For many beachcombers the vision of a
shrimp boat stirs the imagination. Thoughts of bountiful harvests and a
life at sea filled with ocean adventure have caused many a soul to pursue a life
in commercial fishing. However, most of us simply enjoy the delicacies these
vessels produce in restaurants and markets. Fish and cultures have
flourished in many small coastal communities for most of the 20th century.
Many of these communities grew from businesses to support a shrimp fishery.
The chain begins with the fishermen who live their lives on the sea and
stretches to the savory delicacy that we enjoy on our plate. But what do we really
know about shrimpers and catching shrimp? Legend has it that for more than 2,000
years shrimp have been harvested by fishermen around the world using dip
nets and cast nets and shallow waters. However, shrimp could not be used as a
viable seafood commodity because the essential ingredients required to build
a fresh seafood industry were either unavailable or not well developed. Prior
to the 1800s there were no proven preservation
techniques or means of reliable transportation. Profitable fresh shrimp
commerce was limited to populated urban areas, such as Charleston, Savannah, Havana and New Orleans. By the late 1800s, many of these problems have been overcome.
Shrimp were cooked in a strong brine adding several weeks to the shelf life.
In pubs, these salted shrimp were often given away like peanuts or popcorn to
whet the appetites of patrons. But Civil War reconstruction efforts in the form
of expanded railway systems were finally reaching coastal villages. Increased
competition among steamship lines was lowering transportation costs and
improving its availability. Fresh shrimp could now reach the
lucrative New York City market. Still at the turn of the century, the supply was
limited. Most shrimp were taken from inshore rivers and estuaries using dip
nets, cast nets or beach seines. Haul seines yielded a higher catch but using them
was more expensive and much more labor-intensive. Often six to eight men
or horses were needed to handle a large seine. One end of the net would be staked
or held in position on the beach, while a small rowboat paid out the neatly
stacked net. With the rowboat traveling in a circle back to the stake den, the
crew would slowly haul in the net, forming an ever narrowing circle and
herding the shrimp until they could be easily landed with dip nets or cast nets.
This simple form of fishing required little capital investment. Sometime
between 1900 and 1902, the first major technological advancement in the fishery
was introduced by Sollecito Salvador, who later became known as Mike. An
Italian merchant mariner who entered the business in Fernandina, Florida, in 1899.
Salvador immediately began experimenting in all phases of the industry, from
production to marketing. To improve the speed and efficiency of his seining
operation, Salvador equipped his boat with a small one cylinder gasoline
engine. This is believed to be the first time a power driven boat was used in the
shrimp fishery and most likely occurred in 1901. Salvador’s use of a power-driven vessel fostered a renewed interest in the
shrimp fishery. Florida’s production alone soared from 39,000
pounds in 1897 to over three million in 1902. As word of the technology spread,
production increased steadily over the next ten years. Prices remained constant, and shrimpers were able to sell all the shrimp they could
land. The consistently high volume of shrimp created a significant improvement
in product transportation to the big city markets in the Northeast. Mike
Salvador is largely responsible for this success. During the years that followed,
Salvador continued to focus his energies on the shrimp trade. In 1906, he was
joined by his brothers-in-law from Sicily: Salvatore Versaggi and Antonio
Poli. The addition of these two men allowed him to devote more time to
shrimp marketing. He opened El Salvador and Company the same year in a dockside fish
house equipped with cold storage facilities. Just as Salvador was fortunate to be surrounded by the fertile waters and
barrier islands of the Southeastern US Atlantic bight, he was also lucky to have the aid of Sal Versaggi and Antonio Poli. These two
families would pioneer and persevere in the shrimp industry throughout the 20th
century. Their names remain some of the most well
known in the business today. My family first came to St. Augustine, my
grandfather and his brothers to go into the shrimping industry. In the 40s, my
father and his brother-in-law, my uncle, determined that they wanted to establish
a supply of business here catering to the shrimp fleets. And in 1946 they they did just that. And that business–the Marine Supply and Oil Company, where we are today on the banks of the San Sebastian River–still
continues on. Sheer volume provided the answer to the transportation problem. In
fact, the ability to deliver large, fresh Southern shrimp to market increased the
already strong demand. Salvador’s lead was quickly followed by
others in the business producing an extensive trade by 1912.
During this period, the fishery was bustling with a cultural diversity that
would eventually help define the American melting pot. Many of them left
their countries in search of a better life in a promising new land. These were
tough, hard-working people who would brave the ocean environment and toil
together in the tropical heat. They were Italians, Greek, Sicilians and Portuguese, Native Americans, African Americans, French and
Spanish. A new American, yet global, culture was emerging, developing a
cohesive industry of essentially family-run businesses. Shrimping, like all
commercial fisheries, is a unique industry in that it creates new money. It
actually builds the economic base. It doesn’t just circulate existing money.
Only fishing, farming, mining and the forestry industries actually create new
money. The benefits are compounded through those who provide services to
these industries, for example, processing, packaging, distributing and, finally,
retail sales. These new dollars then circulate like service-based industry
dollars and turn into wages, supply purchases and other components of the
economy. The dollars help communities grow and prosper. By 1910, the shrimp
industry in the Southeastern US was emerging as one of the most valuable
among coastal counties. Some of the other industries it would attract include boat
building yards and haul-out facilities, engine sales and machine repair shops,
ice manufacturers and net makers, and marine hardware supply stores. Shrimp
production in Fernandina increased in incredible 2,000 fold between 1897 and 1912. But in 1913, the adoption and perfection of the autotrol on the Atlantic seaboard had an even more dramatic effect. Originally developed in the mid-19th century by the
English for the halibut fishery, the autotrol was used to catch
bottom-dwelling fish. The rig consisted essentially of a net shaped like a
flattened cone a trawl board also known as a door was connected to either end of
the nets large mouth the doors were attached to towing lines in a way such
that went under tow water pressure forced the doors outward spreading the
size of the mouth open heavy runners made of iron bars attached to the bottom
of the doors held the entire rig close to the sea floor allowing it to slide
across sand or mud bottoms the first patent was registered in Britain in 1894
the idea of using an otter trawl to catch shrimp in the u.s. seem to appear
simultaneously in two location a US Bureau of fisheries report states the
application of the autotrol shrimp fishing in this country apparently was
first attempted between 1912 and 1915 1912 and again in 1914 small audit walls
were used by the Bureau of fisheries to collect marine forms for the bureau’s
laboratory at Beaufort North Carolina local fishermen observed that quantities
of shrimp were taken during these experimental halls and devised latchet
roles specifically for search fishing at this time the trawl was being applied
in shrimp fisheries near Fernandina Florida captain Billy Corgan from
Massachusetts is the man generally credited with developing the first raw
an app tation used in Fernandina a fleet of New England fishing vessels had been
fishing for bluefish off Fernandina during the winter of 1912 and 1913 when
cash levels dropped sharply the fleet was forced into port
korkin washed the Shrimpers working their haul savings and built a modified
otter trawl to test on shrimp he had such phenomenal success at the
local shrimpers quickly copied his design a similar design built
specifically for shrimping was developed and tested in 1913 by salvador tringale
as net maker for the south dorm Versace fleet this is Cillian adapted a design
from a sardine net used in his native country the doors were only three feet
long and 12 inches high what is believed to be the first offshore deepwater
trawler appeared later in the same year the
vessel was the automatic a 33 foot vessel powered by a 24 horsepower
automatic engine owned by Fernandina bar pilot Captain William Jones Davis he
equipped a boat with the trawl brought to him by a Belgian ship captain
local pogey fishermen had told him they sometimes caught very large shrimps in
their nets offshore Davis put his haul to work in the offshore waters and
harvested and unprecedented concentration of shrimp this find led to
the birth of today’s modern offshore shrimp fishery the trawl and the
region’s abundant and renewable shrimp resources provided the base for rapid
production increases by 1917 the autotrol had gained universal acceptance
in the commercial fleet the typical shrimp trawler was a 25 foot long wooden
boat with a 10 foot beam in a net displacement of 3 or 4 times the boats
pulled one trawl and usually had a one or two man crew both – and for cycle
engines will come all word Aisling fuel typically
generating about 15 horsepower on the eve of America’s entry into World War
one the essential features of today’s worldwide shrimp industry were present
along Atlantic coast today’s fresh shrimp trade was his vast network of
markets and sophisticated distribution system descends directly from the
efforts of the East Coast pioneers shrimp boats would become bigger and
more powerful with greater range than the 1917 fleets but these are
differences in scale not basic technology or methodology in fact the
autotrol today although considerably refined remains basically unchanged in
its design the specific components that did change improve the overall
efficiency of the harvesting operation boats grew larger and more seaworthy and
added more horsepower to pull more and larger net holding capacity index base
increases when the larger Kachin became too heavy to be pulled on board by hand
winches were employed with block and tackle mounted on a Frank to facilitate
the work u.s. shrimp landings were only 10 million pounds in 1890 by 1930 the
landings had shot up to 88 million pounds in the boom was only beginning as
the 25 and 35 foot class trawler swept aside the Seine now 40 and 50 foot
vessels were replacing the smaller boats the increased length could only be
accommodated by completely redesigning the boats being built the skills and
craftsmanship the immigrant boat builder brought with them from their homelands
now came into play as the shrimping industry
evolved there was more and more demand was placed for more and more shrimp and
of course they knew that they needed larger nets and larger nets were
developed but with that they needed larger boats they needed more power to
pull the larger net and what they tried to do they tried to take the same
traditional plan that had been built and expand this and stretch it well you
could only stretch it so far and you and it would only accommodate so
much power in 1941 my father Jimmy D Onis came here from Greece and he
redesigned and drew new plans for a new boat in the 60s in the 50s we saw boats
going 55 to 60 feet in the 60s they were up to 70 feet and larger and thus they
accommodated the more power that was needed to pull the larger Nets there was
a space on the boat that was needed and that was the super trawler that was the
birth of the super trawler as we know it today in the shrimping industry
these larger vessels allowed fishermen to venture into deeper waters using more
powerful engines to accommodate larger Nets world war ii was now over in a
period of prosperity swept the nation surplus machinery and new technologies
fueled a boom in US industries gear innovations and fishing ground
explorations expanded the sons of mike salvador felix and john located the dry
Tortuga pink shrimp browse near Key West in 1949
a few years later the massive brown shrimp fishery was developed in the
offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico shrimp boat yards sprang to life
throughout the region one of the greatest milestones for the fishery was
the development of the quick freezing process shrimp was no longer a
perishable product subject to market price fluctuations overnight shrimp
became a stable commodity with the producer having a modicum of control
over when he wanted to sell this solidified many of America’s seafood
Packers and processors as cornerstones in the seafood industry freezing paved
the way for the phenomenal shrimp import business of today which imported over
450 million kilograms of shrimp in 1999 valued at nearly four and a half billion
dollars this industry alone employs over 25,000 workers over a few decades in the
middle of the 20th century the shrimp industry exploded marine electronics of
all kinds open new frontiers both were no longer limited to near shore fishing
and returning to the dock by nightfall diesel engines replaced gasoline nylon
dipped webbing replaced hard cotton boats were now big enough to be
outfitted with galleys bathrooms and sleeping quarters during this time crew
size went from one or two men to three or four as the evolution from a single
net to double rigs became almost Universal later evolving into the
popular four bagger in the 1970s the development of propeller nozzles also
provided and were popular in the Gulf of Mexico it was during this time that the shrimp
boat was credited as one of the most efficient operations in the world three
men could effectively handle all aspects of an 80 or even a 100 foot boat
domestic shrimp production soared and eventually approached 300 million pounds
through the 1950s the government did little to aid or hinder the shrimp
industry to gear development for regulation the innovations of the
Maverick industry entrepreneurs had driven its successes contemporary
scientists view the oceans as limitless and potential President Kennedy’s
administration included numerous advisors whose interest coincided with
those with marine community after a strong statement from Kennedy to the
Senate in 1961 Congress appropriated 104 million dollars for oceanographic
research nearly doubling the previous year’s figure marine research facilities
and programs blossomed the National Sea Grant college program was formed in 1966
to support marine education and research the federal fishery management councils
were formed in 1976 until the 1960s the double rig had been the industry
standard for two decades now the twin trawl was being experimented with in
Louisiana in Texas whether the adoption of the twin trawl
enabled the following five-year increase in landings is difficult to say
nevertheless it was to be the industry’s last harvesting boom in the 20th century
while landings remain stable increased operating costs cut severely to profit
margins one of the biggest financial impacts occurred in the late 1970s with
the oil crisis when diesel fuel prices soared at that same time large tax
incentives attracted many newcomers to the industry and imports were on the
rise these trends increased competition and caused profits to shrink even
further in some states the fishermen requested conservation measures to
protect juveniles shrimp at the sacrifice of fertile fishing grounds
regulators also passed new vessel safety regulations and seafood safety
regulations so as regulations have come down for different applications be it in
the turtle or in the fish or whatever it might be
again that resourcefulness that I spoke about about the fisherman he’s adapted
to that and worked towards those goals and he’s he’s a a good steward I believe
the fisherman is for if you’re in this business you’re in it for your life the
1980s brought the development of sea turtle excluder devices called Ted’s a
Ted is a specially designed arch hole that allows sea turtles to escape after
entering the net many shrimpers initially resisted the
development of Ted’s primarily because the original tent design a device built
by the federal government was complicated expensive and cumbersome
furthermore the Ted was believed to lose a great deal of shrimp and posed a
danger to deckhands in rough sea conditions they never the and federal
estate agencies tested a design built by fishermen that was simple less expensive
at 97% effective at excluding sea turtles the shrimper design Ted was
approved by the federal government in 1989 Ted’s have been required in all
shrimp Nets since that time turtle excluders have been around for a long
time and on our coast of South Atlantic coast they were jelly ball shooters but
off south carolina and georgia they had the whole had to be large enough to
exclude Turtles because there’s so many turtles here if you didn’t exclude a
turtle the turtle would plug up the hole and your net would would load up with
jelly in 1986 the handwriting was on the wall lawsuits were being filed by the
environmental community and even in Department of Interior was threatening
to sue Department of Commerce were nymphs not enforcing that Ted
regulations but the problem at that time was that there was only one allowable
Ted and that was the revised version of a nymphs heart Ted it was a collapsible
version that was very complicated at humming wires bungee cord and a lot of
other stuff in it just too complicated for a shrimp boat what we did we invited
the environmental community Greenpeace Audubon Center for marine conservation
and others to Cape Canaveral to demonstrate the shrimper design
Ted’s and they included the Georgia jumper the Matagorda Texas dead
the Cameron Louisiana Ted the Parish Ted from North Carolina and the Morrison
said from South Carolina we managed to certify a lot of these this opened the
door to acceptance by the industry of Ted’s we have a 98
in compliance rate but nobody ever seems to know that but every time a turtle
washes up on the beach right away its associated with you know the the
commercial fishing industry which we’re guilty by association nobody’s ever been
able to really prove it but just by association
that’s the perceived image that we have and sometimes perception becomes reality
many people thought shrimpers just didn’t care about this turtles that were
caught accidentally that they simply didn’t want to risk losing their catch
in fact shrimpers had been using similar gear to exclude jellyfish for over fifty
years the Shrimpers objected to the forced use
of impractical gear and the unwarranted sole responsibility for the declining
status of sea turtles of all man’s interactions with sea turtles the shrimp
industry probably has done more than any to minimize their effect on turtle beach
development and its side effects such as over lighting and sea walls has a great
impact on turtle survival contrary to widespread belief it is unlikely that
the shrimp industry was the major cause of sea turtle population declines legal
sea turtle fisheries operated for centuries throughout the Caribbean
Mexico and in other parts of the world this fishery slaughtered thousands of
turtles each year in the US alone future turtle generations were sacrificed to
supply the great demand for eggs that were believed to be an aphrodisiac
this directed fishery is likely to have had the greatest impact on sea turtle
populations and in some countries government sanctioned turtle fisheries
still exist the research to improve Ted’s continues most successful gear
refinements are directly attributable to the experience and expertise of the
Shrimpers themselves shrimp nets are now equipped with fish escape holes two laws
were implemented in the 1990s that require shrimpers to reduce the amount
of fish they catch the escape holes are called bycatch reduction devices B RDS
or Birds many fisheries biologists believe the need for this law was based
on interpretive fish population data and the benefits remain controversial the
biggest problem we have with the birds today is that the environmentalist or
the the pressures coming upon us is to reduce the bycatch but we’ve already
reduced the bycatch with the turtle excluder and the people today are not
taking that into account nevertheless regulations require members to use fish
reducing gear that can cause significant shrimp losses at the turn of the 21st
century research continues to develop better gear for releasing fish today the
southeastern US shrimp industry from the Carolinas to Texas lands over five
hundred million dollars worth of shrimp which employs tens of thousands of
people shrimp landings in the southeastern and
Gulf regions of the US for 1998 reached 294 million pounds worth approximately
550 million dollars it’s sophisticated vessels and district
systems have certainly evolved for the better while profit margins have
tightened due to increasing operating costs and competition interestingly the
nets in use today are not so different from the nets used 100 years ago turtles
fish and other marine species can now escape the net through certain
refinements but the trials original design remains basically unchanged the
shrimp industry through innovation and collaboration has set a bold example in
sustainable use of renewable natural resources equally compelling is the
legacy of American ingenuity and perseverance that exists in the people
who continue shrimping today in a world where corporate buyouts typically dilute
the family and cultural color in any large industry many in the shrimp
industry are direct descendants of its pioneers a century ago it is an industry
made primarily of middle-class mom-and-pop businesses the backbone of
this country and their story is a chapter in what is known as the American
dream the seafood industry provides that
flavor that that that touch of culture that that we want to have here it’s one
that we brought with us and one that we want to keep and I believe that that’s
an important part of our lives it makes us whole you

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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