Where Can I Purchase Live Grass Shrimp?

Ken Jones

Staff member
Good question, grass shrimp seem to be harder to find and seem to be more seasonal in availability. What about in the East Bay and North Bay?
I did some calling and got mixed results:

East Bay —

San Leandro — Marina Liquor — 2260 Marina Blvd., San Leandro, CA 94577
(510) 483-4030
Yes, also pile worms and bloodworms

Oakland — Phu Quy Bait & Supplies — 1805 14th Ave., Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 532-8505
Mailbox full so no answer

Bay Tackle— 5815 Cutting Blvd., El Cerrito, CA 94530
(510) 235-2032
Only pile worms at this time; used to carry grass shrimp, ghost shrimp, and mud shrimp but supplier hasn't been able to get them.

Numbers no longer valid — still in business? Tnt Liquor, Hayward, Grand Street Bait & Tackle, Alameda, Oakland Baits, Oakland

North Bay —

Sausalito — New Bait Shop & Market — 1 Gate 6 Road, Sausalito, CA 94965
(415) 331-2282
Yes, also pile worms.

Loch Lomond Live Bait House — 110 Loch Lomond Dr., San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 456-0321
Couldn't reach in three calls; typically has grass shrimp.

Numbers no longer valid — still in business? Western Bait & Tackle, San Rafael

Carquinez Strait & West Delta

Martinez Pier — Martinez Marina Bait & Tackle — 95 Tarantino Dr., Martinez, CA 94553
(925) 229-9420
Yes — usually carry grass shrimp and ghost shrimp along with pile worms. Usually arrives on Thursday so can run out by late in the weekend.

Benicia Piers — Benicia Bait & Tackle — 509 Claverie Way, Benicia, CA 94510
(707) 745-4921
Yes — Has own shrimp boat so has grass shrimp and ghost shrimp, pile worms and bloodworms. But says he's having a really hard time getting things like frozen anchovies and (especially) eels.

Antioch Piers — Gotcha! Bait and Tackle — 3500 18th St., Antioch, CA 9450
(925) 706-7400
Yes — Generally has grass shrimp, ghost shrimp and pile worms. Gets most of them on a weekly basis so can run out.

Pittsburg/Antioch Piers — BS Bait & Tackle — 1001 McAvoy Rd., Bay Point, CA 94565
(925) 458-1717
Yes — grass shrimp, ghost shrimp, pile worms and bloodworms.

Rio Vista PierHap’s Bait — 84 Main Street, Rio Vista, CA 94571
(707) 374-2372
Has had grass and ghost shrimp but it's coming to an end (seasonal?); does have pile worms and bloodworms.

Rio Vista Pier — Rio Vista Bait & Tackle — 510 CA-12, Rio Vista, CA 94571
(707) 374-5522
No grass shrimp at this time and waiting upon delivery of ghost shrimp (any time); has pile worms and bloodworms.

Red Fish

Senior Member
Good information Ken. Keith Fraser of Loch Lomond Bait San Rafael is still there. It is hit or miss now as he pretty much retired and comes in when he wants (sometimes others mind the store).
Rodeo Bait (formerly Surf City Angler) has grass shrimp.
Bob’s Discount Liquor & Bait Union City off Alvarado only has frozen grass shrimp. They unfortunately don’t have any live bait except for night crawlers anymore.
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Red Fish

Senior Member
Have you tried catching your own? Depending on where you're fishing it can often be caught at piers with a shrimp trap.
Grass Shrimp Harvesting

I haven’t seen anyone harvest grass shrimp from a pier in the SF Peninsula piers or Northbay. I have only seen pile shrimp. I have netted pile shrimp with a minnow net in Novato. I would like to see some grass shrimp caught (like in the video above). Pile shrimp, are the ones, you catch along pilings.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Pile shrimp are one species of "grass shrimp."


From PFIC 3rd Ed — Grass Shrimp. These small shrimp are important bait in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, the name is somewhat of a misnomer since they are actually bay shrimp, and there are three different types of shrimp. The most common are the California bay shrimp, Cragon franciscorum. This is the shrimp that supported the commercial shrimp fleets, in places like China Camp, from the 1870s to the 1930s. In its peak year, 1935, the fishery saw over three million pounds of shrimp landed, most of which was dried and then used as food. Following the mid ‘30s a decrease began in the catch, which continues somewhat to this day (see reasons below).
Most years now see less than 100,000 pounds a year landed, all of which is sold to bait shops. Common throughout both San Pablo and Suisun Bay, the shrimp are typically found off of Pittsburg from June to August, and then off the Martinez-Port Chicago area from September to November.
In addition to the true California bay shrimp, the smaller blacktail bay shrimp, Cragon nigricauda, and the increasingly common oriental shrimp, sometimes called the Korean or pile shrimp, Palaemon macrodactylus, are also found in these waters and frequently are mixed in with the other shrimp as bait. The oriental shrimp was apparently introduced accidentally from the ballast of ships returning from Asia during the Korean War and today is reported by some sources as more common than Cragon franciscorum.

Grass shrimp are sold live at most Bay Area bait shops. Although sold by the pound, generally a quarter of a pound per person will last all day and they will stay alive if kept cool. They are excellent bait in the bay for many species including perch, white croaker (kingfish), and flatfish like the starry flounder. They are one of the better baits for sturgeon, and are common bait for striped bass. They are much less productive in oceanfront waters.


Usually they are hooked from the head down to the tail with the barb of the hook exposed near the tail (although many hook them in an opposite tail to head manner). You may also put several on your hook (if they are small) and, by just barely hooking them in the side; they will stay alive on the hook for a considerable length of time.

You can of course try to catch your own shrimp. The most common method is to use one of the commercially available shrimp traps that are baited and then lowered down into likely looking neighborhoods for the shrimp. Although California bay shrimp tend to be in somewhat deeper waters, the other two species are frequently caught in traps. Blacktail bay shrimp, with their salt-and-pepper markings, are most commonly found in sand flat areas, often in pools in the sand or buried in the sand, and are also netted by shrimp boats down to a depth of several fathoms. Oriental shrimp are a brackish-water species most common to the streams of Marin County but also moving considerably upstream as far as Antioch. The Oriental shrimp is somewhat larger than the native species (reaching about two inches in length) and has more numerous antennae and a long, toothed rostrum.

They can be kept in good condition throughout the day with the use of a chilled bait cooler (which I recommend). However, the bait shops typically put them in a plastic bag, which is then put inside a second bag containing ice. Whatever the method, try to keep them cool. If at the end of the day you have some left over you can freeze them in a Ziploc (or similar) bag in your freezer. An idea courtesy of Songslinger on PFIC, “freeze them in baggies with a 3:1 ratio of salt to borax. It keeps them white and fresh-like.”

As to why the number of shrimp have decreased? The main factor has been the loss of tidal marsh around San Francisco Bay, marshlands where the shrimp thrive. In 1930 the Bay Area population was about 1.57 million people. In 2010 the population was 7.15 million people. To accommodate the need for additional homes and business, shoreline areas were dredged and reshaped into usable land for humans while making it unusable for native species like shrimp (and many, many other creatures). Luckily today, many groups are working on restoring marshlands to the bay (but it’s a long term project).
In addition, there are the changes to the bay waters themselves, waters that are the home environment to the shrimp. These shrimp prefer brackish water with a salinity level of 14 parts per thousand (ppt) when young to 24 ppt when ready to spawn. (Ocean waters in contrast are around 35ppt.) They also prefer water temperatures around 65 degrees.
To meet these two criteria, the shrimp move around the bay as dictated by changes in the bay water’s salinity and temperature levels. Winter and spring months see increased freshwater entering San Pablo Bay from the Carquinez Strait. It is runoff from winter storms and, as snow melts in the mountains, it is cold-water runoff from inland areas (snow > water > mountain streams > rivers > Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta > Suisun Bay > Carquinez Straits > San Pablo Bay > San Francisco Bay).
As the winter and spring runoff continues, the bottom water levels in San Pablo Bay continue to see their heavier, more dense saltwater, while the less dense freshwater stream on the top can become thicker; the overall mix is less salty water, water too fresh for the shrimp. During those months the shrimp may move into South San Francisco Bay or even into the ocean.
As the inland water flows decrease in late spring, the shrimp move back into San Pablo Bay and, as water becomes saltier and warmer, move up into Suisun Bay. The change in seasons and saltiness of the bay has always existed but state and federal water projects have complicated the situation. By the 1980s, the amount of water entering the bay had decreased by about 60% from historic levels and though the result to the shrimp population is complex to answer, the decrease probably had a somewhat negative affect. In addition, water is controlled and released by the “pumps” in relation to water and temperature levels affecting the Delta smelt; the downriver impact to other creatures such as these shrimp hasn’t, as far as I know, been studied.
There is not doubt that the population fluctuates in dramatic style, decreasing during dry rain years and increasing during wet rain years. It was reported by Bay Nature Magazine that “in 1996, after two wet years, the shrimp population was 20 times larger than it was in 1980, following the severe drought of the late 1970s.” Since then there have been several periods of drought.
A final interesting fact about Cragon franciscorum, is their lifespan. Apparently the males live to an age of about 18 months while the females live to about 30 months. However, some evidence indicates the species may be protandrous hermaphrodites and that surviving males are transformed into females after one year of life. This may account for the longer lifespan of females.

Ken Jones

Staff member
Date: June 16, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: kaster

Subject: help!!!! how do I keep grass shrimp alive?

I just bought a pound of live grass shrimp and I need to keep them alive for a week. So how do I do it? Thank you.

Posted by r4616

Try putting them in some kind of saltwater aquarium and keeping them cool, also try to turn on a pump to keep the water well oxygenated for them. If any die, pull them out and do not keep them with the others. Hope this helps, next time you might want to buy them closer to when you go fishing so you don’t need to worry about keeping them alive for so long.

Posted by StinkyFingers

In case you don't have a saltwater tank, you can try this. Take a Tupperware container, and put ice into it. Poke holes into the lid. Take some newspaper, and make it wet, but not dripping. After you put the ice into the Tupperware, fold the wet newspaper and put it on top of the ice. Then, pour the shrimp onto the wet newspaper that is now on the ice. Spread the shrimp apart, so they aren't stacked up on each other. Get a bigger Tupperware if need be. Last, you can put a wet newspaper (light in weight) on top of the grass shrimp. Put on the lid with the holes in it and you're set. I doubt they'll last a week, but they'll last longer this way than anything else I've heard of...and unless someone offers a better way - let this stand as the best.
P.S.: I got this from Mjonesjr - CREDIT DUE. Mjones: Hope I didn't butcher your recipe for preserving shrimps.

Posted by neptune1234

There really is no way to keep such a fragile bait such as grass shrimp alive for that long. Stinky's suggestion, unfortunately, will freeze them to death within a day or so. A saltwater tank would pretty much be the only way you could sustain them. And even that is iffy. Keep them in wet newspaper in the fridge on a soda flat until the day you want to use them. Don’t use ice. It will kill them. Make sure your fridge isn’t set that cold also. They might make it that way. Without being a total waste.

Posted by StinkyFingers

Anyway, I left it out - put them in the fridge. But I think the ice will gradually melt in there, providing the needed moisture for them to survive longer than without.

Posted by neptune1234

I just wanted to stop him before it was too late. Haven’t you ever noticed that when you buy shrimp like that from the bait shop they always croak at the end of the day? They freeze to death.

Posted by Red Fish

If you have an aerator (an air pump) put them in an ice cooler full of saltwater and keep them in a cool area in your garage or basement so the water temperature will remain around 50 degrees. They should last a few days. If you are near somewhere you can access saltwater, change out the water in a couple days. If they die, freeze them in a zip lock freezer bag full of water. This way, at least they won't be black bait by next week when you defrost them. "Less talk, more fish!!!" Red-

Posted by kaster

They died so I put them in a container and put some salt on them. I guess it is better this way. Well anyways thanks guys for the help. -Kevin

Any new ides?