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 from 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 (water temperatures and food sources). In response, managers reduced the amount of shrimp that could be harvested in the 2012 fishing season to help this resource recover. Unfortunately, the status of the shrimp stock has not improved, and managers have imposed a moratorium on fishing in the Gulf of Maine fishery since 2014.

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 to 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 through 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 alive, 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 are a relatively short-lived species – their population size can fluctuate dramatically from year-to-year. For this reason, scientists assess their population status every year. Abundance of northern shrimp is monitored in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s 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 (2013) indicated that northern shrimp remain overfished and subject to overfishing. The current fishable biomass is the lowest on record. Scientists 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, which targets female northern shrimp, has been closed since 2014 due to a very low fishable biomass. 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 the 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 1 ¾ 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: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission: Northern Shrimp

The northern shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Maine has been closed since 2014. When the fishery is open management measures include:

  • 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), but 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 a requirement to use a “finfish excluder device,” also known as a “Nordmore Grate System,” to reduce bycatch in the fishery.


Annual Harvest

The fishery has been marked by very short seasons since 2010. In that year the proposed 180-day season was cut short to 156 days due to the industry exceeding the recommended catch limit for that year and concerns about small shrimp. In 2010, 13.5 million pounds of shrimp were landed during the shortened season. As in 2010, the 2011 season was closed early. The season was scheduled to be 136 days, but was closed after 90 days. A preliminary total of 14.1 million pounds of shrimp were landed, exceeding the recommended limit by approximately 8.8 million pounds. In 2012, the season was further restricted and was only open for 21 days. During the 2013 season, only 0.67 million pounds of the 1.39 million pound catch limit was harvested. The U.S. northern shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Maine has been closed since 2014. There has been no northern shrimp fishery in the Canadian portion of the Gulf of Maine since the early 1970s.



The value of the fishery has diminished since 2011. The harvest was valued at $8.8 million in 2011. It declined to $5.2 million in 2012, and to $1.2 million in 2013.



There is no 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 and are more flavorful than warm-water shrimp. When alive, their tails are more red than pink and their bodies and shell are translucent. When 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.



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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