In 1991, archeologists suggested that ancient raised paved areas near the coast in Caiaphas, Mexico, were platforms used for drying shrimp in the sun, and that adjacent clay hearths were used to dry the shrimp when there was no sun. The evidence was circumstantial, because the chitinous shells of shrimp are so thin they degrade rapidly, leaving no fossil remains. In 1985 Quitmyer and others found direct evidence dating back to 600 AD for shrimping off the southeastern coast of North America, by successfully identifying shrimp from the archaeological remains of their mandibles (jaws). Clay vessels with shrimp decorations have been found in the ruins of Pompeii. In the 3rd century AD, the Greek author Athenaeus wrote in his literary work, Deipnosophistae; “… of all fish the daintiest is a young shrimp in fig leaves.”
In North America, indigenous peoples of the Americas captured shrimp and other crustaceans in fishing weirs and traps made from branches and Spanish moss, or used nets woven with fiber beaten from plants. At the same time early European settlers, oblivious to the “protein-rich coasts” all about them, starved from lack of protein. In 1735 beach seines were imported from France, and Cajun fishermen in Louisiana started catching white shrimp and drying them in the sun, as they still do today. In the mid nineteenth century, Chinese immigrants arrived for the California Gold Rush, many from the Pearl River Delta where netting small shrimp had been a tradition for centuries. Some immigrants starting catching shrimp local to San Francisco Bay, particularly the small inch long Crangon franciscorum. These shrimp burrow into the sand to hide, and can be present in high numbers without appearing to be so. The catch was dried in the sun and was exported to China or sold to the Chinese community in the United States. This was the beginning of the American shrimping industry. Over fishing and pollution from gold mine tailing resulted in the decline of the fishery. It was replaced by a penaeid white shrimp fishery on the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts. These shrimp were so abundant that beaches were piled with windrows from their moults. Modern industrial shrimping methods originated in this area.
“”For shrimp to develop into one of the world’s most popular foods, it took the simultaneous development of the otter trawl… and the internal combustion engine.” Shrimp trawling can capture shrimp in huge volumes by dragging a net along the seafloor. Trawling was first recorded in England in 1376, when King Edward III received a request that he ban this new and destructive way of fishing. In 1583, the Dutch banned shrimp trawling in estuaries.
In the 1920s, diesel engine were adapted for use in shrimp boats. Power winches were connected to the engines, and only small crews were needed to rapidly lift heavy nets on board and empty them. Shrimp boats became larger, faster, and more capable. New fishing grounds could be explored, trawls could be deployed in deeper offshore waters, and shrimp could be tracked and caught round the year, instead of seasonally as in earlier times. Larger boats trawled offshore and smaller boats worked bays and estuaries. By the 1960s, steel and fiberglass hulls further strengthened shrimp boats, so they could trawl heavier nets, and steady advances in electronics, radar, sonar, and GPS resulted in more sophisticated and capable shrimp fleets.
As shrimp fishing methods industrialized, parallel changes were happening in the way shrimp were processed. “In the 19th century, sun dried shrimp were largely replaced by canneries. In the 20th century, the canneries were replaced with freezers.”
In the 1970s, significant shrimp farming was initiated, particularly in China. The farming accelerated during the 1980s as the quantity of shrimp demand exceeded the quantity supplied, and as excessive by catch and threats to endangered sea turtle became associated with trawling for wild shrimp. In 2007, the production of farmed shrimp exceeded the capture of wild shrimp.