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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Shrimp

Marine Fisheries

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SHRIMP, Farfantepenaeus aztecus, Farfantepenaeus duorarum, Litopenaeus setiferus

8-point rule


Life History

There are three shrimp species that make up the shrimp fishery in North Carolina. They are brown shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus, pink shrimp, F. duorarum and white shrimp, Litopenaeus setiferus. The lifecycle of these three species are similar in that the adults spawn offshore and eggs are hatched into free-swimming larvae. These larvae develop through several stages into post-larvae. Once post-larval shrimp enter the estuaries, growth is rapid and is dependent on salinity and temperature. As the shrimp increase in size, they migrate from the upper reaches of small creeks to deeper saltier rivers and sounds. By late summer and fall, they return to the ocean to spawn. The maximum life span of shrimp can range from 16 to 24 months and may reach a size of 7 to 11 inches.


Shrimp are harvested throughout the state by otter trawls, skimmer trawls, channel nets, seine nets, cast nets, shrimp pots and pounds. The majority of the harvest is taken by commercial otter trawls. In 2017, the commercaial fishery harvested 13.9 million pounds of shrimp, and increase of 5.3 percent from 2016 (Figure 1). The 10 year average landings (2008 to 2017) for the commercial fishery is 7.8 million pounds. The majority of the harvest occurs in estuarine waters, with the remainder occuring in the Atlantic Ocean (less than 3 miles from shore). Landings in the ocean decreased 8.1 percent in 2017, but were above the time series average (Figure 2). Recreational fishermen can purchase a Recreational Commercial Gear License to use limited amounts of commercial gear to harvest seafood for personal consumption. Shrimp harvested under this license cannot be sold and fishermen are limited to 48 quarts of head-on (32 quarts of head-off) shrimp per day. Based on historical survey data, shrimp landed by Recreational Commercial Gear Licence holders was estimated to be less than 1 percent of the total commercial shrimp harvest from 2002 to 2008; the survey was terminated in 2008 due to budget constraints. Recreational fishermen using cast nets to harvest shrimp for consumption and bait are further limited to a 4-quart limit (heads on) in closed areas. Current recreational landings of shrimp are unknown.

Figure 1

Figure 2


A state fishery management plan was approved in April 2006 by the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission. The plan included a 90 foot headrope limit in most internal waters, allowed skimmer trawls as a Recreational Commercial Gear License gear and made recommendations on the minimum shrimp size at which some water bodies open to trawling. The plan also closed some areas in the state to protect habitats and juvenile finfish and established a 48 quart limit on shrimp captured by individuals possessing a Recreational Commercial Gear License. A restriction on the use of shrimp trawls above the Highway 172 Bridge over New River took effect in 2010. Amendment 1 was adopted in February 2015 and recommended a wider range of certified bycatch reduction devices to choose from, required two bycatch reduction devices in shrimp trawls and skimmer trawls, increased the daily harvest limit for cast nets in closed areas, and established a permitted live bait shrimp fishery to allow live bait fishermen to fish until noon on Saturdays. Also as part of Amendment 1, an industry workgroup was formed to test gear modifications to reduce bycatch to the extent practicable with a 40 percent target reduction in the shrimp trawl fishery. Four gear combinations tested reduced finfish bycatch by 40 to 57 percent while also minimizing shrimp loss. At its May 2018 business meeting, the Marine Fisheries Commission voted to require fishermen to use one of four gear combinations tested by the workgroup that achieved at least 40 percent finfish bycatch. The new gear configurations will be required in all shrimp trawls, except skimmer trawls, used in inside waters where greater than 90 foot headrope length is allowed (Pamlico Sound and portions of Core Sound, Pamlico River and Neuse River), effective July 1, 2019. The commission also voted to continue the shrimp industry workgroup and explore funding options for more studies, to survey fishermen to determine what bycatch reduction devices the shrimp trawl industry currently uses, and to begin development of Amendment 2 to the Shrimp Fishery Management Plan.

Stock Overview

  • Stock Assessment: No (Annual Crop)
  • Terminal Year of Last Assessment: N/A
    • Overfishing: N/A
    • Overfished: N/A

The stock of shrimp is considered an annual crop that consists of three species: brown, pink, and white shrimp. Annual crop species are short lived and the abundance of the stock is a function of the strength of the incoming year class. State management of shrimp includes its fisheries in all coastal fishing waters of North Carolina, which includes the Atlantic Ocean out to 3 miles. The population size is determined mainly by recruitment (the number of fish entering the population) and environmental conditions. While fishing reduces the population size over the season, fishing is not believed to have a major impact on subsequent year class strength. Because of their high reproductive output (fecundity) and migratory behavior, shrimp are capable of rebounding from a very low population size in one year to a large population size the next year if the environmental conditions are favorable. The annual juvenile abundance index is calculated as the average number of brown shrimp per site and then averaged across all sites within that year. It gives a relative measure of the juvenile population of brown shrimp. The juvenile abundance index has been variable from year to year, showing a general decline since 2008. The highest catch per unit effort (number of brown shrimp per tow) of the 10 year time series occurred in 2015 and the lowest in 2017. Currently, there are no juvenile indices for white and pink shrimp in North Carolina. Annual landings of these species, as well as brown shrimp, is thought to be indicative of relative abundance.Figure 3

Research Needs

Research needs include: continued bycatch characterization work, development of bycatch reduction devices, development of methods to reduce interactions with protected species; continuing to define and quantify trawling effort in North Carolina estuaries; improving accuracy of license gear survey data; determining how re-suspended sediment, siltation and non-point source pollution impacts shrimp abundance and habitat degradation; and encouraging research and education to improve the understanding of new bycatch reduction devices and turtle excluder devices.


Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

North Carolina Fishery Management Plan


For more information, contact Chris Stewart at
or 910-796-7370
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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