Shrimp farming takes off in the United States

After a long hiatus, commercial-scale shrimp farming seems to be taking off in the United States.

For years, the shrimp farming sector in the United States has struggled to compete against low-cost shrimp imported from huge producing countries including India, Indonesia, and Ecuador. But buoyed by consumption figures showing shrimp declining as America’s favorite type of seafood — with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reporting that Americans will average eating more than five pounds of shrimp a year in 2020 — new shrimp farming projects from All shapes and sizes are growing across the country, from small and large recycled aquaculture systems (RAS) in California and Florida to traditional pond aquaculture in Texas.

Perhaps the biggest wave of shrimp farming in 2022 will be Atarraya, a tech startup based in Mexico City, Mexico, known for developing Shrimpbox. Primarily a converted shipping container into a small commercial shrimp farm, Shrimpbox requires minimal water exchange and has an automated feeding system and a biofloc waste removal system, reducing the work involved in cultivating shrimp in the unit while eliminating the need to use antibiotics. and chemicals. It also relies on artificial intelligence that can remotely monitor water quality and regulate water temperature and oxygen.

“A Shrimpbox is more than just a shipping container. It’s a technological system designed to create life,” said Atarraya founder and CEO Daniel Russek. “Through automated systems and software capable of learning and making decisions, this piece of engineering has the potential to help aquaculture make bigger A step forward in decades.”

Although only two prototypes have been built so far, Atarraya has raised over US$10 million (€9.16 million) since its founding, including funding from some high-profile technology investors. The company’s first farm, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, recently opened for training and demonstration, in partnership with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Atarraya is preparing to launch an early adopter program to companies in niche markets as it seeks to maximize early returns and prove that practically anyone can become a shrimp farmer.

“The main benefit for them is that the Shrimpbox is very easy to operate. They don’t need to learn aquaculture, just how to maintain the Shrimpbox. We’re thinking of it like a big Tamagotchi,” said Mariana Madrigal, Atarraya Marketing Manager. “After these early adopters , we will move to farmers in different industries such as pigs, poultry and crops. We want Shrimpbox to be an attractive alternative for diversifying income and farms.”

Homegrown shrimp, RAS shrimp farm developed by food giant Charoen Bokphand Foods (CP Foods) in Bangkok, Thailand, in Indiantown, Florida, USA, takes a completely different approach than Atarraya. With a pilot farm now in operation, CP Foods eventually wants to grow locally grown shrimp so it operates a hatchery and farm capable of producing up to 720 metric tons of the species annually.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused “unprecedented disruption to the global food supply chain,” said Robbins McIntosh, executive vice president of CP Foods, declining international trade in shrimp and forcing countries to rely on their domestic production to meet demand.

McIntosh said he believes this shift has led countries to increase trade barriers to protect their domestic markets, which opens up an opportunity to feed Americans “home-grown” shrimp.

“Our goal is to provide local markets with the highest quality fresh shrimp year-round using an almost zero water exchange system,” McIntosh said. “In addition to shrimp for consumption, we will operate a small hatchery to supply the fry to the US and European markets.”

At the United States Shrimp Farming Center in Texas, Trans American Aquaculture is seeking to rehabilitate and reinvigorate an 1,880-acre shrimp farm that closed more than a decade ago. Located in Rio Hondo, Texas, USA in the Rio Grande Valley, the farm was purchased in 2017 by the Granda family – a farmer from Ecuador with a long history of shrimp farming. According to Trans American Chairman and CEO Adam Thomas, who is married to a member of the Granda family, the company is now looking for funding to convert the purchase from its current status as a shrimp genetics research facility into a commercially productive farm.

“Where we are in the far south of Texas, we can do two full cycles of shrimp harvesting a year. We are in our fifth and sixth generations of germ lines now. We feel like it’s a really good time to start tapping into the public markets to get financing for the growth that we’re looking to see over the next few years.” Coming to really move the farm to full-bore production,” said Thomas.

To facilitate its public listing, Transamerica conducted a reverse merger with a publicly traded company, allowing it to tap into a larger funding source. Thomas said the company is seeking an initial investment of US$2 million (€1.9 million) that will see it during its first harvest on half of the farm’s acreage. From there, the company will need another $5 million (€4.6 million) to expand on the 650-acre Southern Farm and complete densification and equipment upgrades. Thomas said this would bring the farm’s output to 11 to 12 million pounds annually.

“I can sell [our total estimated production] to any number of distributors. I have contacts who said they would buy everything we had up to £2m – they were independent distributors. “It gave us confidence to move forward with this project,” said Thomas. “With HEB specifically, you say it’s from Texas and they want it. I think they’ll buy pretty much all the farmed shrimp so they can get their hands on Texas. With Whole Foods, it’s a step up in quality, but that’s also a potential opportunity, because we we use it [Best Aquaculture Practices-certified] They are fed by Cargill and contain no live animal products.”

Jim Whippan, a shrimp researcher and owner of consulting firm Marine Genetics Ltd. based in Courtstown, Hawaii, USA, is optimistic about the future of the US shrimp industry.

“The big thing that’s happening right now that interests me is increasing high-density shrimp farming in a controlled indoor environment. There are quite a few people doing this in the US in all kinds of crazy places — Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota. I haven’t seen anyone compile a list, but Somewhere around 50 projects in the United States that are working at different scales where people are raising marine shrimp in some kind of indoor, tank-based system,” he said.

There is a solid economic basis for the idea that shrimp farming can work in the United States, Weiban said.

“The market for shrimp in the US is almost insatiable. It could be argued that if you raise the animals close to the big markets, you eliminate the carbon footprint from global shipping and can introduce a new product to these local markets. There are a lot of people trying to do that — but So far, very few have deciphered how to do this and measure it,” he said. “They might be able to make four small shrimp tanks and sell them at the farmer’s market for $20. [EUR 18] pounds for their community and that works, but the larger market isn’t going to pay those kinds of prices. They will have to approach the price of the obvious competition, which is to import shrimp from the global supply. There’s a kind of tension there between any of these small or not-so-small projects that are going to hack and really crack the code of that intensive farming with a controlled environment to serve the much larger market in the US – a couple billion pounds of consumption a year.”

Weiban noted that the various shrimp farming startups that are springing up across the country are proof to him that the technology now exists to make the local industry possible.

“There is no doubt that these companies can produce, [with the] Kind of a modern production… it’s being done in a lot of places,” Weiban said. But the economics of that are the key question. People are starting to invest in this space, but the economics of it all haven’t come out yet. RAS technology hasn’t been proven on a large scale, Technically and economically. It’ll be interesting to watch this unfold, but we’re on the verge of it. I think someone is going to crack this code soon.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock / P Maxwell Photography