NOAA 2005-R452
Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA News Releases 2005
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs


The 2005 spring harvest of pink shrimp off North Carolina is likely to again lag behind average harvests over the past four decades, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists at the agency’s Beaufort, N.C., laboratory. The scientists base their projection primarily on colder than usual water temperatures along the North Carolina coast.

Pink shrimp account for about one-quarter of the state’s total annual shrimp harvest, which since the early 1960s has averaged about 985,000 pounds. Brown shrimp, caught later in the year, comprise most of the balance of the total shrimp harvest.

NOAA scientists, representing the agency’s National Ocean Service and National Fisheries Service, say the projected shortfall is based on a two-week low winter temperature of 42.3°F in waters off Beaufort, N.C. That temperature contrasts with an average 44.1°F low averaged over the past four decades.

Winter water temperatures along the North Carolina coast are especially important because pink shrimp use the estuaries as nursery grounds. With unusually cool winter water temperatures, shrimps are unable to adapt to changing salinities, increasing mortality.

In five of the past six years, abnormally low minimum winter water temperatures in North Carolina estuaries have led to sub-normal harvests the following spring. Pink shrimp off North Carolina are at the northern limits of their temperature tolerance and are therefore particularly sensitive to temperature variations. Average annual harvests of about 985,000 pounds contrast with pink shrimp harvests of 219,000 pounds and 135,000 pounds in the cold winter years, 2003 and 2004, respectively.

NOAA scientists point out that economic and environmental factors in addition to cold water temperatures – for instance, a previous year’s shrimp mortality resulting from harvesting or by-catch – can influence spring pink shrimp populations available to be caught. Reduced fishing efforts resulting from depressed market prices and environmental impediments to fishing can also lead to lower harvests, making precision forecasts extremely difficult.

The forecasts, based on an “ecological forecasting” capability developed by the NOAA scientists, have proven reliable in recent years.

"These type of forecasts are invaluable in helping commercial fishermen make better economic decisions about alternative fishing areas or possible alternative fish and shellfish to target," said Jerry Schill, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association. "It shows that once fishermen find that the science is credible, they'll accept and use it."

“Ecological forecasts are part of a growing suite of new tools helping us to use science to gain value for the public,” said Richard W. Spinrad, assistant administrator of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “They add value to scientific information that can help guide decisions concerning the use of coastal and ocean resources. The pink shrimp forecast is one application of this technology.”

“This new forecasting technology will aid fisheries managers as they work to develop ecosystem management approaches for mid-Atlantic fisheries.”said William T. Hogarth, assistant administrator of NOAA Fisheries Service. “It’s part of the NOAA to effort to protect our ocean resources.”

In recent years, other extended periods of cold winters, as in the six years from 1977 through 1982, were associated with significantly reduced pink shrimp harvests. Scientists are hoping that further research can indicate similar impacts on other important fisheries species. Along with pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus duorarum), an important fisheries resource in North Carolina and South Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, other marine species also have over-wintering juvenile stages sensitive to low estuary temperatures. NOAA scientists hope to refine their ecological monitoring techniques for other species, such as the Atlantic croaker, also sensitive to cooler water temperatures.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service manages the NMSP and balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries Service provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through research to better understand weather and climate-related events and to manage wisely the nation's coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:


NOAA’s National Ocean Service:

NOAA’s National Fisheries Services: