Classification of “shrimp” is a hot debate in the scientific community.
The term “shrimp” is generally used to identify crustaceans whose bodies are designed for swimming rather than walking. Shrimp have powerful swimming tails, but delicate walking legs, unlike their cousins the crab and the lobster. Different species are found in waters around the world, in both freezing arctic waters and balmy equatorial regions.
Regardless of their locale, shrimp form a crucial link in the aquatic food chain; supplying dense protein source to fish and whales, while cleaning their environments by consuming detritus of decaying plants, animals, sponges and corals.
Here in the Lowcountry, we have two significant shrimp species: brown and white.
Both spend the majority of their lives (one to nine years) cruising the ocean floor at depths up to 500 feet. In late winter, once the ocean reaches a warm enough temperature, they begin to spawn. An average female lays one million eggs each time she spawns. She spawns at least three times a year. The male fertilizes the eggs as they are laid, and the millions of microscopic shrimp begin to grow.
Once they reach a certain size, the free-floating larval are pushed by the tide into shallow marshy areas. Here they have plentiful decaying matter to eat, develop their swimming legs and get larger. The growing shrimp use the nooks and crannies in the spartina grass to hide from predators. As fall temperatures move in, the now adult shrimp begin their journey back to the deep ocean. They use wind and currents to move most effectively.
Shrimping season in our area opens in early spring, when spawning ends.
The season runs until December, when spawning begins again. But it is in the fall that the large groups of new adult shrimp are waiting to be washed out to the deep ocean, and are the main target for shrimpers.
Shrimp have been a valuable food source in our part of the country for a very long time. In fact, the oldest fossil record indicates human consumption of shrimp dates to 600 AD and was found along the Carolina coast. Native Americans living in and around our local area created sophisticated shrimping methods – using Spanish moss and plant fibers to create nets and traps.
By Jessie Renew