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Texas—NBC’s “Today” Show Features Shrimp Farming (1984)

 

On January 10, 1984, NBC’s “Today” show featured a five-minute report on the shrimp farming project at Texas A&M University.  Here’s the complete transcript (video in parentheses):

 

Beginning Chatter

 

Brian Gumbel (co host of “Today”): “It’s 8 o’clock.  ....And Robert Bazell takes us down on the farm.  It’s a very special farm where scientists are trying to figure out just how to grow and harvest shrimp.”  (Video: circular shrimp tank, beaker of postlarvae, ponds.)

 

Mary Nissensen (substitute co host): “Well, last week we said that ‘last week’ we’d have a report on shrimp farming.  We lied.  But it was just a shrimp of a lie because we have it today.

 

Science correspondent Robert Bazell is with us today to tell us that science is providing some relief from expensive shrimp cocktails by creating a new industry called shrimp farming.” (Video: head and shoulders shot of Nissensen.)

 

Robert Bazell (science correspondent): “That’s right, and all those cowboys are going to get on their seahorses and ride off into the sunset.  One of the great hopes for increasing world protein supplies is being able to grow things we usually have to hunt for in the sea.  Researchers at Texas A&M think they may have tamed the wild shrimp.”  (Video: head and shoulders shot of Bazell.)

 

 

Bazell’s Report

 

Robert Bazell: “A fisherman casts his net at dawn, an idyllic scene, except he is not a fisherman.  He’s a scientist at Texas A&M University’s research station in Corpus Christi.  These ponds are the prototypes of what the scientists hope will become a huge industry in this country.

 

Shrimp is the most valuable species caught by America’s fishermen.  But even though America’s shrimp boats bring in a half billion dollars worth a year, we import two times that much.”  (Video: scientist casting net into pond, aerial shot of ponds, shrimp tails being processed, shrimp boats.)

 

Addison Lawrence (Professor and Project Leader of the Texas A&M University Shrimp Mariculture Project):  “There are no more shrimp out there to catch. In fact, it may be decreasing. The market is increasing. What is the solution?  The only solution is to farm them.”  (Video: close up of Lawrence.)

 

Robert Bazell: “In the past few years, the Texas A&M scientists have made farming of native American shrimp possible by learning how to breed the creatures in captivity.  In these tanks, mature males and females are watched closely.  The scientists regularly check the salinity and temperature of the water.  They feed the shrimp chopped up squid.  The research team, headed by Addison Lawrence, learned if they remove one of the female shrimp’s eyes, she ovulates more quickly.  That is because certain hormones which regulate ovulation are produced by glands in the stalk which supports the eye.  When a female has ovulated, the eggs appear as dark bands in her body.  The scientists are trying to learn the best way to breed the shrimp.  Sometimes, with a type of shrimp surgery, they artificially inseminate the female.  Once the female is pregnant, she must be put in a tank so that the others do not eat her offspring.  Each female then produces up to 100,000 microscopic larvae.  In the oceans, fewer than 1 % of these survive.  But here about 25% make it, metamorphosing into tiny shrimp.  When they are about this size, they are placed into outdoor ponds to grow into the size suitable for the table.  That takes about five months.  To harvest the shrimp, the scientists simply drain the pond, filtering the effluent through a net.”  (Video: workers around pond, circular tanks in lab, feeding, researchers, Addison Lawrence, shrimp, shrimp swimming in tank, big pregnant female, lab shots, harvesting.)

 

“The head of the program estimates that shrimp farming could yield a profit of $6,000 an acre.  He thinks the industry has a bright future.”

 

Addison Lawrence: ‘We import so much shrimp and there’s such a large market out there that I think that shrimp farming can become an industry here without harming the existing one, [and at] the same time increase the economy of many regions of the United States and decrease that large negative balance of payments.”  (Video: close up of Lawrence.)

 

Robert Bazell: “The first batches from the Texas A&M experiment have been sold to a local packing house which has been selling them under a special gourmet label.  The owner likes the new product.”  (Video: shrimp conveyor belt, boxes of shrimp.)

 

Van Elliot (speaking for the packing house): “I detect a sweeter taste and perhaps the texture is a little more firm, yet tender.  So it’s a high quality product.”  (Video: Elliott standing next to boxes which have “Uncle Georges” printed on them.)

 

Robert Bazell: “And in our own taste tests, we took some shrimp to a popular, local seafood restaurant which deep fried them and served them to some customers who were quite satisfied.” (Video: shrimp being deep fried and served to customers.)

 

 

Customer: “That’s delicious.” (Video: customer with mouth full of farmed shrimp.)

 

Robert Bazell: “The scientists say farming could transform the shrimp from a delicacy to a common part of our diet.” (Video: plate of deep fried, farmed shrimp.)

 

 

Ending Chatter

 

Mary Nissensen: “I’m so glad I have both eyes after seeing that report.”

 

Robert Bazell: “A lot of people are glad you’re not a shrimp, too.”

 

Mary Nissensen: “Seriously, how do scientists think of things like taking away an eye to make a shrimp ovulate?”

 

Robert Bazell: “Yeah, that’s something that’s distinct to the shrimp.  They found out about it because the shrimp...[in the tanks] go around in circles and they accidentally knocked off an eye.  They noticed that the ones that knocked off the eye, the females, ovulated quickly.”

 

Mary Nissensen: “Did you taste those shrimp?”

 

Robert Bazell: “Yeah, and they’re really good. They don’t have a vein in them like the ones in the ocean, so you don’t have to clean them, and anybody who ever cooked shrimp will be very happy to hear that.”

 

Mary Nissensen: “What do you think that’s going to mean in terms of prices for consumers, ultimately?”

 

Robert Bazell: “Well, for now, the price isn’t really going to come down because it’s really short.  But that $6,000 an acre figure is amazing.  Cattle, cotton   $300 or $400 an acre here you’re talking many times that.  I think it will be a big industry.”

 

Mary Nissensen: “Robert Bazell, thank you for joining us, and [for] your fascinating shrimp report....”

 

Nancy Fields: Fields, a production assistant at NBC News in New York, said “Today” was “bombarded’’ with calls about the report.  Each time it aired in a new time zone, a new wave of calls would come in.

 

Sources: 1. NBC News, “Today,” January 10, 1984.  2. Telephone conversation with Nancy Fields, February 13, 1984.  3. Updated and lightly edited by Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, June 28, 2017.

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