What’s the future of U.S. shrimp farming?
Farmed shrimp imports represent the vast majority of the U.S. shrimp supply. Domestic shrimp farmers have switched to other seafood species over the past few years, as shrimp prices have been driven down by imports. So, Dr. Jeffrey Lotz, chairman of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Coastal Sciences, was excited when USM’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory recently produced a record number of farmed shrimp in its 18,800-square-feet facility.
SeafoodSource recently talked to Lotz about how advancements in aquaculture technology could eventually result in a more viable domestic shrimp-farming industry.
Blank: How large was your most recent harvest of Pacific white shrimp?
Lotz: An estimated 3,000 pounds of 26 to 30-count shrimp was harvested from eight of the 12 raceways in the facility. We produced more shrimp than we have in the past. We have a good research facility, but it will be four or five years until we are really there. We want to double productivity. Right now, we get around 4 kilograms per cubic meter, and we want to double that to between 8 and 10 kilograms per cubic meter.
Explain the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s production methods and how they may differ from other farmed shrimp production facilities.
The biggest thing is we built a re-circulating water system in ponds, so the water is used over and over. The indoor, low-water systems use approximately 20 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of shrimp, compared to about 250 gallons of water needed to yield 1 pound of pond-raised shrimp. We are using 12 raceways that are very close to a commercial-scale tank. We are able to do research at a level in which we can replicate results and get good data. We are still looking at the microbial bacteria that clean the water, and how much of it we can take out while still keeping a healthy environment for shrimp. Production costs go down as the overall survival of the animal goes up. We are also using a domesticated shrimp [Pacific white], which is used most around the world.
What’s preventing domestic farmed shrimp production from growing?
The economics … have prevented this from developing in the U.S. We have a USD 4 billion annual trade deficit in shrimp — we import between 85 and 90 percent. We have people in the U.S. worried about contaminants from the oil spill in their seafood — and no contaminated seafood has been found — but a lot of the shrimp they eat is coming from outside the U.S. and is inspected at a very modest level. With the shrimp disease problems a couple of years ago, there was a lot of interest in domestic shrimp production. But now they have managed the problems, and the prices are not high enough for shrimp farming to look attractive at this point.
There are a few U.S. farms producing shrimp, correct?
Yes. It is not that shrimp farms have gone out of business — it is that they have decided they can do better with other species. There are a few in Florida, Texas and Alabama. There are a couple of farms in Alabama, away from the coast, that are using saline ground water. They are looking at growing shrimp in catfish ponds with saltwater. There are a few small farms that are doing indoor culture.
What future events might lead to more domestic shrimp production and less reliance on imports?
China is a big producer of shrimp, and they export a lot, as does India. There are predictions that, as these countries’ wealth grows, they will be net importers of seafood in the future. If that happens, more of the shrimp they produce will stay at home.