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Florida—Jim Norris (1946 to 2010)
Jim Heerin (with contributions from others, see below) wrote this tribute. For over three decades, Heerin, currently president of the Aquaculture Certification Council, ran Sea Farms, Inc., the management company for one of the largest shrimp farming operations (15,000 acres) in the western hemisphere. Jim Norris managed the shrimp hatchery operations for that huge operation.
Jim Norris, one of the true pioneers of shrimp farming, died from pancreatic cancer on May 1, 2010, at age 64, in Sebastian, Florida. A native of South Carolina, Jim designed and operated some of the earliest and most advanced shrimp hatcheries in the Americas. For more than 35 years, he worked with hatcheries and genetic improvement programs that involved long-term assignments in Honduras, Ecuador and Florida. Creative, and always with a sense of humor, he worked his way through the “art” of running a shrimp hatchery, developing successful operations and life-long friendships along the way.
In 1974, Jim interviewed for the post of hatchery manager for the shrimp farm that Sea Farms, Inc., was developing in Honduras. At the time, he had a BS in Marine Biology from the University of Miami and was working at the University’s shrimp hatchery research project at a Florida Power and Light nuclear plant. Jim’s appearance in those days was not what one would call conservative—long hair and beard—but it was clear that he was a serious marine biologist keenly interested in how best to spawn and rear shrimp and ready to devote himself to making it happen. He was an easy choice for the job.
Jim started in Honduras, where he put together the biggest and best shrimp hatchery in the western hemisphere, if not the world. He used wild broodstock fished off the west coast of Nicaragua, while gradually developing a breeding and maturation program and a first class hatchery team that eventually produced enough postlarvae to support over 500 acres of farm ponds. For the eleven-family expat team at the Honduras site, Jim was the resident gourmet, gardener and keeper of exotic animals, including constrictor snakes. Special hobbies included shell collections, fly fishing, dove hunting and the Friday-night Rotary Club meetings in Choluteca.
In 1981, he returned to Miami to head up the hatchery phase of Sea Farms’ expansion plans, which included refurbishing our original hatchery facility in Summerland Key, Florida, to house the company’s breeding and maturation program.
In 1983, he moved to Ecuador to build the hatchery at Sea Farms’ El Rosario project, which turned out to be very successful.
Three years later he returned to the Miami office to supervise hatchery operations and investigate other locations for Sea Farms expansion, particularly in Brazil. The descriptions of some of the “technical visits” to potential sites in Brazil caused more than a little envy among some of the Sea Farms management. But because of a lack of infrastructure for hatcheries in the best farming areas, we did not develop any projects in Brazil.
In 1988, Jim returned to Summerland Key to refurbish and reopen the hatchery to provide postlarvae for the Sea Farms’ joint venture in Honduras, Granjas Marinas San Bernardo (GMSB), and to reinstitute the breeding and maturation program that had been temporarily shut down. The hatchery started operation in 1990 and quickly went from its design capacity of 25 million PLs a month to producing more than 100 million PLs a month, which in those days was unheard of. That hatchery supplied PLs to the GMSB farms for 14 years.
In 1993, Jim moved to Fort Pierce, Florida, to manage a Shrimp Culture Technologies (SCT, Sea Farms’ new name) joint venture to develop genetically improved shrimp. Facilities at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) in Ft. Pierce were leased, and Jim started our genetic selection program. During this period, he also oversaw the construction of a maturation and hatchery facility in Cedeno, Honduras, made necessary by our expansion to 15,000 acres of shrimp growout ponds in Honduras. Jim managed SCT for over ten years, during which time significant genetic improvements were made to the stocks used at SCI’s operations in Honduras and Venezuela, including the development of specific-pathogen-free and pathogen-resistant animals. He also eliminated the use of antibiotics in our hatcheries and on our farms.
In September 2005, when SCI restructured and consolidated all international operations back to Honduras, SCT was shut down, and Jim went to work for Shrimp Improvement Systems, a successful shrimp breeding company in the Florida Keys.
In 2007, he became President and CEO of Ocean Reefs and Aquariums, which produces a wide variety of marine ornamentals, like giant clams, corals, seahorses, clownfish—and the first commercially viable generation of Mandarin Gobies.
The listings above describe only the outstanding contribution Jim made to Sea Farms and the aquaculture world. They do not portray the pleasure it was to work and interact with him. His unorthodox, irreverent and colorful observations always put smiles on the faces of the people around him. His always-calm demeanor while helping to keep the pot boiling made living and working with him a pleasure. He will always be considered one of the important and respected pioneers in shrimp aquaculture, remembered fondly by all who knew him.
Jim is survived by his wife, Sharon; sons, Patrick and Michael; stepdaughter Maya; and one grandchild. Memorial contributions may be made to Jim Norris, Pioneers in Florida Aquaculture Fund, Florida Aquaculture Association, P.O. Box 1519, Winter Haven, Florida 33882, USA.
Lorenzo Juarez, Joe Mountain, Ralph Parkman and John Wigglesworth, all coworkers and friends of Jim Norris, also contributed to this tribute.
Shrimp News: While checking some dates in this tribute, I received the following email from Sharon Norris, Jim Norris’ wife:
As a malacologist, Jim collected, organized and labeled shells from the mid-Atlantic coast, and after receiving a request from the State of South Carolina, he donated all his shell collections to the state. He was an accomplished fly fisherman, tying his own intricate flies, and he loved tarpon fishing in the keys. Recently he taught himself the art of knife making, from forging the steel blades to finely finishing the handles. He could also bake a mean fruitcake! His intellectual curiosity was difficult to quench and his ability to lead with a soft touch was unequaled.
Aside from being the absolute love of my life, he was adored by hundreds of folks in many countries.
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