David Keith Wills - Maryland - Texas

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The Many “Cons” of America’s Love for Shrimp

No one can deny American consumers love shrimp.  Mykelti Williamson’s iconic role as“Bubba Blue” in the 1995 multiple Oscar honored film “Bubba Gump” best described the “why” of that culinary love affair.  Shrimp can be prepared in a host of ways with each equal to or tastier than the next.

Shrimp is viewed by devotees as a healthy, affordable, luxury menu item thanks in no small part to the advent and growth of shrimp farming over the past three decades.  Last year, the United States imported 695,723 metric tons of shrimp.  That’s one billion 538 million pounds consumed for three straight record-breaking years. Statistically, Americans ate 4.4 pounds of shrimp per person. The outflow of U.S. dollars to foreign farmed shrimp concerns reached $6.2 billion.

For all the delicious “pros” associated with shrimp, more than a few very legitimate “cons” (in every sense of that term),acknowledged not simply by environmental and anti-animal protein critics but also by the industry itself, exist.  Most of the former, logged largely against Asian producers, are often repeated and well ingrained in the decades old “farmed shrimp dialogues.”  The latter litany ofnegative views is focused more and more on questionable efforts and investment-seeking rhetoric being used to establish a domestic farmed shrimp industry within the United States.

Over the past few years, any number of aquaculture entrepreneurs pledged to the seafood industry press;federal, state, and public officials as well as domestic and international investment communities that they possess the answer toinnovative“Earth-friendly” technologies to produce vast quantities of premium, grown-in-the-USA, farmed shrimp without waste-water discharge, antibiotics or other harmful chemical additives.  All they need is funding.  For the most part, institutional investors aware of the ridiculously lucrative and no end in sight market respond.Too often, millions of dollars enrich smooth-talking entrepreneurs with little or no actual enhancement of America’s vestigial shrimp producing know-how.

One of the most original“big promise” ventures was Florida Organics Aquaculture. Founded in 2010 by Clifford R. Morris, a South African national, who touted his “pioneering, environmentally friendly” technology gained from a proof of concept venture in his native land.  Morris offered EB-5 Visasin exchange for each $500,000 investment in his “Sunshine State” operation. In return, the foreign investors and their families were fast-tracked to receive “green card” permanent U.S. residency. 

One problem?  Morris was never affiliated with the very real $23-million-dollar South African project.  We know. We created and ran it from 2005 to 2008.  Morris met with us in Florida seeking our expertise. Not once did he mention participating in the South African project.  We declined his offer.

Nevertheless, Morris raised sufficient funds to buy 122 acres of fallow farmland in the Indian River County township of Fellsmere. In 2014,he built a 4.2-acre production building followed a year later by a second.  They were impressive. He hosted tours for the media, investors and dignitaries.  His project won kudo’s from Florida’s governor, the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of County Commissioners, and the state’s Departments of Economic Opportunity and Transportation.He promised jobs and a million pounds of colossal “Happy Healthy Shrimp,” fresh and never frozen.

Those promises proved hollow.  Distribution, according to locals, was little more than a road-side stand with coolers of cash-and-carry shrimp for sale.  Facing bankruptcy, Morris lamented with brazen irony to aFlorida Trend reporter: “One thing that would be depressing is if some foreign buyer bought the business and all my blood, sweat and tears would be lost to a foreign country.” By December 2017, his company and its assets were bought at auction for $1,250,000 by the same Chinese EB-5 investors who bankrolled Morris initially.

Florida Organics is not the only highly publicized and funded US farmed shrimp operation to go bust. Las Vegas, Nevada’s Blue Oasis Pure Shrimp Farmis another prime example.

The father and son duo of Lewis and Adrian Zettell announced the much heralded coming of their disease and waste-free system of raising marine shrimp in facilities easily located near major markets far from warm-sea water coastlines.  The proof was the alleged “fact” that their R&D facility was a few miles south of the Canadian border in a converted supermarket in Newburg, North Dakota. 

Operating under the aegis of Ganix Bio-Technologies, Blue Oasis Pure Shrimp Farm (to quote the Centennial and North Las Vegas View writeup) “burst into retail venues” in January 2012 with a $5 million, 30,000 square foot indoor commercial facility boasting 44 ponds build from recycled shipping containers.  Blue Oasis boasted of its potential to produce 9000 to 10000 pounds of head-on shrimp.  Las Vegas’ Mayor served Blue Oasis shrimp at his annual address and 17 Vegas “Strip” restaurants had it on their menus.  By year’s end, Blue Oasis and its modest sized shrimp disappeared entirely.

“Boutique” and commercial-size operations fill industry press pages year-round, often with updated stories offering even greater soon-to-achieve bounties with each iteration.  The marketing language is similar: environmentally responsible shrimp, no-chemicals, no waste and the ability to locate where ever markets exist from Indiana to Minnesota to Nevada and New York. 

Each is a much-desired and worthy characteristic. Any and all efforts to reduce the nation’s$62 billion dollarannual trade deficit is a good thing for the US economy.  We sincerely hope each succeeds.  No one venture will meet America’s demand for shrimp. 

Upper New York State’s Eco Shrimp Garden, with the backing of a French concern plans to expand from a 10,000-pound output to half a million pounds over the coming three years. Indiana’s RDM Shrimp company helps garden growers across North America set up operations that generate 500-pound harvests per growth cycle. Customers drive to each RDM-related outlet and buy shrimp straight from the barn-sheltered ponds and are happy to pay whatever price the boutique farmer desires to charge for their fresh shrimp. 

Published comments such as Eco Shrimp’s quandary over what to do with shrimp from farms that expand from harvests in the hundreds or thousands to a million or more pounds is symptomatic of a very basic infrastructure problem in the US.

Such a “production and sales only” vision speaks volumes about the current myopic understanding of the farmed shrimp industry.  In a nation that consumes nearly two billion pounds of shrimp per year the most obvious answer is simple.  Every shrimp grown would be processed, distributed and sold fresh or frozen raw or even breaded, shell-on or off, heads on or off, and eaten.

What’s lacking among virtually every US shrimp farming endeavor is attention to a realistic shrimp (or, for that matter, any aquaculture species) supply chain from hatchery to production, distribution and marketing.

Our company, Global Blue Technologies, recognized that fact as well as the even more vital importance of assembling a team of true experts in every aspect of a vertically integrated aquaculture system.  At every phase of our twenty-year evolution, we remained in the shadows with a self-imposed silence to the media until we outlined, tested and worked out the operational imperatives of each step in the supply chain.

Today our administrative team (as well as our support personnel) is second to none.  Lorenzo Juarez - former President of the World Aquaculture Society, second ranking administrator of NOAA, and Mexico’s leading aquaculturist – oversees all operations.  EduardoFiguerasdesigned and operates our hatchery arm, Sea Products Development (SPD).  He’s highly respected, worked with andtrained hatchery personnel around the world.  His international reputation and experience gained international and domestic acceptance of our Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) brood and seed stock in client farms throughout North America, the EU and Asia.Thomas James, head of production, is equally as talented, experienced and respected as his colleagues.

Over the past two decades, our bio-secure, recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) evolved from its rudimentary beginnings in Ocean Springs, Mississippi in 1998, to Port Elizabeth, South Africa back to the USA first at Port Isabel then Aransas County in Texas all without the first hint of media notoriety.

By 2017 we had four production modules covered in fabric air domes 1050 feet long by 150 feet wide.  Each module contained eight ponds.  Each pond was capable of producing 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of premium shrimp 45-gram (colossal) shrimp.  Most commercially available shrimp, foreign and domestic, averages 28 to 30 grams at best.  Our shrimp was featured in high end restaurants and seafood retailers on both coasts and many states in between.   

August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall at Aransas County.  The destruction was horrific.

Today, thanks to our brood stock lines being secured during the hurricane, we’ve started anew.  But that’s a story for a later time.


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