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Shrimp, brown or common

Crangon crangon

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Beam trawl
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - North Sea
Stock detail - IV
Certification -
Fish type - Shellfish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is not a good choice of sustainable fish to eat and should be only eaten very occasionally. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

Brown shrimp is a relatively fast growing and resilient species yet plays a very important role in the marine ecosystem. It is an important prey item for many species including seabirds and commercial fish such as cod and whiting, and is itself an important predator of smaller intertidal organisms. The brown shrimp fishery comprises one of the largest fisheries in the North Sea and is accessed by approximately 400 vessels throughout the year. Despite its scale and importance, the fishery is largely unregulated with only the number of permits plus some additional technical measures (mesh and engine size) being controlled. The status of the stock is unknown, but most likely being subject to growth overfishing (where shrimp are caught at a suboptimal size). Effort has been increasing and there is concern that if stocks of brown shrimp predators increase (namely cod and whiting) that the fishery will be at risk of recruitment overfishing. ICES concluded that for precautionary reasons: a management system is required to prevent growth overfishing (and potentially recruitment overfishing); to sustainably harvest the brown shrimp population; to reduce the impact on the benthic community and on species relying on brown shrimp as prey. As the species is short lived and subject to population fluctuation, an annual stock assessment and annual TAC are not considered suitable. A real-time catch rate based harvest control rule proposed and already tested by the fishing industry is considered a suitable first approach, yet will need agreement between key Member States to implement it effectively. Shrimp beam trawls encounter significant bycatch of juvenile fish, and despite being lighter than flatfish beam trawls, are still associated with damage to seafloor communities. Further reducing juvenile fish bycatch and protecting habitats sensitive to shrimp trawls will be important to improve the environmental performance of these fisheries; particularly as a core area of the fishery is the Wadden Sea - one of Europe's most important marine conservation areas. In these areas it is important that sufficient areas are protected to allow for natural processes to continue with minimal disruption from anthropogenic activities.

Any deterioration in any of the assessment categories, particularly the status of the stock, would likely result in a red rating of the fishery.


Crangon crangon, the common or brown shrimp, is found in mainly shallow water along the Eastern Atlantic coast as far south as Morocco, and into the Mediterranean and Black Seas. It grows to about 8cm, with length at maturity between 35-50mm. Lifespan is 4-5 years, with females living longer. They mature within their first year of life. It has a relatively fast growth rate of 14mm per month during the first couple of months. Similar to lobsters and crabs, females carry their eggs on their abdominal appendages (the pleopods) for a period of 4-13 weeks, depending on temperature. Egg-bearing (berried) females can be found for 46 weeks of the year, but there are two peaks in numbers of berried females in the southern North Sea, and one in the Irish Sea. Peak reproductive periods occur between April and September, when females carry up to 4,500 small 'summer' eggs. The number of berried females decreases sharply in September, but then increases again in October/November as females produce up to 2,800 larger 'winter' eggs. Brown shrimp Crangon crangon is a major food item found in cod and whiting stomachs, and is itself an important predator of in- and epifauna in intertidal areas that is assumed to control plaice and mussel recruitment.

Stock information

Stock area
North Sea

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Stock information
Brown shrimp is widely distributed in coastal areas of the North Sea. Genetic studies have not provided convincing evidence to consider the North Sea population of brown shrimp as more than one stock, so for management purposes, ICES proposes to treat brown shrimp in the North Sea as one stock. Total annual landings in 2013 amounted to 34 685 t where the German fleet contributed 12 316 t, the Dutch 17 393 t, the Danish 2823 t, the Belgian 945 t, the UK 844 t and the French 227 t respectively. There has been no formal stock assessment of brown shrimp by ICES in the North East Atlantic. Stock assessment for this species is considered difficult using traditional approaches and alternative methods are being investigated, yet the available evidence indicates that the North Sea stock is experiencing growth overfishing, whereby fish are caught at a suboptimal size. Key indicators include: increased effort; fishing mortality on brown shrimps >50 mm is up to five times higher than the natural mortality; the fraction of large shrimps (>60 mm) has been in constant decline from 30% to 20% in recent years; and based on a yield-per-recruit model analysis, the fishing mortality is above proxies for Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).


Brown shrimp in the North Sea is primarily fished in coastal waters of various Member States, including the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and the UK. As most of the fisheries occur within 12nm, the respective Member States are responsible for developing and implementing most management measures for these fisheries. Lacking evidence to suggest there is more than one stock, ICES treat brown shrimp in the North Sea as a single stock, yet with regional variations. This means that in order to effectively and sustainably manage the stock, a multilateral management approach is necessary. Whilst the species is fast growing and resilient, effort and efficiency has been increasing steadily, plus it is important prey for many marine species, including fin fish species like cod and whiting, both of which are increasing in abundance. Additionally, the recent large expansion of Dutch pulse trawlers into the fishery means that further pressure will be placed on the stock as these vessels are more efficient and can access previously unexploited grounds.

Currently, the brown shrimp fishery is largely unregulated, with only the number of permits plus some additional technical measures (mesh and engine size) being controlled. There also exists significant latent effort that could be activated at anytime. In a 2014 special request to ICES from Germany and the Netherlands, ICES concluded that for precautionary reasons, a management system is required to: prevent growth overfishing and potentially recruitment overfishing; to sustainably harvest the brown shrimp population; and to reduce the impact on the benthic community and on species relying on brown shrimp as prey. ICES advised that this should involve the close to real-time monitoring with fast response mechanisms, which is required to react in a situation of recruitment failure or adverse population development. Due to the short life span of brown shrimp, an annual stock assessment and annual TAC are not considered suitable. The harvest control rule as proposed and already tested by the fishing industry employs comparisons of landings per unit against trigger points, which if passed would result in a reduction in effort (or total catches). This was considered a suitable first approach by ICES.

Much of the brown shrimp fishery occurs in areas that are of conservation importance. Across Member States, there are various local laws (and some EU laws) in place which restrict shrimp trawl access to certain areas (e.g. most of the Danish Wadden Sea is closed), but on a whole, the effective implementation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect sufficient areas of conservation areas and vulnerable habitat sites from damaging activities will improve the environmental performance of these fisheries.

Two fisheries were previously in assessment against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Standard: the Dutch North Sea Brown Shrimp fishery and the German North Sea Brown Shrimp fishery. However, in May 2015 they withdrew with the aim of reapplying later in 2015 after developing a multilateral management plan. Holders of this application, the Co-operative Fisheries Organisation, established a voluntary management plan in 2011 with the aim of achieving a sustainable fishery, yet it is not clear how effective the plan has been, given that the fishery is accessed by other vessels not part of the plan.

Capture information

In the North Sea, there are approximately 400 vessels participating in the brown shrimp fishery. Many of these are dedicated shrimp trawlers, but there are also significant catches from other components which also target flatfish. The dominant vessels are twin-rigged beam trawlers (usually 18-24m in length) using relatively small mesh trawls (20 mm). The majority of the catch is taken in the eastern coastal areas of the North Sea, in and around the Wadden Sea, which is one Europe's most important marine conservation areas and contains one of Europe's largest marine national Parks. The Netherlands and then Germany take the vast majority of brown shrimp, with Denmark, UK, Belgium and France taking lesser volumes. Gears are more or less uniform across the North Sea brown shrimp fisheries, although there are some differences in the employment of selective gears. Whilst lighter than flatfish beam trawls, beam trawling for shrimp is associated with damage to the seabed and discarding of unwanted and immature fish and shrimp. The impact on juvenile commercial species such as plaice, sole, dab and cod has been of major concern, though it is noted the plaice stock, which dominates the bycatch, is currently at very high abundance. In 2002, legislation for the European shrimp fishery was introduced, requiring the use of selective gear, namely sieve nets, also known as veil nets or selection grids, in order to reduce bycatch . Each member state is responsible for implementing its own legislation, e.g. the UK introduced The Shrimp Fishing Nets Order 2002. Whilst these devices considerably reduce bycatch (particularly of fish >10cm), they are often not employed when there is significant weed on the fishing grounds, which can sometimes be months at a time. And despite these measures, the catch of small fish can still be very high at times. Data is now being collected on shrimp fishery bycatch, including observers in the Dutch and German fisheries, in an effort to better understand the potential impact and bycatch management options available. Across Member States, there are various local laws in place which restrict shrimp trawl access to certain areas (e.g. most of the Danish Wadden Sea is closed), but on a whole, the effective implementation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect sufficient areas of conservation areas and vulnerable habitat sites from damaging activities will improve the environmental performance of these fisheries, as will the control and reduction of effort.

Electric pulse fishing as an alternative to traditional beam trawl gear is being trialled by over 90 vessels in the North Sea, primarily from the Netherlands and targeting flat fish and shrimp, though reportedly only a few vessels are targeting shrimp. Whilst the method has been developed to reduce fuel consumption and physical impact on the sea floor, it is not known what impacts the repetitive electrocution of the water and sea floor has on these communities and other marine life like sharks, skates and rays. It is imperative that further research is undertaken before this method be allowed to expand, and certainly before it is permitted for use within European Marine Sites (which is currently occurring).

Read more about capture methods

Catchpole, T. L., Revill, A. S., Innes, J., and Pascoe, S. 2008. Evaluating the efficacy of technical measures: a case study of selection device legislation in the UK Crangon crangon (brown shrimp) fishery. - ICES Journal of Marine Science, 65: 267-275.

Cooperative Fisheries Organisation, 2011. North Sea brown shrimp fishery management plan. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

Doekson, A. 2006. Ecological perspectives of the North Sea C. crangon fishery: An inventory of its effects on the marine ecosystem. BSc Thesis. Wageningen University. Commissioned by the North Sea Foundation.

Food Certification International, 2013. Project Inshore Report, Stage 2 V4 draft. Prepared for Seafish. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

Green, M., Hill, J.M., Pearce, B., Woodcock, T., Earnshaw, S., & Ball, K. 2011. Pre-assessment report for the east coast brown and pink shrimp fisheries. Prepared for Lynn Shellfish Ltd, John Lake Shellfish Ltd and Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA). Available at [Accessed July 2015].

ICES, 2014. Request from Germany and the Netherlands on the potential need for a management of brown shrimp (Crangon crangon) in the North Sea. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

WWF, 2014. Sustainable brown shrimp fishery: Is pulse fishing a promising option? Available at [Accessed August 2015]. Palomares, M.L.D. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2015. SeaLifeBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. Available at {Accessed July 2015].

Sewell, J. & Hiscock, K., 2005. Effects of fishing within UK European Marine Sites: guidance for nature conservation agencies. Report to the Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage from the Marine Biological Association. Plymouth: Marine Biological association. CCW Contract FC 73-03-214A. 195 pp. Available at [Accessed July 2015].

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