Is Shrimp A Fish, Shellfish or Meat? What Are Shrimp Classified As?

The underwater world is rich in different living organisms. There you can find fish, shrimp, oysters, lobsters, mussels, and a lot more. With so many different creatures categorizing them can get a little complex.

Shrimp is one of the most popular categories of seafood and are the most consumed seafood in the US. Did you know the annual consumption of shrimp in Spain is 3 kg, Portugal – 2 kg, and France – 1.5 kg? Despite shrimp’s popularity, people sometimes confuse shrimp with fish or other categories of seafood. So it is time to find out if shrimp is fish, shellfish, or meat.

Are Shrimp Fish?

Shrimp are not fish. Although both live in water, they have very little in common. Shrimps do not have a bony skeleton and instead have a hard outer shell. They also have appendages called pleopods which they use to swim. Fish are vertebrates and have fins instead of appendages.

Shrimp and fish are two distinct species! A fish is defined as a creature that lives in the water and has a backbone. Shrimp do not fit this definition as even though they live in the water, they don’t have a backbone and are known as invertebrates. Fish and shrimp share the same home, and even both have gills that help them breathe underwater, but it is the lack of a skeleton that prevents a shrimp from being called a fish. Shrimp also have appendages known as pleopods which they use to eat and swim. In contrast, fish swim using their fins and don’t have appendages.

What Are Shrimp Classified As?

From a biological point of view, shrimp is classified as a crustacean. Since shrimp has 10 legs, it also falls under the narrower category of decapod crustaceans. Crustaceans have an exoskeleton, antennas, and branched limbs.

The most distinctive feature of a shrimp is its exoskeleton. An exoskeleton is a skeleton not inside but outside of a body. It does not create some sort of bones for holding up the body but rather an armor. The shape of the exoskeleton is also unique and not similar to any other. The body of a shrimp consists of two parts – the head and thorax, which are joined, and the long abdomen. The lower part of the abdomen is very well adapted to swimming in water.

10 sets of limbs, commonly referred to as legs, have different functions. Thus, the first five pairs of legs are shaped in the form of paddles, and shrimp use them to swim forward. Also, the first three pairs can be used for feeding. The last two pairs are used for swimming backward and can also perform the function of a rudder when swimming forward.

Usually, shrimp are living near the seafloor of marine waters. However, some kinds of shrimp can be found in freshwater rivers or even lakes.

Are Shrimp Shellfish?

Shrimp can be classified under the broad category of shellfish because they have an exoskeleton. The shellfish category consists of two groups of organisms – crustaceans (shrimp, prawn, lobster, or crab) and mollusks (oysters, mussels, and snails). 

Shellfish is a term used for organisms with an exoskeleton that forms an external layer of armor. Although the term shellfish contains the word “fish,” it does not have anything similar to fish. They are two different categories of organisms. Shrimps, with their hard shell and lack of backbone, are the perfect definition of a shellfish. They are further classified as a crustacean because they have antennae that they use to smell and taste, touch, and legs which they use to swim and eat.

Are Shrimp Seafood?

Shrimp is a type of seafood. Seafood is a term covering a large diversity of living organisms dwelling in water – an ocean, sea, river, or lake. Therefore, shrimp, as well as fish, are considered seafood. 

To put it simply, seafood is a general term comprising different water creatures – fish, crabs, lobsters, squids, octopus, shrimp, and many more. Shrimp live their entire lives in the water and can not survive on land, making them seafood! Interestingly, shrimp is one of the most favorite seafood in the world and the most consumed seafood in the USA. Seafood lovers from all over the world express their love for shrimp.

Are Shrimp Meat?

Shrimp is a type of meat because it is the flesh of an animal. However, people usually only refer to meat when talking about the flesh of terrestrial animals such as chicken, beef, pork. When talking about shrimp, most people call it seafood. 

This question often arises for people on a special diet or because of religious beliefs. Therefore, even being distinguished from other animals’ meat, shrimp are considered meat, and, thus, vegans and vegetarians should not consume shrimp.

See also: What Does Shrimp Taste Like? Yay or Nay?

At the same time, the meat of shrimp contains very important elements for health. They are very tasty and nutritious. Shrimp is rich in protein, iron, calcium, and Vitamin B12. However,  they contain a high level of cholesterol, therefore, they must be limited in consumption.

Why Are Shrimps Not Classified As Fish? Shrimp and Fish Differences

Everyone who has seen a fish and a shrimp knows the difference between these two organisms right away and cannot confuse them. From a biological point of view, as well as from appearance, fish and shrimp are very distinctive. The only thing in common is that they both are the inhabitants of water bodies and possess gills. So how do shrimp and fish differ? All the distinctive characteristics can be grouped into several categories:



Internal skeleton with small bones beneath the muscles External exoskeleton creating somewhat of external armor
Body structure
Integral body structure with flexible tail and head to navigate in water The body consists of a joint head and thorax and a long abdomen
Fins and tail for swimming in water 10 pairs of limbs, referred to as legs 
The body is covered with scales  The body is covered in shells rich in chitin, protein, and other minerals
Nervous system
The developed central nervous system has  the brain and spinal cord  The nervous system consists of the brain (a few nerve cells cluster) and central nerve cord 
Eating habits
Fish do not have limbs and consume food by passing water with nutritious elements through the filters in their mouths. Also, fish have teeth The first pairs of limbs perform the role of arms for eating purposes. Shrimp do not have teeth 

The table above shows that fish and shrimp have more distinctive characteristics than common. It is hard to find common features since there are two – both live in water and have gills. 

Variety of Shrimps

Shrimp is a very popular seafood, but not everyone knows that there are different types of shrimp, and not all of them can be consumed by people. There are around 2000 types, but only a fraction of them are edible. It should be noted that most shrimp in shops, markets, and restaurants are farmed.

The most widespread and popular types of shrimp are: 

  • Pink shrimp – the type that you can easily find in shops and markets. They are small and can be found all year-round.
  • White shrimp – are mostly spread in the less salty waters of the USA coast and the Gulf of Mexico. They have a sweeter taste compared to other shrimps.
  • Brown shrimp are, also known as sand shrimp – contain more natural iodine, therefore, have a strong flavor and mineral taste.
  • Rock shrimp – have hard shells and are often used as a substitute for lobsters. It is interesting that to make the peeling process easier, a special machine was created in the second half of the last century.
  • Tiger shrimp – these shrimps are very distinctive and recognizable since they have stripes (that is where they got their name). In most cases, they are farmed.
  • Royal red shrimp – they have such a name due to the bright red color. Royal shrimps have juicy butter meat and are considered one of the tastiest shrimps.
  • Spot shrimp – they are one of the biggest shrimps and originate from the Alaska coast. Spot shrimps have a pink or red color. They have a tender texture and are easy to break. However, the taste of these shrimps is worth all the effort in cooking.

Consumption of different types of shrimp varies in different regions. For example, the most popular type of shrimp in the US is brown shrimp. At the same time, in Europe, pink and white shrimp are popular. In any case, different types of shrimp have slightly different tastes and flavors, and since almost all of them can easily be found in shops and markets, you have a chance to try them all and decide what type is your favorite.

Difference Between Shrimps and Prawns

Shrimp and prawns are often confused since they look similar and have similar taste. However, there are some key anatomical differences between the two species.

The main difference between shrimps and prawns is the body form. Shrimps have an overlapping thorax. It overlaps the head and abdomen. In prawns, each next segment overlaps the previous. Therefore, they do not bend their body as shrimps do. Also, prawns have longer legs and three pairs of claw-like legs, while shrimps have only one such pair of legs.

Also, prawns are usually larger than shrimps. However, their taste does not differ much except for prawns being a bit sweeter. Therefore, they are often interchanged in culinary. Interestingly, in Australia and the UK, people refer to both prawns and shrimps as prawns and do not make a distinction. Whereas in America, people only refer to large species as prawns.

Health Benefits of Shrimps

Shrimps are a healthy food because they are low in carbohydrates, low in calories, and high in protein. Moreover, they have several health benefits. Thus, shrimps are great for your eyesight. Also, vitamin D and phosphorus reduce the risk of problems with bones. Moreover, shrimps improve your mood due to the amino acids in the meat, which triggers the production of serotonin.

You can also use shrimps in your daily diet to keep the skin healthy. The collagen in the meat keeps your skin supple and elastic. The shrimp eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your brain and eyesight. Moreover, shrimps are great for your heart. They contain omega 3 fatty acids, which reduce the chance of heart attack. Also, they prevent high blood pressure and control the level of cholesterol in your blood. Shrimps reduce the chances of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

Shrimp is rich in iron and zinc, which improve blood circulation and build strong bones. The shrimp also contains selenium which reduces the risk of cancer and fatigue caused by thyroid disease. In addition, shrimps contain many vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin C, and pantothenic acid.

Moreover, they are high in zinc which helps to reduce the risk of skin problems. Shrimps also contain many antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, which protect you from diseases caused by free radicals. Shrimps also contain iron which prevents anemia.


Shrimps are one of the most popular types of seafood. They are often confused with other organisms, mainly fish. However, as biological information shows, shrimps are not fish but can be considered seafood and meat. This is because even though shrimp live in the water and have gills, they are invertebrates and have appendages. Fish, on the other hand, are vertebrates and have a backbone. Seafood lovers from all over the world love shrimps for their soft and slightly sweet taste. Whether you are enjoying shrimps in your pasta, in a salad, or even on a sandwich, you can’t go wrong with this super tasty crustacean.

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