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History of the Galveston Laboratory

The Birthplace of the Shrimp Hatchery

 

John Ogle, a research associate at Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, which administers the Department of Agriculture's United States Marine Shrimp Farming Program, is writing a history of shrimp farming in the United States.  John mailed me a draft copy of what he has completed so far, calling it "a work in progress", "a trial balloon" to see if anyone wants to contribute to the project.  He said, "The manuscript has been so long in the making that I can no longer remember why it seemed like such a good idea in the first place."  Judging from what he has completed so far and looking at the list of topics that he plans to cover, we're in for a real treat.  The current draft is especially good on the early years of shrimp farming in the USA (1930 to 1970), the Galveston years (1950 to 1988), Marifarms (one of the first corporate shrimp farms in the United States), and Sea Farms (which became Groupo GMSB).

 

Below I have edited and condensed John's story on the Galveston years.  It chronicles the development of the Galveston hatchery technology, which has become the cornerstone of shrimp hatchery technology in the western hemisphere and around the world.  You'll just have to wait until John publishes the final version to get all the details.  In this condensation, I had to skip over many important events and people.

 

The Galveston Years by John Ogle

 

In 1950 the Department of Interior's Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (later to be named the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) established a research laboratory in Galveston, Texas.  It was assigned the task of investigating the red tides that were killing large populations of commercially valuable marine life.  Bill Wilson headed the red tide investigation at the "Galveston Lab" from 1952 until the program was terminated in 1962.  His investigations culminated in the development of techniques for culturing marine phytoplankton, which were to prove essential for the Lab's later success in rearing larval shrimp.

 

In 1958, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission recommended that the Galveston Lab emphasize shrimp farming.  Since no one knew how to identify shrimp larvae in plankton samples, Galveston researchers initiated a program to rear shrimp larvae in the lab.  In 1961, through the efforts of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, regular funds were appropriated for the Lab, and Harry Cook was put in charge of larval rearing.  In 1963, Milton Linder became director of the Lab, and, by 1965, he rewrote the Lab's mission so that all programs were directed toward shrimp research.  In 1968, Corny Mock, Ausbon Brown and Alice Murphy began working with Harry Cook in larval culture.  Cook left the Lab in late 1968 and went to work for Dow Chemical Company, to build the first commercial shrimp hatchery in the United States.  Corny Mock was put in charge of the Lab in 1969.

 

From 1961 to 1968, Cook and Murphy made a number of contributions to shrimp biology.  Six species of marine shrimp were "reared" to the protozoa-1 stage during 1961 and 1962, enabling Cook, with additional information from plankton samples, to publish a key to the genera.  In 1963, the researchers reared shrimp (Trachypenaeus) to the postlarvae stage by feeding them algae and Artemia.  It is now known that shrimp eggs will hatch and metamorphose through the naupliar substages to protozoa-1 or protozoa-2 with no feeding or care.  Therefore, the use of the word "reared" in all earlier reports is not appropriate, as this was the first true rearing under controlled laboratory conditions.  The first rearing of a commercial penaeid under controlled conditions was achieved in 1964, when brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus)  were reared from egg to postlarvae in 100 milliliter beakers.  This was accomplished by adding algae to the larvae culture and changing the water daily.  It is probable that EDTA (a chelating agent) in the algae was partially responsible for the success.

 

In 1964, even though the primary goal of the larval rearing program was "to rear shrimp so larvae of known parentage could be obtained for comparative morphological studies", a secondary goal of mass producing larvae was also announced.  Consequently, brown (P. aztecus) and pink (P. duorarum) were mass produced in a 80-liter system.  Mass culture of algae (Skeletonema) was also begun.  In 1966, 18-liter carboys and one 555-liter flat-bottom polyethylene tank were used to produce 3,921 brown shrimp postlarvae.  In addition, the seabob (Xiphopenaeus kroyeri) and the white shrimp (P. setiferus) were reared to the postlarvae stage.

 

In late 1968, work was directed to the development of a prototype shrimp hatchery.  Thalassiosira was determined to be the best algae for shrimp larvae.

 

In 1971, Corny Mock attended the first meeting of the United States-Japan Cooperative Program in Natural Resources and toured shrimp culture facilities in Japan.  By this time the "Galveston Method" or "clear water" method was sufficiently developed to be distinguished from the "Japanese" or "green water" method of raising shrimp larvae.  There was no Japanese influence in the development of the Galveston Method.  Contrary to some accounts, the visit of the Japanese researchers, Motosaku Fujinaga and Mitsutake Miyamura, to the Galveston Lab in 1963, which lasted only two hours, was not to discuss shrimp hatchery technology.  The Japanese were there to evaluate Texas's East Matagorda Bay as a possible site for a shrimp farm.  They later settled on West Bay in Panama City, Florida, for the development of their shrimp farm (Marifarms, but that's another story).  The "large tank" or "green water" culture technique that was to become known as the "Japanese technique" was actually not developed until 1964.

 

Later modifications to the culture method developed by the staff of the Galveston Lab included the following:

 

• The use of conical-bottom fiberglass tanks

• The development of the airlift pump both for the larvae tanks and the
algae cultures

• The use of air blowers instead of air compressors

• The use of a cream separator to concentrate algae so it could be frozen

or freeze-dried

• The feeding of yeast, rotifers and nematodes

 

Additionally, Mock developed a closed recirculating raceway system for growing shrimp.  The United States Department of Commerce, which assumed control of the Lab from the Department of Interior, awarded Mock a Bronze Medal in 1977 for "demonstration of unusual initiative and creative ability in the development and devices in the field of penaeid mariculture".  This award created strife among some of the Lab personnel, ending the exciting times of cooperative and competitive research at the Lab.

 

From 1978 to 1982, as a result of a policy change, the Galveston Lab began to reduce its emphasis on shrimp culture.  From 1980 to 1987, Mock visited USA owned shrimp farms around the world and gave presentations on his findings at many conferences.  His popularity led to additional discord at the lab, and he accepted early retirement in 1988.

 

Source: The History of the Galveston Laboratory (the update of an article that Shrimp News published in December 1998).  Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, March 15, 2017.

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