In the years leading up to the start of the pandemic, land-based shrimp farming in Ontario was gaining attention as a potentially new and growing food production sector. However, high production costs, difficulties sourcing hatchlings, and production challenges eventually combined to dash the hopes of most budding shrimp farmers in Ontario and other parts of Canada.
Why it matters: The global shrimp market is estimated to grow up to US$74 billion by 2028, and land-based shrimp production could be an alternative use for existing livestock buildings.
An innovative land-based shrimp operation in northern Germany has addressed most of those challenges by co-locating at the most unlikely of places: a sewage treatment plant at the town of Strande near the northern German city of Kiel.
In 2015, that’s where Foerde Garnelen began producing the Pacific White or White Tiger shrimp it ships fresh to consumers, retailers, restaurants and hotels across Germany within 24 hours of harvest.
“Land-based production gives better access to farming sites than offshore sites and we can locate close to our markets and control water quality and nutrients,” said Managing Director Bert Wecker during a tour of the facility this past summer.
“We also have much more potential to use the (shrimp) waste. It’s a circular economy; this is the long-term future.”
Waste heat from the sewage treatment facility’s biogas production is a free energy source, making it cost-effective to keep the water at a steady 30 C year-round. As well, the location on the Kiel Fjord, a 17-kilometre long inlet of the Baltic Sea, allows the company to use natural sea water for its production. This normally isn’t permitted, but regulatory approvals were already in place because the site is also home to a former aquaculture research station.
Incoming sea water is naturally filtered through a wetland of salt-tolerant plants like Salicornia. Wastewater runs through the sewage treatment plant before it is discharged into the sea and filtered waste particles are used for worm culture.
Foerde Garnelen has developed a system of what he calls underwater skyscrapers – adapted from Norway’s halibut farming industry – to increase production inside the production tanks and take advantage of shrimp’s natural behaviours.
Blue light in the production facility keeps the shrimp active, leading to less competition, stress and mortality, and a camera system monitors stocking density and length.
“Shrimp is a cannibal and a bottom dweller, so it needs surface area. We have developed layers in the tank so we can produce in 3D in one big basin with the habitat inside,” Wecker said. “Our target is life tracking of biomass growth so we can do efficient feeding. If the shrimp eat each other, it’s hard to calculate. We are the first to do this and have increased our survival rate.”
A change in feed has also contributed to lower shrimp mortality. Lack of cost-effective access to European Union-approved shrimp feed, combined with health problems traced to nutrition, led the company to develop its own specialty rations.
According to Wecker, Foerde Garnelen is the first producer in Europe to feed insect protein, and although they’re still tweaking the recipe, they’ve been able to double the survival rate of their shrimp.
Hatchlings come from hatcheries in Austria and Germany, but there are plans to add an in-house hatchery during an expansion, although this is temporarily on hold due to high construction costs.
Foerde Garnelen is a registered brand in Germany that prides itself on shipping its product fresh. Advances in freezing technology using brine are now making it possible to quick freeze shrimp in as little as five seconds with no quality loss. Shrimp are harvested on demand at 25 to 30 grams or approximately five to six months of age.
“We run almost everything by cell phone – the alerts to problems are automatic but the solutions are not,” Wecker says. “Shrimp are the next big thing in aquaculture so I’m optimistic about the future.”