Imported farm-raised shrimp and high gas prices have kept many GA shrimp boats at the dock.
In decline in recent decades, the shrimping industry is vital to the economy of Coastal Georgia.

Shrimping in Georgia

Commercial shrimping defines the look and the feel of the Georgia coast. Shrimp boats trawl the horizon or sweep near shore as sunbathing tourists watch with interest and children try to catch a glimpse of the captain at his wheel; at rest, the boats’ distinctive rigging proclaims the freshness of local seafood at picturesque docks and fishing villages. And it’s not just for show - shrimping is among the nation’s largest fisheries and Georgia shrimpers and shrimp are counted among the best in the nation. The shrimping tradition in Georgia is old and proud, and it is the state’s most important and vibrant connection to the life of the sea. Making a living from the sea is one of the most ancient and esteemed pursuits of man. Once, to say someone was a good fisherman was high and expansive praise, and today Georgia still has many men and women of whom this can be said.


Life Cycle of a Shrimp


History

Although people have caught and eaten shrimp for centuries, the evolution of modern shrimping can be traced to the Southeastern U.S. coast in the early 1900s. Here, a natural abundance of shrimp awaited technological advances and the ingenuity of fishermen to become one of the most valuable fisheries in the United States.

The pivotal technological advances that created the modern shrimping industry were the adaptation of the otter trawl to and the advent of the gasoline-powered boat motor. Long
New England fisheries, the otter trawl features a long bag-like net with wooden “doors” that hold the net on the bottom as they open the mouth of the net. By the 1920s these lightweight trawls were being pulled with unheard of manueverablilty and success throughout the emerging industry. The resulting harvest, combined with modern made shrimp available to the rest of the nation.

Early on, shrimpers began to use two trawl nets suspended from arms on opposite sides of the boat, but prior to World War II, shrimpers began experimenting with the twin trawl system which would allow two nets on each side of the boat for a total of four. This design was modified and perfected by shrimpers working with the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service’s Fisheries Station in Brunswick, Georgia. By the mid 1970’s twin trawls were widely accepted by Southeastern and Gulf of Mexico shrimpers.

With the economic stability of coastal regions depending on the shrimp fishery, shrimpers, universities (Sea Grant programs from North Carolina to Texas) and government agencies began to collaborate on ways to maximize catch levels while conserving fuel. One such advance was the tongue trawl, which could be configured to maximize the spread and height of a trawl.

It is possible that the very success of these efforts to improve shrimping technology led to the current era in shrimping history - the regulatory era. In the 1970’s, Congress passed new laws that called for closer scrutiny of many commercial industries regarding their impact on natural resources. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) held the shrimping industry partially responsible for the decline of sea turtle populations and in 1989 required that all shrimp trawls incorporate a turtle excluder device (TED). Every TED had to be 97% effective to be certified! Once again, however, necessity proved the mother of invention as Georgia’s Marine Extension Service and Sea Grant worked with shrimpers to certify TEDs designed by fishermen which were acceptable to turtle specialists and the shrimp industry. Though turtles were the targeted beneficiaries of this technology, finfish bycatch was reduced, as well.

Even though TED’s reduced finfish bycatch, the NMFS didn’t go far enough and in 1996 required additional by bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) for all shrimp nets. The issue remains reduction devices (BRDs) for all shrimp nets. The issue remains controversial because a significant amount of shrimp, and therefore income, may be lost from the fish escape hole. Again, the tested partnership between Marine Extension/Sea Grant personnel, commercial shrimpers and regulatory agencies has produced ingenious BRD designs which meet bycatch reduction quotas while gathering an economically viable catch.

Brown and White Shrimp

Two species of commercially significant shrimp are found along Georgia’s coast: white shrimp ( Litopenaeus setiferus) and brown shrimp ( Farfantepenaeus aztecus). On average, white shrimp make up about 80 % of the year’s harvest and brown shrimp about 18 %. While both species are delicious, the famed “Georgia white” are considered by many to be among the tastiest in the world!

White and brown shrimp are similar in size, form and color, but they can be easily distinguished. Brown shrimp are a little darker in color and have a harder shell with a ridge along the top and grooves along the side of its last shell segment. It also has a green tail. White shrimp’s tails have a yellow-green stripe, and their shells have neither the ridge nor the grooves that characterize the brown shrimp’s shell.

Both white and brown shrimp spawn in deep waters offshore. Each female lays close to a million eggs which sink to the bottom of the ocean bottom. After hatching, microscopic larvae float to the surface and drift toward shore on ocean currents. These larvae bear no resemblance to their parents and change form many times. If they are lucky, they survive long enough to become tiny, or post-larval, shrimp; and if they are luckier still, currents will carry them around the barrier islands and into the complex network of marshes and estuaries that will become their nursery grounds. There in the rich nutrient soup of the brackish wetlands, they grow until they are old enough to reproduce. Then, they begin to move back out to sea to spawn and shortly die. This entire shrimp life cycle lasts about a year.

Brown shrimp spawn in the fall, spend winter in the estuaries, reach adulthood by Jun and are caught by shrimpers as they move out to the spawning grounds in July and August. White shrimp spawn in the spring and can reach commercial size by September. They are harvested mainly in the fall and spring.