When you think of seafood and fish, what exactly comes to your mind? Maybe you instantly think of home-fried catfish or perhaps something more delicate like salmon.
Seafood is a pretty broad category and it includes everything from fish to crustaceans and shellfish, and everything in between. Seafood fittingly refers to food from the sea (or other bodies of water).
From there, we must consider the breakdown of other categories as well. There are all sorts of foods like shrimp, lobster, various fish, oysters, mussels, prawns, and more.
Do all of these foods fit into the same category? It can be challenging to know just how to label them properly.
Is shrimp a fish? While shrimp is a form of seafood, it does not fall into the fish category. There are major differences between fish and shrimp, shrimp actually being a part of the shellfish or crustacean category instead. Because of this, shrimp is not considered a fish.
In this guide, we will walk you through a full tutorial and guide explaining just what shrimp is compared to fish.
There is a lot to cover on these topics so pay close attention to the details to truly understand what shrimp is and what fish is and why they are not classified as the same type of food.
Keep reading to learn more about the question “Is shrimp a fish?” and then some!
Shrimp Vs. Fish – A Complete Comparison
When people think of seafood items, they usually think of it all as fish. The truth is, there are a number of categories, with fish having their own traits while shrimp and other crustaceans also have their own traits.
The short answer is that shrimp are not fish and fish are not shrimp. There are actually some specific characteristics of fish that shrimp simply don’t meet.
Let’s break it down by defining shrimp and then defining fish.
What is Shrimp?
Shrimp is a type of seafood. The term seafood is a broad category that contains a ton of different animals of the sea – or lake, or ocean, or river, and so on. From things like fish and crab to shrimp and oysters, it covers everything.
Shrimp fall into the shellfish category, under crustaceans. To be clear, in this instance, shellfish is the broader category and crustaceans are a type of shellfish.
Specifically, shrimp are considered decapod crustaceans, because they have 10 legs.
Crustaceans and shellfish are not considered to be fish.
Shrimp have skeletons that are known as exoskeletons. This means that the skeleton is on the outside of their body, rather than inside like the majority of skeletons.
In addition, the shape of this exoskeleton is very unique and there are very few others that look or are shaped in such a way as shrimp are.
Shrimp have an interesting shape and structure. They are almost rounded and curved in nature, with incredibly flexible skeletons that really act as armor rather than bones.
It’s like a hardened casing that surrounds them from the outside.
Inside their armor or exoskeleton, their abdomens are considered to be segmented. They actually have some limbs, like an abdomen, where fish don’t have classified limbs on their bodies.
Shrimp have 10 sets of limbs, typically referred to as legs. They use those legs and their tails to move or propel themselves and they do not have fins in any way. Shrimp typically stay close to the seafloor.
For a shrimp, those little legs wander clear up their bodies. They use their top 3 sets of legs to act as arms in order to feed themselves.
Is Prawn a Fish?
Prawns are part of the shrimp category in a sense. They are large crustaceans that are built very much like shrimp and they are not fish. They have an exoskeleton with 10 legs as well but they are larger than typical shrimp.
Shrimp and prawns are typically thought to be the same thing and while they are quite similar, they are actually different.
However, prawns are still not fish. Prawns are considered to be a crustacean as well, falling under the category of shellfish.
Shrimp and prawns are similar in nature and again both fall under crustaceans but neither one is a fish so keep that in mind.
Shrimp are known for their curved bodies with a distinct bend while prawns actually don’t have that bend or curvature in their bodies. Shrimp and prawns often also live in different types of water.
In short, prawns are not fish but are crustaceans much like shrimp.
Is Shrimp a Shellfish?
Shellfish is a broad category, much like fish is. Shellfish encompasses things like crustaceans and mollusks. There are a lot of things that fall into the shellfish category and shrimp is one of those.
Here are some common shellfish that you might come across. This list includes both crustaceans and mollusks.
Ultimately, a shellfish is an aquatic being that has an exoskeleton as opposed to a traditional skeleton. This gives them either a shell or perhaps a hardened external layer on the outside of their bodies.
Most shellfish are considered to be saltwater creatures but there are some that come from freshwater instead.
So yes, shrimp would be classified as a shellfish!
What is a Fish?
Now, let’s take a look at fish to try and find the distinct differences between fish and shrimp. There are 3 primary characteristics that identify a fish in nature.
- Fish have an internal skeleton
- Fish have no limbs or members
- Fish have a complex central nervous system
Right away, shrimp do not meet all of these particular prerequisites. If you’ve ever had fish or caught fish and filleted them, you know quite well that they are full of tiny bones that create an internal skeleton for their bodies.
Shrimp have that skeleton on their exterior!
This skeleton is somewhat flexible for fish so that they can move their bodies to move through the water and act in defense with fast movement as well.
Fish have a pretty distinct shape and build and while there are a LOT of different types of fish, they all have a pretty similar build overall.
Fish are incredibly flexible, particularly around their head and neck. They use their tail and their heads to maneuver through the water.
Fish have muscle under the skin and their skeletons are embedded beneath that muscle and other meat.
Another distinct difference is that shrimp have limbs (10 sets of legs) while fish do not really have limbs. Fish do have a variety of fins but they do not have any legs or arms to speak of.
Their fins help to direct them and propel them but they swim to get to their destination and are unable to walk. They also do not contain arms for feeding purposes. They rely solely on their mouths.
As you can tell, the bodies of fish are very different from the bodies of fish and we see distinct differences from top to bottom here that really set these two categories apart.
Here are some common types of fish that you might know of.
- Cod Herring
- Rainbow Trout
- Perch Mackerel
This list of fish could easily go on and on. We simply shared some of the most common or popular types of fish here.
Is Shrimp Seafood?
Both fish and shrimp are seafood. This is really where the confusion tends to come into play. When one item is categorized as seafood, people commonly mistake them as all being the same.
Seafood is a broad category that encompasses just about any animal of the sea that you might eat or catch. It can cover all of these. Here are some for reference.
- Sea urchins
You get the idea, right? Seafood is somewhat of an umbrella that really covers all of those creatures within the sea, including both fish and shrimp.
You should understand that seafood is simply a term that describes foods that come from bodies of water.
While sea does mostly refer to saltwater locations, it really can refer to any body of water and you will find that some seafood comes from places like lakes and rivers rather than the sea or ocean.
There are a ton of different species that fall into the seafood category.
What is Shellfish?
Shrimp is considered a shellfish, rather than a fish so let’s talk about what exactly shellfish is.
When it comes to allergic troubles, a lot of people are allergic to shellfish but are not necessarily allergic to fish or seafood. It is something specifically about shellfish that tends to trigger allergic reactions for most.
Shellfish is a term that is used to define seafood that has an exoskeleton. We covered this briefly earlier but we want to dig just a little bit deeper on the subject.
Things like clams, mollusks, scallops, shrimp, crab, and lobster all fall into the shellfish category. There are other shellfish also not included in those examples.
Shellfish are defined as an aquatic shelled mollusk or crustacean, particularly an edible one.
As you can see, this covers quite the broad range but you can primarily consider anything with a shell that is an aquatic animal to fall into this category.
Seafood ultimately pertains to both fish and shellfish and then underneath each of those categories you find a ton of different variety and styles and even more categories.
This is where you should draw the differentiation though. Fish and shellfish are the two primary categories of seafood and shrimp are considered to be shellfish and therefore not fish.
What is a Crustacean? Is Shrimp One?
Here we find ourselves at the very defining point of shrimp. Shrimp are considered to be crustaceans, which fall under the shellfish category.
Crustaceans is still a fairly broad category and it includes things like crabs, lobster, crawfish, and shrimp.
Crustaceans have an exoskeleton and they have no other shell or frame outside of that exoskeleton.
In some cases, it might seem like that shell is defining factor (like with lobster or shrimp) but the exoskeleton is still very flexible and is designed to be an armor piece for the animal.
All crustaceans turn reddish or coral in color when you cook them, regardless of what they are. So how are crustaceans different from mollusks?
Crustaceans are set apart by either a hard crust or shell that still allows them to have identifiable limbs or appendages that can be used.
For example, we determined earlier that shrimp have 10 sets of legs. Despite their shells, they can still move and control those legs.
You see a similar trait in prawns, crayfish, lobsters, and crabs. They also have a shell or exoskeleton but still have limbs.
Mollusks are a bit different. Mollusks live within their shells or hard crusts. They have soft bodies that are contained within the shell. They don’t have limbs to speak of in the mollusk category.
Mollusks is also a broad category but is distinctly different from crustaceans in this way.
We hope that you find this guide to understanding whether a shrimp is a fish and what the true differences are to be a helpful resource.
These categories are certainly broad categories that are easy to misinterpret but if you remember that fish are fish and shrimp are shellfish, you will be good to go!
Take a look at our question and answer section for some additional details that may be useful to you.
Are shrimp a type of fish?
No, they are not! Shrimp are considered to be shellfish and fish is a wholly separate category in terms of seafood.
Shrimp are crustaceans, which have distinctly different bodies and builds as opposed to fish. Remember that shrimp have exoskeletons while fish do not.
What is the vein in shrimp?
That vein that you see in shrimp is actually their digestive tract. It is their intestine that works much like a human organ intestine.
When you eat a shrimp and it has this vein, it typically has grit in it or has been emptied but it may have whatever was in the digestive tract when the shrimp was caught.
You can also find deveined shrimp if it concerns you, but eating shrimp with the vein still present is not in any way dangerous or harmful to the human body.
Is shrimp meat?
Shrimp are a type of meat. While they are seafood they do have a distinctive meat on their bodies that people eat.
If you look at it from a vegetarian standpoint, there are some vegetarians that eat fish and seafood. In this case, it is considered meat but it is a seafood so it may be acceptable.