a narrow end, called the cod-end. The two "wings" of a
trawl are attached to wood "doors" weighted with metal "shoes" or runners. Lines
run from the shrimp boat to each door. As the shrimp boat tows the trawl over
the sea bottom, the trawl is held open by the kite-like spreading action of the
doors. Shrimp and bottom fish scooped into the open trawl pile up in the
cod-end. When the net is boated, a line that holds the cod-end closed is
released and the catch falls to the deck. Next, shrimpers in the Gulf remove the
heads (not allowed in Texas bays) before icing the meaty tails. The heads are
Before Gulf shrimpers found out
about trawling, they used long seines set close to shore and hauled by men or
horses. Shrimp fishing was worthwhile only when white shrimp were abundant near
the shore. By the 1940's, however, shrimp trawlers were a common sight at Gulf
Once shrimpers were equipped with
trawls, they could fish the dense shrimp stocks in deeper bay waters and the
Gulf of Mexico. Improvements in transportation and refrigeration accompanied the
growth of the shrimp trawl fishery and new markets opened. Today the modern Gulf
trawler is a large, well-equipped seagoing vessel that can tow two or more large
trawls at the same time.
Since red drum, spotted seatrout
and many other saltwater gamefish like to eat shrimp, the sale of live shrimp to
be used as bait by sport anglers is a big business. Bait shrimpers make 10 to 20
short tows a day often using small trawls.
Bait camp owners hold their live
shrimp in watertight pens made of fiberboard, plywood or concrete. Small pens,
4x4x8 feet hold up to 30 to 80 quarts of shrimp. Large pens hold up to 100
quarts. To supply oxygen inside the pens, seawater must be pumped constantly
into the pens. Many bait dealers have live boxes constructed of wire mesh over a
sturdy frame submerged in shallow bay water and raised by a winch.
Continual success of the Texas
shrimp fishery is a major responsibility of the Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department. Coastal fisheries biologists, therefore, are involved in shrimp
sampling programs designed to monitor the relative abundance and size of penaeid
shrimp. These data can then be used to manage the fishery
Using information collected over
the past twenty years, management biologists were able to detect changes in the
shrimp population from the heavy fishing pressure seen in the last few years.
These changes showed a population that was being stressed from overfishing. As a
result, the 74th Legislature created a limited-entry fishery for shrimping in
Texas waters that determines eligibility for obtaining a shrimp license.
Implementing this legislation should improve the overall health of the shrimp
population and the stability of the shrimp industry.