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The History of Shrimp Farming

By Robert R. Stickney and Granvil D. Treece


Aquaculture Production Systems, a 420-page book published in mid-2012, contains a chapter on the history of aquaculture edited by Robert R. Stickney and Granvil D. Treece (both with the Texas A&M University Sea Grant Program) that devotes nine pages to the history of shrimp farming.  The following is a summary of those nine pages:


Documentable shrimp culture began in 1933, when Japanese biologists including Dr. Motosaku Fujinaga (who also published as Dr. Motosaku Hudinaga), first studied the artificial propagation and culture of the kuruma shrimp, Penaeus japonicus.  A graduate of Tokyo University, Fujinaga worked for the Ky-odo Gyogyo Company (later called the Nippon Suisan Company) as a biologist.  Only three people at Ky-odo Gyogyo were assigned to work on shrimp, and they did it under very primitive conditions in a small lab with kerosene lamps and no electricity.


In his first year with the company, Fujinaga used a plankton net to collect juvenile shrimp, and then he studied their morphology, taxonomy and life cycle.  He also captured gravid (with eggs) females and held them in aquaria until they spawned.  Their eggs hatched into nauplii, the first of three larval stages, but the nauplii died before metamorphosing into zoea, the second larval stage.  Fujinaga did not know what to feed the nauplii, so he initiated a series of feeding trials that were conducted over the next several years.  It was not until 1939 that he successfully fed shrimp larvae the diatom Skeletomema costatum, whose mass culture was developed by Dr. Yoshiyuki Matsue at Tokyo University.


Fujinaga published the results of his shrimp farming research from 1935 to 1969.  He set up a pilot commercial hatchery in 1959 that was instrumental in transferring the technology to the commercial sector, and in the early 1960s, the first commercial farms were built along Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.  By 1967, some twenty operations using his methods produced 4,000 metric tons of shrimp from 8,500 hectares of ponds.  Fujinaga was named the “Founder of Kuruma Shrimp Culture in Japan.”


The next real breakthrough in mass culture of shrimp came later when Fujinaga fed Artemia nauplii to postlarval shrimp, a protocol that greatly increased growth and survival.


Limited studies on penaeid shrimp were conducted in the United States in the 1930s, and even though they were not aquaculture oriented, they did contribute to the knowledge base that eventually led to successful shrimp farming.  In 1935, J.C. Pearson described the eggs and life histories of some American penaeids.  In 1953, Paul E. Heegaard attempted to spawn the white shrimp, P. setiferus, in Port Aransas, Texas, and Gunter and Hildebrand unraveled parts of the wild shrimp life cycle in 1954.  About that time the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (later named the National Marine Fisheries Service) began to work on the biology of commercial shrimp species from the Gulf of Mexico.  Milton J. Lindner, the director of the laboratory, was successful in obtaining the funding necessary to develop the methodology for a prototype shrimp hatchery system.


The Asian approach to rearing shrimp larvae was called the “green water method” because most of the larval feeds were grown in the large, deep tanks along with the shrimp larvae.  Another method of shrimp culture was developed in the Western Hemisphere.  Called the “Galveston Method”, after the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Laboratory in Galveston, Texas, USA, where it was developed, shrimp larval feeds were grown in separate tanks and then fed to the larvae as needed.  This method used small, conical tanks with heavy aeration to keep everything suspended, clearer water, batch culture and higher stocking densities.  It required more labor, but resulting in higher larval survivals.


The researchers had trouble finding gravid brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) so they worked with Xiphopenaeus (a commercially important marine shrimp commonly called “the Atlantic seabob”) and published a paper that described the seabob’s naupliar stage.  Working with wooden troughs about a meter in diameter, the researchers were later able to spawn brown shrimp.  They sketched the various larval stages so that they could identify them in seawater samples, and they published the life history of the brown shrimp and a key to the genus.  There were researchers in the red tide section of their lab who knew how to culture algae.  Relying heavily on the Fujinaga’s work, their initial attempts were unsuccessful because algae and debris would settle out of the water column and the larvae would concentrate in the corners of the tanks.  They were also growing larval feeds in inverted carboys and saw how the water circulation kept everything suspended, preventing the debris from clumping up and the algae from settling, so they decided to apply the same strategy to shrimp larval culture by using fiberglass tanks with conical bottoms and air stones at the bottom of the cone and around the sides of the tank.


Then Harry Cook, one of the researchers, visited an oyster hatchery on Long Island, New York, that was using airlifts in its algae tanks.  When he returned to Texas he put airlifts in the tanks, completing what became known as the Galveston Method for raising shrimp larvae.  The method included tanks with conical bottoms, airlifts for aeration, batch exchanges of water and the addition of live feeds, a mixture of Skeletonema and Monochrysis for zoea and Artemia (brine shrimp) for mysis and postlarvae.  Although the conical tanks are rarely seen today, this general method is still in use in many Western Hemisphere hatcheries.  The Galveston Method used a number of different algal feeds, but eventually settled on a combination of small-cell algae and large-cell algae (Chaetoceros spp. and Tetraselmis chui, respectively)as beginning feeds for shrimp larvae.


At about the same time in Florida, Tom Costello and Don Allen at the Miami Lab of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries used fluorescent light bulbs to grow algae indoors.  At the Galveston Laboratory, researchers had been growing algae in outdoor greenhouses, but eventually fluorescent bulbs and indoor culture became part of the Galveston Method.  Also as part of the development of the Galveston Method, a variety of food types, such as rotifers and nematodes were tried, but they eventually were dropped and replaced by Artemia as food for late stage larval shrimp.


The water in the closed seawater system at the Galveston laboratory had a mineral imbalance that became a major problem.  In England, a researcher reported better production when using EDTA in algal cultures, so the Galveston group tried it and made a major breakthrough.  EDTA is a chelator that improves water quality by helping the minerals and metals stay free and unbound.  With the success of EDTA in algae culture, they decided to put it in the shrimp tanks, and it resulted in much better survivals.  The Galveston group did not count the algae; they used a spectrometer to get an estimate of algal density.


Another procedure developed in Galveston involved replacing the water and algae that were removed to feed the larval shrimp each day with sterilized water and nutrients, so that the algae would grow back to optimum density by the next day.  This step resulted in a continuous, clean source of food with minimal effort and expense.


Although the Japanese research had some influence on the research in Texas, a visit to the Galveston Lab in 1963 by Fujinaga and Mitsutake Miyamura was not for the purpose of information transfer and was not a turning or beginning point for shrimp culture in Texas as we were led to believe for many years by various historical accounts.  According to Harry Cook (personal communication, 1992), the purpose for the Japanese visit (which only lasted a few hours) was to find a place for shrimp growout in the United States.  The Japanese wanted to lease East Matagorda Bay, Texas, for that purpose, but ended up in Florida, and in 1967 established Marifarms, Inc., which operated from 1968 to 1982.  John Cheshire, the manager of Marifarms, published a full account of the farm’s activities in 2005).


Harry Cook described the rearing and identification of Gulf of Mexico native shrimp larvae in 1965 and published about a dozen other papers on the subject from 1966 to 1970.  Cook and Alice Murphy described the developmental stages of native shrimp larvae in 1971.  It wasn't until after Cook left the Galveston Lab that other researchers further developed maturation techniques for shrimp.  Cornelius Mock, who arrived at the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory about the time Harry Cook was leaving, continued to publish on the Galveston Method.


Generally speaking, during the early days of shrimp farming in the Western Hemisphere, private-sector hatcheries used the Galveston Method to produce seedstock, while hatcheries in the Eastern Hemisphere used the green water or Taiwanese method in smaller, but more numerous, usually family or government-owned hatcheries.  As the hatchery industry evolved, however, the line between the two technologies became less defined as new operations borrowed the best from both methods.


Commercial shrimp growout attempts were made in Ecuador in the 1960s and in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The Ecuadorian industry was based on P. vannamei and P. stylirostris, which got started by accident when a broken dike on a banana farm allowed shrimp to enter a farm.  By the time the farmer repaired the dike, a crop of shrimp had been produced.  Expansion of the Ecuadorian industry was made possible by an abundance of wild postlarval shrimp.  After the industry matured and could not rely entirely on seasonally wild-caught postlarvae, broodstock collection stations were developed along the coast that captured and spawned wild-mated females and provided an important nauplii source to meet the growing hatchery demand.  The Ecuadorian industry became more dependent on hatcheries as it grew, and larvae from hatcheries became stronger when new hatchery techniques and combination diets were developed.  The United States followed Ecuador’s lead, but utilized native species of white, brown and pink shrimp (P. setiferus, P. aztecus and P. duorarum, respectively).  When they switched to exotic shrimp (P. stylirostris and P. vannamei) from the Pacific coast of Central and South America, however, the exotics proved to be easier to culture and more productive.  Gradually commercial producers concentrated on P. vannamei, now the most popular farm-raised species in the world.


Once shrimp hatcheries began supplying large quantities of shrimp to farmers, the production of farm-raised shrimp expanded rapidly worldwide.  The explosion of the industry continued into the early 1990s, when disease and water quality problems slowed worldwide production for a few years.


Following is a list of the government and private sector groups that made major contributions to the development of shrimp farming in the 1970s and 1980s.


• SEAFDEC in the Philippines


• AQUACOP in France and Tahiti

• The Sea Grant Program (NOAA) in the United States

• The Department of Agriculture’s Marine Shrimp Farming Program in the

United States

• Private sector companies in the United States (DOW Chemical, Coca Cola, W.R. Grace, F.H. Prince Co., and King James Shrimp)

• Marifarms, Inc., a Japanese-American owned company in Panama City, Florida and later Ecuador

Sea Farms in Honduras

• The United Nations/FAO in Italy


In 1969, Taiwan became very successful at farming shrimp, culturing a number of economically important species of shrimp.  In 1970, with financial aid from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Tung Kang Marine Lab was established and led the way in establishing P. monodon farming in Taiwan and other parts of Asia.  I-Chiu Liao, a follower of Fujinaga, worked many years at the Tung Kang Marine Lab with P. monodon and is known as the “Father of monodon” in Taiwan.  By 1978, most of the farmers in Taiwan had mastered the culture techniques, and in 1979, production in Taiwan reached of 600 metric tons, a number that grew to 45,000 metric tons by 1986.  But in 1988, Taiwanese production crashed when farms experienced severe disease outbreaks of monodon baculovirus virus caused by bad management practices that led to environmental degradation.  The problem caused a collapse of the industry, and the high production levels of 1986 were never again reached, however, the Taiwanese technology quickly spread to The Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Thailand and Australia.  In 1985 there were 148,000 metric tons of shrimp produced in Asia.


Shrimp culture became an organized industry on a worldwide scale and similar culture techniques were applied to various species in different regions.  For example, P. orientalis (a cool water species) was grown in China; P. japonicus in Japan; P. monodon in Taiwan and the Philippines; P. merguiensis in Thailand, Indonesia and parts of China; Metapenaeus ensis in Hong Kong and parts of China; Macrobrachium rosenbergii (the giant freshwater prawn) in Malaysia, other parts of Asia and Hawaii; and P. vannamei and P. stylirostris in Ecuador, Mexico, the United States and other Western Hemisphere countries.


Historically, 80% of farmed shrimp has been produced in the Eastern Hemisphere, where P. monodon and P. Chinensis were the dominant species, and 20% in the Western Hemisphere, where P. stylirostris and P. vannamei were the dominant species.  Viruses—IHHN, monodon baculovirus, yellowhead, taura, whitespot and others—caused industry collapses, first in the Eastern Hemisphere and later in the Western Hemisphere.  Diseases caused an estimated economic loss in Taiwan (1987-1988) of $420 million, in China (1993) $1 billion and in Thailand (1991) $180 million.  The World Bank estimates of shrimp disease losses for all of Asia from 1994 to 1996 ranged from $1 billion to $3 billion a year.  From 1999 to 2000, Ecuador, the Western hemisphere's largest shrimp producer at the time, lost $300 to $500 million to viral diseases.


Once biosecurity techniques were developed, disease-resistant strains of P. vannamei were developed and genetic selection began.  Genetic selection for disease-resistant penaeids started in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture's Marine Shrimp Farming Program, and the technology and practices spread to other countries in the mid to late-1990s.  Disease-resistant stocks were developed, and P. vannamei culture increased in both hemispheres.  Once disease resistant stocks of P. monodon are more widely distributed, it may make a come back.  A number of companies are now working to make that happen with one USA company now promoting and marketing ninth-generation selected animals.


In the mid-1990s, low-salinity strains of P. vannamei were developed, allowing farming in freshwater.  That technology matured in China and freshwater culture of the species was a major driving force behind China's shrimp farming boom in the early 2000s.


Shrimp—fished and farmed—is by far the most important commodity by value in the international trade for seafood.  Annual exports of shrimp and shrimp products exceeded $10 billion in 2003, representing 20% of world total exports of fish and fishery products.  Marine shrimp farming grew into a $6 billion industry, but diseases and lack of biosecurity continue to give the shrimp-industry problems, even with the availability disease-resistant stocks.  Yet each country that experienced a crash in production has made a comeback, and most countries have shifted to genetically improved, domesticated stocks of P. vannamei or plan to do so in the near future.


China is the largest producer of farmed shrimp in the world, and in 2003 its 490,000 metric tons of production accounted for 27% of world production.  The initial success of P. vannamei attracted more and more farmers, resulting in more than a doubling of production in only four years from 218,000 metric tons in 2000 to 500,000 tons in 2004.  The shrimp farming industry in the United States started to decline in 2004 and that trend continues today.  To make matters worse, after being funded for twenty-five years, the USA Congress terminated the funding of the Department of Agriculture’s Marine Shrimp Farming Program in 2011.


Source: 1. Aquaculture Production Systems.  Edited by James H. Tidwell (Kentucky State University, Division of Aquaculture, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA).  Chapter 2. History of Aquaculture, Robert R. Stickney (Texas Sea Grant, Texas A&M University, College Station Texas) and Granvil D. Treece (,Texas Sea Grant, Texas A&M University, College Station Texas).  World Aquaculture Society ( and Wiley-Blackwell (, an imprint of John Wiley and Sons, Inc.  ISBN number: 978-0-8138-0126-1.  2012.  2. Summarized by Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, August 2012.

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