National Geographic : 1944 Oct
The Delectable Shrimp Once a Culinary Stepchild, Today a Gulf Coast Industry BY HARLAN MAJOR SHRIMP, which once had a very limited market in the canned and fresh state, are now big business-to the extent of 150 million pounds a year, or more. Often an unprofitable off-season side-line before the use of the otter trawl in taking them, shrimp have attained fourth or fifth rank in value today among all the fisheries' products of the entire country and rate first in our southern States. Shrimp have also gained recognition for the superior flavor they impart to many dishes, the high nutritive quality of their protein, and their high con tent of essential minerals. In an extensive survey of fishing facilities I visited every water front from Seattle to San Diego; from Brownsville, Texas, around Flor ida, and up the eastern coast. This trip was followed by another to Mexi can waters of the Gulf from our Texas line to Progreso, Yucatan. When roads were im passable, I flew. In all, I covered 28,000 miles, and much of the time I was breathing air as salty as any enjoyed by a beachcomber. In my travels I ate shrimp about every way it was prepared; the unshucked kind served in San Francisco, the Louisiana jambalaya, the hot but excellent soup in Merida, YucatAn. Never a regret did I have, for shrimp have become friendly. The commercial shrimp is a decapod, one of the 10-legged crustacea. To the class Crustacea belong the crabs, lobsters, and craw fish. The commercial shrimp differs from the fresh-water crawfish in the lack of large pincers. Shrimp Live to Ripe Age of One Before shrimp reach the pinkish-white stage in which they are eaten, they have had their day, or to be more accurate their year, a year seemingly being the length of their life cycle. They start out as fresh spawn in deep water, and each one may have as many as 800,000 brothers and sisters. The eggs of these commercial shrimp are not carried about by the female like those of many other of their relations, but drift around for two or three weeks. At just the right time they are carried by tides and currents into the brackish water of some bay or inlet which for a time is their nursery. They are now about a quarter of an inch long and can get on very well under their own power. The young grow rapidly, and with increas ing size work their way into deeper water of greater salinity. From the smaller bayous and bays they move into larger ones and eventually to the outside waters of the Gulf. The trek, although definite in its objective, consists of a series of short stages which spread the migration over several months. Thus the small (sometimes called lake) shrimp, the average, and the large jumbo are for the most part the same species taken at different ages and at different stages of their migration. Many North Carolina shrimp winter in the balmy waters along the coast of Florida. Un like these, the Gulf shrimp of the deep South follow no coastline when they seek milder waters, but find their relaxation in the deeper waters of the Gulf. There seems to be a feud between the shrimp found on the east side of the mouth of the Mississippi River and those on the other side, for the neighbors do not intermingle. Shrimp migrations have been determined by small identification tags placed on individuals. When tagged shrimp are caught, the tags with location and other information are sent to the department making the study. As a rule, each tagging produces considerable material to fur ther the study; but of one group, a thousand shrimp tagged and released in Lake Pont chartrain, none has ever been found. Neither the shrimp's skeleton nor its shell expands or grows. When quarters get too small, the shrimp moves out and grows a new and larger shell. Almost everything that swims relishes the shrimp in its unprotected state as a delicious tidbit; consequently, the shrimp must hide while growing its new shell or become a casualty. Shrimp's Best Speed Is in Reverse Usually it swims forward by means of its abdominal legs; but when speed is important, the tail gets into action and then travel is backward. The shrimp, when cornered by water enemies, uses its tail and all ten feet to raise a smoke screen of fine sand, under which it scoops itself into a tiny trench. The Gulf of Mexico enjoys a virtual mo nopoly of the shrimp yield. The south At lantic and Gulf States produce 98 percent of all the shrimp taken in the United States and Alaska, and seven-eighths of this volume originates from States facing the Gulf.