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Harry Cook (1934 to 2015), a Memorial


The June 2015 issue of World Aquaculture (the quarterly magazine of the World Aquaculture Society), contains wonderful memorial, with contributions from Harvey Persyn, Granvil Treece and Henry Clifford, to Harry Cook, one of the founding fathers of world shrimp farming, who died in April 2015.



Harvey Persyn


Harry Cook, 80, passed away on April 13, 2015.  He was a giant in aquaculture and can be considered to be the “Father of Shrimp Farming in the Americas.”  He was the first in the Americas to replicate the shrimp larval rearing experiments first conducted in Japan in the 1930s by Motosaku Fujinaga.  Harry struck a tall and imposing figure, but was a kind and caring man with an inquiring mind, a gentle giant of aquaculture.  He was a visionary who dreamed of starting an industry.


Beginning in 1959, Harry Cook and Alice Murphy, working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in Galveston, Texas, were successful in rearing Xiphopenaeus kroyeri, Penaeus aztecus and P. duorarum through the larval stages.  Alice Murphy combined her skills as an algologist with Harry Cook’s natural talent as a biologist and culturist to achieve success.  Their initial impetus was to be able to identify larval shrimp in plankton samples by rearing the larvae of the important commercial species of the Gulf of Mexico.


An important early discovery by Harry Cook was the use of the metal chelator, EDTA, added to seawater for larval rearing.  EDTA was beneficial for algae culture, so the idea was extended to larval rearing with considerable success.  Harry Cook developed an intensive larval rearing system using conical bottom tanks with airlift pumps that kept larvae, feed and organic wastes in suspension, a technique that was later referred to as the “Galveston Method.”


In 1969, after 10 years with the NMFS, Harry Cook saw an opportunity to take his dream to the next level by joining the Dow Chemical Company, in Freeport, Texas.  At Dow, Harry established a shrimp hatchery, ponds, and a feed evaluation laboratory.  I joined him there in 1970.


At the time, there were no artificial diets available for shrimp.  Harry recognized this as a major constraint to the development of shrimp farming.  He established a feed testing laboratory where diets could be tested under controlled conditions.  The first trials were with available feeds.  Purina Cat Chow was tried because it was extruded and water stable.  It outperformed other diets, so Ralston Purina was contacted to see if they were interested in developing diets for shrimp.  Purina recognized this as a huge business opportunity and soon developed its own shrimp farming project in Florida.


Water exchange rate was one of the first trials conducted.  To our great surprise, the lowest water exchange rate gave the best results.  The water was heavily fouled with suspended organic matter, which favored shrimp growth.  We noted that shrimp intestines were full even before feed was offered.  This amounted to the first observation of organic floc as related to shrimp nutrition.  Low water exchange became the standard for further diet evaluation studies.


The Dow shrimp farming project was located inside the chemical plant alongside a salt water canal, next to an experimental desalination plant.  Dow wanted to know if copper was toxic to shrimp and at what levels.  We discovered that copper was not toxic to juvenile shrimp at any of the levels tested.  Oysters and fish were not so lucky.  The fungus Lagenidium was first observed in the Dow hatchery and became a serious problem.  We used copper to control the fungus with no ill effect on shrimp.


From the Dow hatchery, PLs were supplied to the first shrimp farm in Latin America, the Armour-United Fruit project in Honduras.  PLs were also sent to the Texas Parks and Wildlife facility in Palacios, Texas, managed by Bill More.  The first shrimp farming project of Texas A&M University near Angleton, Texas, established by Hoyt Holcomb and Jack Parker, was also supplied with PLs.


After a few years with Dow Chemical, Harry Cook was presented with an opportunity to take his vision of shrimp farming to a wider audience.  He joined the United Nations — Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a shrimp farming advisor.  Harry Cook saw this emerging technology as having great potential value for application in tropical developing nations.  He worked with local farmers and governments to develop shrimp hatcheries and farms, with the idea of stimulating economic development in depressed rural areas in tropical countries.  He worked in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.


After more than 10 years with the FAO, Harry dreamed of starting his own shrimp farm in Texas.  The farm was a success at first, but later fell victim to a heretofore unknown disease, namely NHP.  By the late 1980s, the disease outbreak ended his dream of having his own shrimp farm.


In 1981, Henry Clifford and I established Tropical Mariculture Technology, Inc.  (TMT).  In our effort to become established, we contacted Harry Cook, who offered a consulting assignment to me in Malaysia.  We were successful in breeding in captivity the local species of shrimp at a facility in Penang, a first for Asia.


In 1989, Harry Cook joined the TMT team, working on our projects in Cartagena and Tumaco, Colombia, and in Venezuela.  His long and broad experience proved very valuable in developing a number of shrimp farming projects in those countries.


I will be forever grateful to Harry Cook for giving me my first job in aquaculture.  I deeply respect and recognize the Father of Shrimp Farming in the Americas, Harry Cook.  I owe him a debt of gratitude for my start in the business and everyone in the industry around the world should as well.



Granvil Treece


Harry Cook was indeed the gentle giant of aquaculture.  I was fortunate to have worked with Harry in Texas until 1988, and all who knew him profited from his experience and knowledge.  Texas A&M University had stocked P. setiferus from Chris Howell’s hatchery in Panama City, FL into a 136-acre brackishwater lake at Ben Nelson’s farm on Smith’s Point, near Galveston.  Some interesting results were obtained.  Since Chris Howell’s hatchery was the main source for postlarvae in the USA at the time, Harry stocked P. setiferus in 1985.  At one point his Ocean Ventures group worked with P. stylirostris, but IHHN limited the production, so P.  vannamei was selected as the species of choice.  Oysters were also grown in the shrimp ponds, suspended in plastic bread trays.  Harry was always trying something different to improve production on the farm.  He treated everyone with respect and was always cordial and friendly.


When Harry returned from Asia he built a number of one-hectare, rectangular ponds that worked like raceways.  He placed a 2-horsepower paddlewheel on one end and forced the water to flow through two plastic barriers and return along the sides.


*Harry was a great teacher.  Dr. Ya-Sheng, a recent TAMU graduate, worked on Harry’s Ocean Venture Wolf Point shrimp farm and learned the trade from Harry.  Ya-Sheng went on to manage at the 120-acre King Ranch Shrimp Farm and the 1,100-acre Southern Star Shrimp Farm.  Currently, he is the Aquaculture Liaison Inspector for the Coastal Fisheries Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and “the man” who inspects shrimp farms in Texas and helps them with disease testing.*


Harry lived and worked on the farm with his family.  It was indeed heart-breaking to see the farm hit by NHP in 1988.  We didn’t have a clue what it was, and it wasn’t described until sometime later.


Harry developed a shrimp harvesting technique using specialized framed nets that were hoisted to the pond bank after they filled with shrimp.  The gravity-flow could be turned off when the boxes were changed.  Harry was always trying something different on the farm and this harvest technique was one that he designed trying to make the harvest easier and more efficient.


In 2005, Harry very graciously donated his personal library to the mariculture program at TAMU-Corpus Christi; he was a truly an honorable and great man.  Harry was awarded an Honorary Lifetime Membership by WAS in 2008, but was unable to attend the conference to receive the award because he was having trouble walking at that time.  Harry Cook was indeed a gentle giant of Aquaculture and will be missed by the aquaculture community.



Henry Clifford


Although I was already familiar with many of Harry’s seminal publications in shrimp farming, including an FAO Shrimp Farming Manual from 1978 that served as my early “bible” of shrimp farming, my first formal introduction to Harry Cook was in 1990 when he joined Tropical Mariculture Technology (TMT), the shrimp farming consulting company I co-founded with Harvey Persyn in 1981.


Harry’s first assignments were in Colombia, where he assisted us in modernizing eight semi-intensive shrimp farms located on the Pacific and Atlantic (Gulf) coasts of Colombia.  Borrowing from his earlier developmental work on one of the first shrimp farm management software programs, Harry was instrumental in introducing modern-day data management into the daily operating protocols of shrimp farms in the Americas.  Thanks to his many years of previous experience, Harry was an astute problem solver, which was a necessary skill for any pioneering shrimp farmer. 


At each shrimp farm where Harry worked, he left a lasting and favorable impression among the local producers.  Harry was an exceptional ambassador, carrying American knowhow and goodwill overseas to many shrimp farming nations grateful to receive technical assistance from such a recognized and respected expert.  And he welcomed an opportunity to live in remote, exotic corners of the globe, with nary a complaint about a lack of modern amenities.


In 1992 Harry and I formed a new consulting company (C & C Aquaculture Services), based on existing technical management contracts that each of us had obtained in Nicaragua and Venezuela.  Our success in those countries led to additional projects in Brazil and Mexico, including Maritech and Super Shrimp, which at the time was the world’s largest supplier of disease-free SPF postlarval shrimp.  At Super Shrimp, Harry played an integral role in the firm’s technical support team, which provided valuable technical assistance to more than 100 shrimp farms throughout Mexico. 


But it was physically demanding work, sometimes requiring walking many miles on 2,000-acre shrimp farms to access ponds, arduous work that eventually took its toll on Harry, and in 1999 he reluctantly retired to the USA for medical reasons.  During this period (1997-1999), Harry and I co-authored a regular column in Aquaculture Magazine on shrimp farm management, which provided practical, technical advice to shrimp farmers around the world.  One of Harry’s last contributions to the aquaculture community was as an expert witness (for the defense) in the Ecuadorian shrimp industry’s ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against Dupont.


Perhaps even more impressive than Harry’s many career achievements was his modest, self-effacing reluctance to celebrate his many notable accomplishments.  In contrast to many of today’s self-anointed “pioneers” who glorify their relatively modest contributions to aquaculture, Harry Cook was a man who truly accomplished noteworthy success in a global arena while intentionally understating his achievements.  It was a refreshing rarity to encounter such a humble, soft-spoken personality in a man who had indeed realized remarkable feats but who was loathe to boast about them.  In his presence, one would never realize the greatness that resides in this gentle giant of a man.


*This paragraph corrects a mistake in the World Aquaculture article and adds a little more information.*


Sources: 1.  World Aquaculture (the quarterly magazine of the World Aquaculture Society).  Editor-in-Chief, John Hargreaves.  In Memoriam: Harry Cook (1934-2015) — Gentle Giant of Aquaculture.  Harvey Persyn, Granvil Treece and Henry Clifford.  Volume 46, Number 2, Page 4, June 2015.  2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, June 20, 2015.


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