Bookshelf: Shrimp

Shrimp: The Endless Quest for Pink Gold – Jack & Anne Rudloe


Before reading this book it was important to determine the difference between shrimp (which we almost never talk about or eat in South Africa, except for little tins that go into paella when there’s not enough of anything else to make a full meal), and prawns (which are large, and frequently enjoyed). My meanderings around the internet revealed that “shrimp” and “prawn” are common names, not related to any scientific classification, and that by convention shrimp are often small and prawns are large… But it’s not clear cut and no one should be dogmatic about anything in this debate. What Americans call shrimp encompasses our prawns, as well as our tiny shrimps… Hence the term “jumbo shrimp”, which sounds nonsensical to me!

Shrimp capitalises on the popularity of nature books about a single species, often with one word titles, a boom initiated (I think) by Marc Kurlansky’s bestseller CodThe Rudloes are marine biologists and founded the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories together (Anne passed away in 2012). Jack Rudloe spent a lot of time on commercial fishing boats, and this book – like Trevor Corson’s book The Secret Life of Lobster – reveals how difficult it is for a writer to remain objective when confronted with the hard working, salt of the earth fisherman archetype.

Despite this, which bothered me slightly, this is a fascinating insight into everything you ever wanted to know about shrimp (slash prawns). Shrimp fisheries and farms worldwide are examined (with a focus on the American Gulf of Mexico fishery), and the dizzying variety of shrimps and prawns is elucidated in some detail. There are diagrams of their bodies, descriptions of their habitats, and details of how they are harvested. The book’s structure is difficult to discern, even chaotic, which throws off a disorganised reader like me (six books on the go, and often fragmentary reading times in elevators and in queues).

I did not find much information in this book about the impact of trawl fisheries, which include horrific bycatch and damage to the ocean floor that is so serious it can be seen from space. It was here that I felt Rudloe’s affinity with the fishermen who do this damage got in the way of a frank assessment of how bad it is. Prawn farming is also not environmentally neutral. The means by which we get prawns onto our plate are actually so bad that the decision whether to eat shrimp and prawns at all should be weighed very carefully.

You can get the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not. If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.