Shrimp boats, sometimes called shrimping boats or shrimpers, are boats rigged especially to catch shrimp as part of the shrimp fishery industry. The world loves its seafood and the shrimp industry was worth $31.6 billion in 2019. That number rises consistently year over year, which means the demand for shrimp boats is always on the rise as well.

What Are Shrimping Boats?

Technically there is no specific kind of boat that is a shrimp boat, it’s not like a canoe or a jon boat in that regard. But fishing trawlers tend to be the boats most often rigged to become shrimpers. In particular, outrigger trawlers with those arms that extend from either side. The outriggers extend out and have fishing nets extended from there. On deck there will be some kind of winching system used to draw the nets in and harvest the shrimp. 

As long as a boat can be rigged to pull in shrimp with shrimp pots or nets, it can be considered a shrimping boat.

How Do Shrimp Boats Work?

Most commercial shrimp fishing succeeds thanks to trawling. Trawling nets are large, wide nets that are weighted on the bottom so they basically hang like a sheet down to the sea bed. The top of the net will have buoys on it to allow it to float and this difference between floats and weights ensures the net stays wide open as it trawls along. The net is shaped something like a sock so as the boat moves forward it funnels the catch to the back of the net in what is usually called the bag. 

When done in heavily populated waters the majority of the catch will be shrimp but there’s also a large quantity of by-catch as well. That said, advancements in the shrimping industry are actually coming up with ways to minimize by-catch including things like turtle excluder devices that keep sea turtles out of the nets. 

Strong winches are able to pull the net up when it’s full, and then the net can be released right on the deck where the catch is sorted and ice and stored. A single shrimp boat with a crew of three may be able to catch anywhere from no shrimp at all to as much as 16,000 pounds of shrimp in a single trip. Larger commercial shrimping vessels can catch nearly 50,000 pounds of shrimp in a trip. Americans alone eat one billion pounds of shrimp per year so you can see where all of these massive amounts are going. 

How Long Do Shrimp Boats Stay Out?

Unlike something like crab boats which can stay at sea for weeks at a time while they hunt crabs, shrimp boats don’t spend nearly as much time at sea. Some fishing trips will be around 12 hours or so and sometimes they may stay out for a day or two but typically not too much longer than that.

Part of the reason shrimp fishing trips don’t last as long is that if there is no catch, the vessels will come in early so they’re not wasting money doing nothing. And if they’re successful they are often able to fill up their holds pretty quickly so they need to return to shore and offload everything. 

How Much Does a Shrimp Boat Cost?

Because a shrimp boat is determined more by its rigging than anything else, there can be a good variation in what a shrimp boat costs. The size of the boat will definitely affect this more than anything else, but the rigging is also a big factor in the specialized design of a shrimping boat.

If you pick up an older, smaller shrimp boat you could perhaps get one for as little as $30,000 to $40,000. But if you wanted a top of the line, brand new, commercial shrimp boat you might be looking at $500,000 or more.

Keep in mind a small, independent shrimp boat may only be about 25 feet long. And this style of boat has been in use for shrimping for about a century at this point, so you can find a lot of used boats that are pretty old and therefore reasonably priced.

On the other hand, a new boat for commercial shrimping can get up to 100 feet or more. That’s why the price range is so great. 

On average, a shrimp boat will be in the 55 to 78 foot range.

How Many Boats are There in the Shrimp Fishery Industry?

This is a remarkably hard question to answer as the industry tends to be broken up by state or region and there is no governing shrimping body in the world. That said, in South Carolina alone there were over 700 shrimp boats registered as far back as 2002, but that number has since declined. Georgia had 200 registered in 2019, down from about 1,500 back in the day. But there are also shrimp boats as far North as Canada, down in the Gulf of Mexico, Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and the North Sea in Europe. And, of course, the ocean around Australia. So the worldwide industry is still massive and that means a lot of shrimp boats all over the world. 

Do Shrimp Boats Use Bait to Catch Shrimp?

Smaller fishing boats can do shrimp baiting in an effort to catch shrimp and it usually involves marking a spot in the water and then baiting the area with balls of things like fish meal. Shrimp aren’t known to be picky eaters so there are a lot of options for what you can use to attract them. You can even use cat food or cornmeal. The bait is made into a ball with a binder like clay and then tossed in the water.

With the boat anchored in place, the shrimp fishermen wait for shrimp to gather at the bait ball then pull them in with a net. You need permits to do this in many states and there are some regulations about where it can be done and how much you can do. Most shrimp is caught commercially in nets, however.

The Bottom Line

Shrimp boats can be any fishing vessel outfitted with beam trawls that can haul in shrimp. You can also fish for shrimp off of a standard fishing boat using nets or pots though you might not call yourself a shrimp boat just for doing that. 

The shrimping industry has been around for a long time and the boats have not changed much in that time. Most are just trawling vessels and they can cost anywhere from $40,000 to as much as $500,000 or more. The boats can range from as small as 25 feet to as much as 100 feet.