Land-based shrimp aquaculture is expanding. Will it pay?

(photo courtesy of Aquaculture Farming Technology)

Two companies – one Japanese, the other American – are bringing revolutionary technologies into commercialization in large-scale shrimp aquaculture facilities. But questions remain as to whether the operations can be profitable.

A year ago, Tokyo-based Nippon Suisan Kaisha (Nissui) announced a plan to build a new land-based shrimp farm on a 30,000 square-meter in Minamikyushu City, Japan. The JPY 421 million (USD 3.8 million, EUR 3.3 million) facility is expected to produce around 200 metric tons of vannamei a year by fiscal 2018 intended primarily for use in sushi and sashimi. Nissui has already developed land-based farming technology at its Oita Marine Research Center, also on the island of Kyushu, but this latest project is its first commercial one. Imported shrimp larvae will be raised using seawater and bio-floc, microbes that can cleanse the water by converting shrimp waste products to food.

Meanwhile, in the U.S.A., technology developed by Dr. Addison Lawrence, a professor at Texas A&M University, has been licensed and further developed by Marshal, Minnesota-based Ralco Animal Nutrition, a supplier of livestock nutrition, animal health products and crop enhancement technologies, and is being advanced at the Balaton, Minnesota test facility of their “trū Shrimp” subsidiary.

The Texas A&M system is housed indoors, with shrimp raised in raceways with a water depth of just 12 inches. The shallow depth allows raceways to be stacked in eight levels, greatly reducing the space needed. Temperature and water conditions can also be closely controlled for optimal health and growth conditions. 

Additionally, in the tightly controlled and automated environment, feed can be evenly distributed in the amount needed, greatly reducing waste and increasing feed-conversion ratios. In the traditional pond system, feed is thrown into ponds unevenly, often by hand, and feed that sinks to the bottom generally goes uneaten. 

Like the system being built in Japan, the “trū Shrimp” system uses the biofloc waste treatment system. The technology is now going international, through a cooperation agreement with Blue Tiger Shrimp Aquaculture (BTSA) based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A. and Hamburg, Germany and led by CEO Rudy Ahrens and Managing Director Joerg Meier. CEO Ahrens originally became interested in land-based shrimp farming as a possible use for deep ocean water, with which he was involved, but the current system uses filtered and salinized fresh water.

“Blue Tiger” is not a breed of shrimp, but rather a trademark. In fact, the system is designed to raise vannemei, just like the Japanese system. Rather, it was noticed that the color of the shrimp is influenced by the color of the raceways. The shrimp will change color to camouflage with their surroundings, so by using blue raceways, the system can make shrimp with a distinctive blue color, which Meier said was chosen as “royal blue” had a good image for a premium shrimp.

Meier said that projects are already moving forward in Tiko, Cameroon; in Heilongjiang, China; in Rehna, Germany; and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The company is looking opportunistically for future project locations. Investor interest is a prerequisite, Meier said, but good air links are also needed to carry the product to elite markets, such as in the European Union, Hong Kong, Moscow and the U.S.A. The company is targeting the top 10 percent of the market, especially for raw uses like sushi and sashimi, as well as ceviche.

Despite savings on space and improvements in feed conversion, the resulting product will still be more expensive than that from outdoor pond aquaculture, because it will require a building and a considerable amount of equipment, as well as water treatment facilities. 

Meier expects to get premium pricing for the product because it will be both organic and fresh. It can be organic because it is raised in a bio-secure environment, and it can be shipped fresh by air because the production volumes can be strictly controlled and predicted to meet the needed amount. After being vacuum packed, the product can last eight days in the chilled state.

BTSA is offering construction of turnkey facilities, with ongoing technical support and feed sales from Ralco. 

“The local investor has to raise the money, but he becomes 100 percent owner,” Meier said.

He predicts that premium shrimp can sell for up to USD 70 (EUR 62) per kilogram, at which price return on investment could be achieved in three to four years.


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