Brown Rock Shrimp

Rock Shrimp

Sicyonia brevirostris


    Rock Shrimp, Florida Rock Shrimp


    U.S. wild-caught from North Carolina to Texas, but mainly in Florida



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Rock Shrimp

Photo credit: North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve


Brown rock shrimp is the deep-water cousin of the common pink, white, and brown shrimp also found in the warm waters of the southeastern United States. It is the largest of six rock shrimp species found in this area. Rock shrimp are often called the “little shrimp with a big lobster taste.” They can easily be mistaken for a miniature lobster tail, and the texture of their meat also is similar to lobster. Most of the U.S. harvest comes from the east coast of Florida (mainly off the Cape Canaveral area).

Before the 1970s, rock shrimp were mainly captured incidentally by trawlers fishing for their cousins— the valuable pink, white, and brown shrimps—and were considered throwaway catch. Named for their rock-hard shell, rock shrimp were nearly impossible to peel and devein. In 1969, a machine was developed that could split the tough shell and devein the shrimp, helping to create a market for the species. The first major harvest of rock shrimp (1,200 pounds) was recorded in 1970 and valued at $642. In just 2 years, by 1972, landings totaled 443,035 pounds and were valued at more than $258,000. In the past decade, annual landings in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic have averaged nearly 3.5 million pounds, valued at an average of $4.2 million.

Rock shrimp have a short life span and, under favorable environmental conditions, can replenish their populations quickly. Although shrimp populations are fairly resilient to fishing pressure, the rock shrimp fishery can impact sensitive habitat as well as the abundance of other species, including finfish and sea turtles. Fishermen follow fishing gear requirements and other regulations to minimize the fishery’s impact on non-targeted species and bottom habitats.



Rock shrimp are found from Norfolk, Virginia, south through the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They mainly live on sand bottoms in water 80 to 215 feet deep, although they’ve been found in depths of 600 feet. Rock shrimp are active at night and burrow in the sand during the day. Larval rock shrimp grow and develop in coastal estuaries and travel back to offshore areas as they mature.



The rock shrimp’s growth and development depends on factors such as season, water temperature, population density, size, and sex. For example, they grow faster in the summer and females grow slightly faster than males. In general, juveniles grow up to 1/10 inch per month and adults grow about 1/50 inch per month. They can grow up to 6 inches in length, but most rock shrimp found in shallow waters are less than 2 inches long.

Rock shrimp, like most shrimp species, are highly productive. Females are able to reproduce when they reach about ½ to 1 inch or larger in length; males mature when they reach about ½ inch long. Rock shrimp spawn year-round in offshore waters; spawning peaks between November and January. Individual females can spawn three or more times in one season. Males and females mate, and the eggs are fertilized when the female simultaneously releases egg and sperm. Eggs hatch within 24 hours. Rock shrimp have a short life span, between 20 and 22 months.

Juvenile and adult rock shrimp feed on the ocean floor, mainly eating small bivalve mollusks and decapod crustaceans. Sheepshead, minnows, water boatmen, and insect larvae eat postlarval rock shrimp. A wide variety of species prey on juveniles and adult rock shrimp.



Rock shrimp look very different from the penaeid shrimp (white, pink, and brown shrimp in the same region). While rock shrimp are similar in general size and shape, they can be easily distinguished by their thick, rigid, stony shell. Their bodies are off-white to pinkish in color, with the dorsal (back) surface darker and blotched or barred with lighter shades. Their legs are red to reddish-purple and barred with white. The abdomen has deep transverse grooves and numerous nodules. Short hairs cover their body and appendages. Their eyes are large and deeply pigmented.



Abundance estimates are not as meaningful for shrimp management as they are for management of most other seafood species. Rock shrimp reproduce at high rates and have a short life span. The abundance of rock shrimp is primarily influenced by environmental conditions and available habitat rather than catch rates. Scientists and managers monitor the status of the resource by collecting data on historic harvests and catch rates.



Currently, scientists are unable to determine the population status of brown rock shrimp. There are no status determination criteria to estimate stock size, which makes assessment difficult. Adults spawn offshore and currents transport their offspring to coastal estuaries. The survival of the offspring is highly dependent on environmental conditions within estuaries. For example, excessively cold winters or heavy rains that reduce salinity may reduce survival rates of offspring.

Although shrimp trawling temporarily reduces population size during shrimp season, the impact of fishing on future populations is unknown but is thought to be minimal. Habitat loss due to pollution and physical alteration are potential threats to shrimp populations.


Harvesting Rock Shrimp

Commercial fishermen harvest rock shrimp using trawls. Shrimp trawlers tow cone-shaped nets along the ocean floor. The nets are wide in the front and taper toward the back, where the captured shrimp and any incidentally caught species are concentrated. Rock shrimp are caught in deeper water than penaeid shrimp (white, pink, and brown shrimp in the same region).

Shrimp trawlers must use bycatch reduction devices in shrimp trawls to reduce finfish bycatch and must comply with federal sea turtle conservation requirements, including the use of Turtle Excluder Devices. The mesh on their nets must also be large enough to allow juvenile shrimp to escape. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (council) established coral habitat areas of particular concern to protect deepwater coral. The council has also specified shrimp access areas around these habitat areas where shrimp fishermen can deploy gear without negatively impacting deepwater coral.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. NOAA scientists determine if overfishing is occurring by comparing the landings to historic values.

Current management:
South Atlantic: Shrimp Fishery Management Plan

  • Fishermen must have permits to catch rock shrimp. Regulations limit the number of available permits.
  • Fishermen must use bycatch reduction devices and Turtle Excluder Devices on their trawl nets. The mesh on their nets must be large enough to allow juvenile shrimp to escape.
  • Vessels are prohibited from trawling in an area off Florida to protect deepwater coral habitat. As of 2003, vessels fishing for rock shrimp are required to carry “vessel monitoring systems” to ensure that they comply with this restriction.

Gulf of Mexico: Rock shrimp are occasionally caught in the Gulf of Mexico but not in quantities large enough to warrant specific management measures.


Annual Harvest

Annual commercial landings vary greatly from year to year and have averaged nearly 3.5 million pounds per year in the past decade in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. More than half of this catch has come from the east coast of Florida. The commercial landings in 2012 were much lower than the average over the last decade, at approximately 356,000 pounds of rock shrimp, but this is not surprising due to the cyclic nature of rock shrimp landings.



In the past decade, U.S. commercial harvests of rock shrimp have been valued at an average of $4.2 million. The 2012 domestic harvest was worth approximately $646,000.



Rock shrimp gets its name from its rock-hard shell, which actually limited its marketability until a machine was developed that could split the tough shell and devein the shrimp. Almost all the harvest is sold as meat because rock shrimp are so hard for people to peel. Rock shrimp are generally small, measuring 21 to 25 shrimp per pound at the largest, and they are transparent or clear white in color, with fine pinkish or purple lines. Rock shrimp has a sweet, succulent flavor that is similar to lobster and a firm texture. Rock shrimp is also harvested in Mexican fisheries.



Year-round with peak catches from July through October



Rock shrimp are an excellent source of selenium and vitamin B12 and a good source of iron, niacin, and phosphorus.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 114 g (raw)
Calories 110
Protein 21 g
Fat, total 1 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.5 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 140 mcg
Selenium 38 mcg
Sodium 380 mg

Brown Rock Shrimp Table of Nutrition



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