Atlantic Northern Shrimp

Northern Shrimp

Pandalus borealis


    Pink Shrimp, Salad Shrimp, Coldwater Shrimp, Deep Water Prawn


    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to Massachusetts



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Northern Shrimp

Northern shrimp are often referred to as salad shrimp because they are small, reaching only 2 to 4 inches in length.


Harvested since the 1930s, northern shrimp support a small but important fishery in the Gulf of Maine. The majority of the harvest comes from Maine, with a small amount from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This small, sweet-tasting shrimp is also found and harvested on the West Coast and in Alaska, as well as in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Norway.

Northern shrimp have a relatively short life span, and their population size can fluctuate dramatically year-to-year. Because of this, scientists monitor and assess the population size every year. Managers annually adjust management measures (e.g., fishing season length, harvest limits, etc.) for the fishery based on the latest scientific population estimates. For example, concern for the status of northern shrimp led to severe harvest reductions in the 2001-2005 fishing seasons. These reductions allowed the resource to rebound to population levels not seen since the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the latest research indicates that the northern shrimp population has once again declined and is now below sustainable levels. Scientists attribute this decline to excessive harvests and unfavorable environmental conditions. In response, managers have reduced the amount of shrimp that can be harvested in the 2012 fishing season to help this resource recover. Northern shrimp perfectly illustrates the need to actively monitor and manage fishery resources, constantly and routinely adjusting human behavior according to changes in the environment and fish populations.

Until recently, managers have had few tools with which to manage the Northern shrimp resource, relying on landings reports to monitor catch rates and closing the fishery when 95 percent of the pre-determined catch limit is achieved. While current management has mostly been effective in maintaining abundance levels of northern shrimp and immediately closing the season early if necessary to prevent overharvest, managers recently developed new measures for the fishery that will enable them to slow catch rates throughout the season and monitor harvests in a more timely and comprehensive manner. These measures should prevent overharvests and prolong fishing seasons, benefitting both the northern shrimp resource and the fishery.

Looking Ahead

Northern shrimp are very sensitive to water temperatures, which can affect their reproduction, growth, and development rates. In fact, northern shrimp may serve as early indicators of changing climate due to their sensitivity to temperature.



Northern shrimp are found in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Arctic Oceans. On the U.S. Atlantic coast, northern shrimp are mainly found in waters off of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Northern shrimp live on soft mud bottoms in waters approximately 30 to 1,000 feet deep.

Northern shrimp appear to travel with seasonal changes in water temperature. Egg-bearing females move inshore in late fall and winter when nearshore waters have cooled. They’re only common in nearshore waters during late winter and spring when these waters are coldest. After their eggs hatch (February and April), females return to offshore waters in the western Gulf of Maine. Larvae and young juveniles remain in nearshore waters for up to 20 months as they develop. After as little as a year, juveniles begin to migrate offshore to deeper waters.



Northern shrimp are protandrous hermaphrodites – they begin life as males and sexually mature at roughly 2½ years old; they then transform to females at about 3½ years old. Northern shrimp start spawning in late July in offshore waters, mainly in deep mud basins in the southwestern Gulf of Maine. By early fall, most adult females have pushed their eggs out onto their abdomen. In late fall and winter, egg-bearing females move inshore where the eggs hatch. Juveniles remain in coastal waters for a year or more before migrating to deeper offshore waters, where they mature as males. Temperature can affect the reproductive success, growth, and development of northern shrimp. Northern shrimp can grow up to 3 or 4 inches long, and most northern shrimp do not live past age 5.

Northern shrimp are an important part of marine food chains. They prey on plankton (tiny floating plants and animals) and bottom-dwelling invertebrates and are eaten by many important fish species such as cod, redfish, and silver and white hake. Maintaining a healthy northern shrimp population contributes to a balanced Gulf of Maine ecosystem.



Shrimp are crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs. Northern pink shrimp are much smaller than their warm-water cousins, averaging 2 to 4 inches in length. When live, the tail of northern shrimp is more red than pink, and the shrimp and shell are translucent. The northern shrimp has appendages called pleopods on its tail. Pleopods act like paddles and enable the shrimp to move with remarkable agility over considerable distances.



Northern shrimp is a relatively short-lived species – their population size can fluctuate dramatically year-to-year. For this reason, scientists assess their population status every year. Abundance of northern shrimp is monitored in the Northeast Fishery Science Center autumn bottom trawl survey and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s summer shrimp survey. The Northern Shrimp Technical Committee provides annual stock assessments and related information to fishery managers. After thorough consideration of the stock assessment, input from the Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel, and comments from others knowledgeable about the shrimping industry, managers determine management measures (season length, allowable catch, etc.) for the upcoming fishing season.



The latest assessment (2011) indicates that abundance has declined steadily since 2006 and is estimated at 6,500 metric tons, below the overfished threshold of 9,000 metric tons. Scientists note a high degree of uncertainty surrounding these estimates. They also note that recent sea surface and bottom temperatures in the western Gulf of Maine have been unusually high, which may indicate an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp.


Harvesting Northern Shrimp

The Gulf of Maine fishery targets female northern shrimp. The northern shrimp fishery is seasonal in nature, peaking in late winter when egg-bearing females move into inshore waters. Fishery managers generally start the fishing season after most females have spawned and close the fishery in the spring.

Fishermen mainly use otter trawls to harvest northern shrimp, although some use traps off the central Maine coast. Northern shrimp are harvested over soft mud bottoms, which are more resilient to the impacts of trawling than more structured habitats such as corals. Also, the small mesh in the shrimp otter trawls creates more drag than a groundfish net and can’t be towed as fast for the same size net, reducing their potential impact on shrimp habitat. Shrimp otter trawls used for northern shrimp must have finfish excluder devices on their gear to prevent bycatch of groundfish. Their nets must have a mesh size larger than 1¾ inches to prevent bycatch of undersized shrimp.



Who’s in charge? Following the collapse of the northern shrimp stock in the early 1970s, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts formed an interstate agreement under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to manage the northern shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Maine (beginning in 1973). The northern shrimp fishery has the longest running interstate management program on the U.S. Atlantic coast.
Current management: Amendment 2 to the Fishery Management Plan for Northern Shrimp (2011)

  • Total allowable catch – every year, using the latest abundance estimates, managers set a limit on the amount of shrimp fishermen can harvest. They close the fishing season when landings are projected to reach 95 percent of the catch limit.
  • Fishing season is generally from winter to early spring (adjusted annually); can be closed earlier if harvests exceed recommended limits.
  • Trip limits – limits on the amount of northern shrimp fishermen can harvest per fishing trip.
  • Trap limits – limits on the number of traps fishermen can set during a season.
  • “Days out of the fishery” – certain days during the fishing season are closed to fishing to slow catch rates and prolong the fishing season, or to make shrimp available when demand is greatest.
  • Gear restrictions, including a minimum mesh size of 1¾ inches on trawl nets and requirement to use a “finfish excluder device,” also known as a “Nordmore Grate System,” to reduce bycatch in the fishery.


Annual Harvest

An estimated 6,256 metric tons of northern shrimp were harvested in 2010, more than double the 2009 harvest and well above the recommended limit of 4,900 metric tons. This overharvest can be attributed to higher catch rates and good market conditions. Maine landed 86 percent of the 2011 season total, New Hampshire and Massachusetts followed with 11 perecent and 3 percent, respectively.

There has been no northern shrimp fishery in the Canadian portion of the Gulf of Maine since the early 1970s.



The 2010 harvest was valued at an estimated $9.8 million. Market conditions have been improving from past years due to Canada’s limited supply and an increase in local markets.



There is a very limited recreational fishery for northern shrimp.



Northern shrimp are often referred to as salad shrimp because they are small, reaching only 2 to 4 inches in length. They have a sweet taste, more flavorful than warm-water shrimp. When live, their tails are more red than pink and their bodies and shell are translucent. Cooked, the shell is pink and the meat is white tinged with pink. Cooked northern shrimp is fairly firm and moist. Northern shrimp is sold fresh, frozen, canned, and smoked. (Seafood Business, 2011) disclaimer



Fresh from winter to spring; frozen year-round



Nothern shrimp are low in saturated fat and high in iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 106
Protein 20.31 g
Fat, total 1.73 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.328 g
Carbohydrate 0.91 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 152 mcg
Selenium 38 mcg
Sodium 148 mg

Atlantic Northern Shrimp Table of Nutrition



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