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USA History of Shrimp Farming from
Four Experts in 1994


Granvil Treece


Granvil Treece, an aquaculture specialist at Texas A&M University, often sends draft copies of his reports out for review before publication.  The draft of one report helped clarify some of the historical aspects of shrimp farming in the United States and clearly establishes the individuals responsible for developing the “Galveston” hatchery technology.


Treece says: “The most interesting thing that came out of the exercise of sending the draft out for review was to find out (through personal communication with Mr. Harry Cook) that the Japanese (Dr. Motosaku Fujinaga and Dr. Mitsutake Miyamura) visit to the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory (NMFS) in Galveston in 1963 was not for the purpose of information transfer and was not a turning point or beginning point for shrimp culture in Texas as we have been lead to believe for many years by various historical accounts. . . .  According to Harry Cook, who was there at the time, the purpose of the Japanese visit (which lasted only a few hours at the Galveston Lab) was to find a place for shrimp growout in the U.S.  The Japanese wanted to lease East Matagorda Bay, in Texas, for this purpose, but ended up in Florida and in 1967 established Marifarms, Inc.  The project was destroyed by a storm shortly after harvesting had started and later other problems including environmental problems caused them to move out of the U.S.  The following paragraph was forwarded by Harry Cook. . . .”


“‘Research on the culture of larval shrimp started at the NMFS Galveston Laboratory in 1959 as part of an investigation into the life history of commercial shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico.  Samples of plankton were taken in the Gulf to study the seasonal abundance of shrimp larvae. . . .  There was little information available about larvae of the different species, and it was not possible to differentiate the commercial species from the non-commercial species.  A project was started to collect gravid females of the various species, spawn them and culture the larvae so that specimens could be obtained for use in identification of larvae collected in the plankton samples.  The research program on larval culture was successful and the director of the laboratory, Milton J. Lindner, was then instrumental in obtaining the funding necessary to develop the methodology into a prototype hatchery system’”.


Treece continues: “This was the actual beginning of the development of the clearwater hatchery (intensive culture technique), called the ‘Galveston Method’ by some.  From this point it passed through years of refinement and modifications by countless researchers and groups and is still being modified to meet the needs of individual hatcheries.  Each group which followed this original group ‘carried the ball’ or ‘torch’ magnificently and helped the cause and helped spread the knowledge.”


“Since the 1960s, clear water hatchery technology (The Galveston Method) has had three major contributors or groups of contributors to the development, refinement and transfer of that technology to the international community:”


1. Harry Cook and the NMFS staff in the 1960s

2. Corny Mock and the NMFS staff in the 1970s (when the World Mariculture           Society became of age and began to recognize and publish this work making
it more visible to the aquaculture community)

3. NMFS staff and University Groups (mostly Texas A&M University) in the
1980s (which has continued into the 1990s)


Treece has compiled an impressive list of people and studies that contributed to the early development of shrimp farming in the United States.



Durwood Dugger


Durwood Dugger, president of the Cultured Seafood Group, Inc., a consulting firm, has been working in the shrimp farming arena for over two decades.  Dugger has done work for shrimp farms and hatcheries throughout the western hemisphere.  Here are some excerpts from his history of shrimp farming in the United States.


“In the United States, John C. Pearson sought to discover the life history of the Atlantic white shrimp, Penaeus setiferus, in 1939.  Paul E. Heegard attempted to spawn P. setiferus  in Port Aransas, Texas, in 1948.  One of the first commercially motivated efforts to develop practical marine shrimp farming was begun experimentally in 1952 at St. Augustine, Florida, by Malcom C. Johnson and J.R. Fielding.  The project was privately sponsored with the immediate objective of obtaining preliminary data on species suited to pond cultivation, and appropriate management techniques to this end.  Their efforts were based on previous work with P. japonicus by the Japanese.  They envisioned a shrimp farming industry based on wild juveniles of P. setiferus  seedstock that could be captured in abundance along the estuaries of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  While their work ended with the untimely death of their investor benefactor, they did succeed in breeding (in ponds) and spawning P. setiferus  in captivity.  They also confirmed some of Pearson’s earlier work on describing P. setiferus  larvae from egg to postlarvae and on juvenile survivability in seawater.  This proved that earlier work was incorrect in the assertion that P. setiferus  postlarvae in the wild perished unless they migrated to the low salinities of the estuaries.  They established the first low density growth rates for P. setiferus  in captivity.”


“In early 1971, Ralston Purina established the Crystal River Mariculture Research Center (CRMRC).  In 1972, the CRMRC research staff raised the first batch of P. vannamei  from nauplii to postlarvae.  After a few experiments it became increasingly obvious that they had discovered a ‘super’ species that seemed naturally adapted to pond culture conditions and could survive most of the abuses and stresses that cultivation would generate.  It was determined in 1972 by CRMRC and then confirmed in Texas that white shrimp (P. setiferus  and P. vannamei)  provided better yields (raised from 200 to an average of 1,800 pounds per acre) than brown shrimp (P. aztecus).  With this new species, Purina was able to demonstrate experimental pond production of P. vannamei  in excess of 5,000 pounds per acre.  In 1973, the Purina research group began to experiment on closing the life cycle of P. vannamei.  Shortly they would be the first company to commercially mature, spawn and rear P. vannamei.  Because of increased regulations and the need for longer growing seasons, Purina sought a better development atmosphere overseas.  After developing two pilot production facilities (one near Recife, Brazil, and the other at Aguadulce, Panama), they established their commercial maturation hatchery and a growout facility (which would eventually expand to 1,600 acres) in the Republic of Panama in 1974.”


“Early in 1972, two west Texas gravel pit operators, Hal Brown and Dean Phipps, asked the local county agent to help them explore the possibility of using the saline ground water in some of their gravel pits for aquaculture.  In 1973, county extension agent Johnny Harris with the help of Dr. Jim Davis and Dr. Jack Parker stocked the first shrimp into the saline water of west Texas.  The early experiments were crude and little data was obtained other than in a number of cases significant number of shrimp survived indicating the biological feasibility of shrimp cultivation in west Texas.  The stockings continued.  Gradually a body of information accumulated supporting the possibility of commercial shrimp farming in west Texas.”


Dugger’s report contains additional information on Marifarms, Inc., Sea Farms, Inc., Texas A&M, the University of Arizona, Harlingen Shrimp Farms, Inc., and other early projects in the United States.



Jerome Thompson


Jerome Thompson, owner of Intensive Culture Systems, a consulting firm, got his start in shrimp farming in 1969 at a University of Miami/Florida Power and Light Corporation project in Turkey Point, Florida.  Here are some excerpts from his report:


“Most of the early shrimp diets were tested at Turkey Point, including moist frozen diets from the University of Florida and fresh frozen squid that had to be thawed and ground-up daily.  The ground-up squid was placed in garbage cans, carried to the ponds, then distributed by one of the technicians wading around in the pond, broadcasting it with a liter beaker.  After several weeks of being hand-fed and conditioned to bare legs, the shrimp would actually nip on the technicians legs.  I have no proof, but I tend to believe that this was the driving force behind the switch to boat and blower feeding.”


“The first attempts at maturation of marine shrimp in the United States that I am aware of were tried at Turkey Point during 1969.  Eyestalk ablation was done by Dr. Charles Calliouet with a pair of wire cutters.  The animals were then placed in the first high-density recirculating shrimp growout system used anywhere.  Unfortunately, at that time, no one knew very much about shrimp anatomy, and the first several batches of animals bled to death.  Subsequent survival rates were much higher when the eyestalks were cauterized with a soldering iron and/or injected with petroleum jelly.  A short time later Dr. Calliouet started another project and because of the lack of manpower the maturation work was dropped.”


“At about the same time [1972], the University of Arizona’s Environmental Research Laboratory in conjunction with the University of Sonora converted a vegetable hydroponics project in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, into a prototype high intensity shrimp farm that used plastic bubble buildings called ‘Aqua Cells’.  Carl Hodges was the lab director at this time.  Two engineers, Lee Mahler and Neal Hicks, were responsible for the basic design concept.  A young pathologist at the Environmental Research laboratory by the name of Dr. Don Lightner was called in when they started to have disease problems.  Because this was a very high density system, feed was a critical factor.  Dr. Howard Fredericks, an animal nutritionist with Arizona Feeds, under contract to the University of Arizona, developed a diet that is still one of the standards for growth and nutrition for shrimp.  This diet was specifically developed for shrimp and was not simply a modification of an existing small animal diet.”


Thompson’s report chronicles the evolution of the Turkey Point project, including the names of all the people involved, and describes how this project led to the development of shrimp farms throughout Latin America.


Harvey Persyn


Harvey Persyn, president of Tropical Mariculture Technology, Inc., a consulting firm, has also been farming shrimp for over two decades.  He helped develop the thriving shrimp farming industry in Colombia and is currently working with shrimp farmers in Venezuela.  He reports:


“This history is dedicated to the hard-working people in the private sector, the true founding fathers of shrimp farming in the Americas.  I would like to document the major events, discoveries, developments--and those who should receive the credit.”


“The first commercial shrimp farming project to be conceived in the United States was Marifarms (or its predecessor company, Akima International) in 1967.  The founders were former Du Pont R&D executives, Paul Bente and John Cheshire.  Technology was purchased from Taiyo Fisheries [19.1.27].  A small army of Japanese technicians came to Panama City, Florida, led by Dr. Kitaka and Dr. Miyamura, to set up and operate the first shrimp farm in the Americas.  The initial concept was to net off a small bay and stock it with hatchery reared postlarvae.  Bob Murray was one of the original American biologists who worked with the Japanese and who later managed projects in Panama and Ecuador.  During its 14 year history in Florida, Marifarms made major technical contributions and developed a number of important people who are still actively engaged in the business today.  In 1978, Marifarms became the first commercial shrimp farm in the United States to utilize P. vannamei  and P. stylirostris  in large scale commercial operations.  Nauplii were produced at the Ralston Purina Crystal River facility and sent to the Marifarms hatchery.”


“The Laguna Madre project was established in south Texas in 1981 by Jack Parker.  The financial backers were Texas oilmen, Jack Brown and H.L. Brown.  (They were also involved with Maricultura in Costa Rica and later with Laguna Madre Shrimp Farms in Belize.)  It is important historically because it was the first commercial shrimp farm in Texas and was established based on the application of the developing science of closed cycle reproduction.  This project was the first commercial attempt using a three-phase pond system that Jack Parker developed at Texas A&M.  Ben Ribelin, Joe Hendrix and Fritz Jaenike were involved in the development of the technology.”


Persyn’s report, the longest and most comprehensive of the four, also discusses the Armour/United Fruit Company project in Honduras, the Dow Chemical Company project in Texas, Ralston Purina Company’s early shrimp farming projects, the Maricultura S.A. project in Costa Rica, Sea Farms of Honduras, the University of Arizona and the King James Shrimp Project.


Sources: 1. Granvil Treece, Durwood Dugger, Jerome Thompson and Harvey Persyn. 1993. 2. Reconfigured by Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, May16, 2017.


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