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Think Tank: Shrimp, anywhere

Zero-exchange technology could expand shrimp hatchery locations

Scientific Associates spent three years on R&D prior to launching the system. - Photos courtesy of Scientific Associates
By Melissa Wood
October 05, 2011

Technology has been both friend and foe to the seafood industry. For example, Gulf of Maine fishermen first benefited from improved gear and technology that allowed them to accurately pinpoint the location of a biomass. But that accuracy soon aided the devastation of groundfish stocks that are still being rebuilt.

Success has also become a problem for the aquaculture industry in places such as Vietnam. From 2006 to 2010, farm output for species like shrimp, mullet, seabass, snapper and lobster grew by almost two and a half times in Phu Yen Province, according to VietNam News. Now those farmers are facing problems caused by such rapid growth, including polluted groundwater from waste contamination and shortages in shrimp broodstock.

Technology now presents yet another answer. Scientific Associates in Indiantown, Fla., has begun marketing a saltwater purification technology that may help fish farmers by recirculating water instead of bringing it in and out from natural sources that may either be contaminated or become contaminated.

Company president Dave Brockwell points to the problems of rapid growth in Vietnam and shortages of coastline as an example of the need for this type of new system. He first realized the need for a “better widget” about a dozen years ago when he traveled the world as a shrimp buyer for his former employer, Ocean to Ocean Seafood.

“In many places, they’ll build a pond, run it as long as it can so it can’t support life any longer and then they abandon it. Well, we’re running out of coastline to do that,” explains Steve Massar, Scientific Associate’s general manager and VP.

After three years of R&D, the company is operating its own hatchery in Indiantown that can produce 2 million post-larvae (PLs, also called shrimp fry, are juvenile shrimp that look like adult shrimp and are ready to be transferred to grow-out facilities) per month. A typical hatchery discharges 50 percent of its water daily, which includes any waste, uneaten food or dead shrimp. In the zero-exchange facility, all discharged water is collected in a tank, treated through a variety of processes then pumped back into the tank again. Brockwell explains that the exact method is proprietary but that it does not use any chemicals or antibiotics.

Brockwell says the water should continue to last for years with some necessary replenishment due to everyday processes and evaporation.

Scientific Associates’ hatchery produces Penaeus setiferus and P. duorarum broodstock that are mostly sold locally as baitfish. The company chose those types of pink shrimp because they’re sensitive species and their survival shows the technology can be used on other shrimp and finfish. With more than two years of that hatchery’s success behind it, Scientific Associates is now ready to market zero-exchange technology to the rest of the world.

“There is no way to breed shrimp in fresh water so that’s a significant limitation,” says Massar. “What this technology means is that you can locate a hatchery in Colorado or Siberia or wherever you want to. You can put this on the moon frankly, if that’s what you want to do.”

That flexibility should be considered when weighing the technology’s higher costs against a traditional hatchery, says Brockwell. “If your hatchery is located near the coast now the transportation cost goes down, and you have a better, healthier PL going into the pond,” he says.

And that’s one of the biggest selling points, according to Massar. PLs produced in zero-exchange hatcheries are stronger, healthier and most likely larger because they haven’t had any contamination that would affect their development. The product is also completely traceable.

“The industry is worried mostly about how much it costs to grow shrimp and how many shrimp it can get out of the pond at harvest,” says Massar. “For the average Vietnam farmer it’s all about how many shrimp he gets out of the pond.”

If environmental impacts aren’t be the top priority for the industry in Vietnam, eventually they will be. “There are many countries where there are gigantic dead zones of ocean, and there’s nowhere for the shrimp to survive,” says Massar. “How do I sustain an industry like shrimp farming, but not destroy the environment at the same time? That’s what drives things like this; that’s what drives technology.”

Email Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com

October 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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