Europrawn Hellas growing out land-based shrimp farming in Greece
A venture to grow black tiger prawns in an intensive culture system in rural northern Greece has become one of the first commercially viable operations for the species in Europe, according to its general manager.
Europrawn Hellas General Manager of Aquaculture Albert Ferrer Lladosa said his company was founded to develop sustainable, environmentally friendly, and ethical shrimp aquaculture in Europe based on FAO principles for blue economies, which Ferrer Lladosa said they have now achieved.
Ferrer Lladosa took on the task two years ago of setting up and developing the operation for the company’s ownership group of Greek and Australian investors, just as the world was headed into major lockdowns during the pandemic. He said the investors had been attracted by his experience with Pescanova in Nicaragua, National Aquaculture Group in Saudi Arabia, and Tassal in Australia.
“The farm was founded 20 years ago, but it took the next 16 to get over legislative issues, particularly around importing alien species into the country for aquaculture purposes. Introducing strict biosecure facilities, protocols, and quarantine for imported postlarvae was an essential move in getting the necessary permits,” he said
The main technology for the farm, which relies on close circuits, water recirculation, and zero discharge to the environment, was imported from Australia, but the arrival of engineers to build and commission the system was hit by travel restrictions implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ferrer Lladosa took over the task, with assistance via video link, and completed it within six months, ready to start production.
Black tiger prawns are native to the warm marine waters of Australia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, and east Africa, and farming generally relies on seed obtained from wild non domesticated broodstock raised in extensive or semi-intensive open pond systems within its native range.
“Farming black tigers, especially in land-based indoor systems, is definitely more challenging than working with whiteleg shrimp due to their physiological and behavioral characteristics,” Ferrer Lladosa told SeafoodSource. “But together with farm operations manager Rafa Belda and a 20-strong team, we are rising to the task. We have a continuous training program to transfer prawn-farming know-how.”
The system uses BIOZEST (biosecure zero-exchange shrimp technology), which is a bacterial dominated recirculating aquaculture system that allows the bioremediation of effluent, and its reuse with zero discharge to the environment. Pathogen and contaminant-free water is pumped from an 80-meter-deep bore hole, at a constant salinity of 30 parts per trillion. Water is heated in winter, to maintain a temperature of 28 to 30 degrees Celsius, and the facility is currently transitioning from grid to solar energy.
“The task now is to continue improving the system in order to provide optimum environmental conditions for animal health and growth,” Ferrer Lladosa said.
The farm is currently importing postlarvae from a certified supplier in Thailand, which uses broodstock from Western Australia, India, and Madagascar. Ferrer Lladosa said their performance is improving with every generation. However, rapidly increasing transport costs has led the company to rely further on a hatchery that was included in the start-up plans. Ferrer Lladosa said it was invaluable to have it during the pandemic, when for a time when transnational shipping was all but impossible, and it and is now set to be the core of the operation. Additional broodstock will be imported in October 2022 to start a new breeding program, with the aim of improving the genetic diversity, resilience, and robustness of Europrawn Hellas’ stocks. Selecting for genetic traits like pathogen tolerance and greater performance under suboptimal conditions will help to reduce operational costs, according to Ferrer Lladosa. He believes that most of bottlenecks on the farm have now been solved, and that future work can concentrate on producing a high-value product, while expanding production and implementing new technologies and mechanisation.
“The current facility is 16,000 square meters, with a 50-metric-ton capacity, but there is ample room on the site for expansion,” he said. “We aim to add four more units starting in 2023 and have a future production goal of 300 metric tons per year, with around 120 full-time jobs.”
It takes 90 to 110 days for Europrawn Hellas postlarvae to reach a commercial size of 30 grams, at which point they are harvested and packed on ice, on site. He company’s current sales reach high-end restaurants and retailers in Greece’s domestic market, but the company will soon launch exports throughout Europe and the Middle East.
“We feed the prawns organically, which adds to the cost, and the biomass per square meter is restricted with black tiger prawns, due to their territorial behavior. In the grow-out phase we are working with 2.5- to 3-kilogram per square meter [stocking], which is less than half that needed to grow whiteleg shrimp,” Ferrer Lladosa said. “However, the customers are happy with our product, which is never frozen, is sulfite-free, antibiotic-free, and chemical-free. [That] gives us a competitive advantage.”
Introducing the prawns to the local market has not been an easy task, because there is a need to educate society about aquaculture products, Ferrer Lladosa said.
“Few people know what black tiger prawns are and assume they are king prawns, but high-end chefs and diners are delighted by the freshness and taste of our product, which gives me confidence for the future success of the project,” he said.
Photo courtesy of European Hellas