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Shrimp grown indoors to avoid viruses, environmental problems

Aquaculture technology moves inside

OCEAN SPRINGS – Shrimp consumption in the U.S. is on the upswing with average consumption reaching a record level of 2.8 pounds per person in 1998. Imported shrimp accounted for about 80% of the total U.S. consumption in 1998, and about half of that was from foreign aquaculture operations.

Imported shrimp represent a $3-billion annual trade deficit for the U.S., which makes development of a shrimp aquaculture industry in the U.S. a major priority. The challenge is to avoid the outbreaks of viral diseases that have devastated shrimp aquaculture operations both in foreign countries and in the U.S.

To reduce the risk of viruses, the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) and the U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program are working with private industry to develop “biosecure” production systems that bring shrimp aquaculture indoors.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss) was recently in Ocean Springs to announce the transfer of the new shrimp farming technology from GCRL to private industry. GCRL is part of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Institute of Marine Sciences. Cochran, who heads the Senate agriculture committee, has helped obtain funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program.

The first company to commercialize the indoor shrimp production operation is Penaeus Ltd., a Mississippi company formed to produce aquaculture seafood products on a national and international basis. The company name comes from the shrimp that will be its first aquaculture product, Penaeus vannamei.

Penaeus is planning to build its first hatchery, nursery and grow-out facility on the Gulf Coast, and a second grow-out facility in the Mississippi Delta. Penaeus is headquartered in Lula. The company’s long-range goal is to supply upscale restaurants, and to assist others who want to engage is growing shrimp indoors.

Jim Johnson, president of Penaeus, said the company’s object is to supplement the harvest of wild caught shrimp in an attempt to meet an ever increasing worldwide demand.

“We are very interested in the commercial development of a biosecure, closed system grow-out facility which will allow us to produce Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) marine shrimp,” Johnson said.

Penaeus will be the first company to try the biosecure systems. While being the first in any industry takes a leap of faith, Johnson said he believes the research that has been done will yield positive results.

“Our company concluded that it was worth the effort to see if we could grow these shrimp to a commercially-feasible size,” Johnson said. “Part of what we are going through here is to see exactly how the economics of the system work. So far things look very good. It is just a bit early to project how many we could grow, and how large the farms will be, but someone had to start it. We thought the risk was manageable. We feel like, if we’re right, the reward will justify the investment we put into it.”

Dr. Jeff Lotz, an associate professor at GCRL and one of the nation’s foremost experts on shrimp viruses, says that production of shrimp in indoor systems is the result of more than a decade of research and development at GCRL. While the greenhouse systems are more expensive than growing shrimp in a pond, they provide more control over illnesses and growing conditions.

“The reason we put the systems under cover and created water recycling systems is because of the rampant disease problems that are being experienced throughout the world in shrimp aquaculture,” Lotz said.

There is a lot of information available regarding raising shrimp in ponds, and growing techniques are well developed. By contrast, the indoor systems are still in the development stages and demonstration of their economic feasibility has not yet been established. But Lotz believes the indoor systems have good potential to be profitable, and that they will become increasingly accepted in the future.

“I think there is no question that this is the way to do it in the future,” Lotz said. “Of course, the attractiveness is once you are indoors with low water usage, it could be sited anywhere in the country including areas away from the Coast. It would be great to have live shrimp produced in Chicago and other inland areas. But it is really from the pressure outside of the shrimp farming community itself that has pushed this indoors, the environmental concerns of waste discharge and the potential contamination of the farm by viruses from the outside.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.


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