Today, the United States imports the vast majority of its shrimp from abroad. Imports have driven down shrimp prices, causing domestic shrimp farmers to switch to other products. We look at the future of shrimp aquaculture in the United States.
Groundbreaking work at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL)
The GCRL has been carrying out extensive research on the marine Pacific white shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) since 1985. In the early 1990s, the laboratory developed a special closed maturation-reproductive system that is rapidly becoming an industry standard in shrimp aquaculture.
By 2004, the GCRL was undertaking commercial-scale trials at its next-generation culture facility. This consists of 12 tanks, each measuring 100 meters squared and capable of holding up to 80 cubic meters of water. The tanks are housed within six separate greenhouses, and water can be adjusted to increase or decrease salinity. Bio-filtration technology controls ammonia, allowing long-term reuse of water.
Using an innovative weir and chute system, the tanks are able to more efficiently harvest shrimp and can be drained in just five minutes. Harvest water is drained to one of two retention ponds, facilitating remediation and reuse.
Scientists have found that they could harvest two crops per year through this system, without the need for supplemental heating. The first crop, a production of 530 pounds of shrimp per tank, was harvested after 16 weeks with a survival rate of 62 percent. The second crop, a production of 350 pounds per tank, was harvested after 12 weeks, with a survival rate of 80 percent.
Overall, the facility initially produced somewhere in the region of 3,000 pounds of shrimp using eight of the 12 tanks. This record number of farmed shrimp provided hope for US shrimp farmers, suggesting that the technology they need to keep ahead of foreign importers may soon be at hand.
In 2010 the University of Southern Mississippi’s Coastal Sciences Department chairman Dr. Jeffrey Lotz indicated that the achievement was an exciting advancement in domestic shrimp farming. He explained that through their state-of-the-art research facility, the university could produce more shrimp than ever before.
Current barriers to domestic shrimp farming
Dr. Lotz points out that obstacles to US shrimp aquaculture are, on the whole, economic. The United States annual shrimp trade deficit totals around $6.4 billion.
Additionally, US consumers worry about food contamination, particularly seafood originating from outside the US, which, according to Dr. Lotz, is only subject to a modest level of inspection.
In addition, US reliance on shrimp imports may not be sustainable in the long-term. As Dr. Lotz explained, much of the shrimp consumed in the United States originates from China and India, two countries expected to grow in wealth. As their GDP rises, they will likely become net importers of shrimp and seafood, meaning their import industry will grow to be worth more than their export industry. When this occurs, their shrimp and seafood exports will likely fall, leaving countries like the United States looking for another source of shrimp.
Creating premium feed with agricultural byproducts
Menon Renewable Products has developed a line of animal feed ingredients derived from agricultural waste. The products, called MrFeed, are made from a hydrocarbon conversion process that turns sugars into a quality hydrolysate suitable for animal feed.
This revolutionary new product provides superior digestibility, sustainability, growth, and survivability. It has outperformed traditional fish-based feeds in controlled laboratory testing as well as third-party trials conducted in the United States, Canada, Peru, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Saudi Arabia, India, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Moreover, MrFeed has been validated through state-sponsored studies and US government testing. It is a natural, contaminant-free feed product that utilizes agricultural byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.
Shrimp farming through zero-waste aquaculture
In 2013 University of Missouri professor of agricultural systems management David Brune invented a method of growing shrimp that produces zero waste.
Speaking with SeafoodSource, Professor Brune explained that shrimp farmers in the United States have met huge barriers in terms of profitability. Meanwhile, shrimp farming methods utilized in Asia are unsustainable and could cause environmental damage in the long-term.
He also noted that shrimp producers in China, Thailand, and Indonesia are using wild-caught fish meal and discharging waste into local waterways. He explained that, eventually, we need to replace these farming methods with zero-discharge systems.
After 30 years of studying aquaculture, Brune invented the Partitioned Aquaculture System (PAS), which uses partitions to separate the water treatment system from fish culture. At a university pond, he used paddle wheels that held one-twentieth of an acre of water and produced high rates of algae. The algae is used to treat the waste internally, effectively creating a zero-waste system for generating protein. He noted that the PAS can produce between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of shrimp per acre annually. Though he can grow the shrimp quickly with this method, consumers must be willing to pay a premium to purchase it.
The US shrimp farming market currently faces considerable barriers, such as cost, to succeed. Nevertheless, groundbreaking advances in aquaculture could provoke a market shift, negating the need for reliance on imports, and helping the US shrimp farming industry to flourish once more.