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mature pink shrimp A close-up of Northern or pink shrimp, Pandalus borealis. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Heidi Marotta, NEFSC
pink shrimp in checker Northern shrimp and a variety of fish in the checker, where the catch is emptied from the net before sorting, on the R/V Gloria Michelle during a summer Gulf of Maine shrimp survey in 2014. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Heidi Marotta, NEFSC

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July 13, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Thermal Habitat Key for Northern Shrimp

Habitat is defined as the natural home or environment of an animal, plant or other organism. Like humans, marine animals have a variety of preferred habitats or surroundings, including preferred water temperatures.

Off the Northeastern U.S. northern shrimp habitat is mostly in the western Gulf of Maine, perhaps because the water is cooler there and they are a cold-water species. The Gulf of Maine is the southern edge of their range in the Western North Atlantic. They prefer soft or muddy bottoms, but are sometimes found in rocky areas. Females without eggs and males migrate toward the surface at night to feed on plankton, and move back to the bottom to feed on benthic invertebrates during the day. Egg-bearing females are more likely to stay near the bottom. Most of the young mature first as males, then go through a series of transitions to mature as females.

The northern shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Maine has been closed for several years because the stock is at a low level. Both the amount of mature shrimp in the population and ocean temperatures are major influences on how many young come into the population. More spawners and colder temperatures produce larger numbers of young. The most recent stock assessment notes that ocean temperatures in western Gulf of Maine have increased over the past decade and reached unprecedented highs in recent years. Temperatures are predicted to continue rising as a result of climate change. This suggests an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp and the need for strong conservation efforts to help restore and maintain a fishable stock.

Monitoring stock size, condition, and distribution is key to this effort. Each summer, the NEFSC conducts a month-long survey from the research vessel Gloria Michelle to check on the abundance and distribution of the stock. The 2017 survey began July 9, with four legs planned through August 4. The first leg is focused on calibration of the new net doors, and legs 2-4 will be the shrimp survey.

The new net doors ("doors" keep the net open while its being towed through the water) were designed with the help of shrimp fishermen. On leg 1, the vessel will fish with both the new and the old doors, so scientists will know how catch varies between the two. That will allow them to continue to compare catch taken with the new door to catch data collected using the original door.

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The Northeast Fisheries Science Center conducts ecosystem-based science supporting stewardship of living marine resources under changing climatic conditions. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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