Farm gives ‘green' shrimp a go

Don Smith has 100,000 “green” shrimp in his Pritchardville, S.C., backyard pond that he hopes one day will be able to compete with imported shrimp.

His shrimp are actually white. The “green” means they're on the way to becoming certified as organic.

“The idea is to try and combine natural productivity with new and innovative feeds that meet organic standards to produce environmentally friendly shrimp,” said Department of Natural Resources biologist Craig Browdy.

The farm is an experiment conducted with the help of the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton. Waddell, a marine research facility of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, won a $435,000 federal grant two years ago that paid for the research and shrimp farming project.

Most farm-raised shrimp are fed fish meal, Browdy said. But Smith's shrimp get an organic diet of algae oils, soybean and wheat products, vitamins and amino acids. The organic diet replaces nutrients found in the fish meal, which contains fatty acids good for human heart and brain development, Browdy said.

“The benefit for growers is it gives them an advantage over an imported product,” Browdy said. “In order to compete, whether you are a shrimper or a farmer, you've got to be able to produce something that's different – quality, local, fresh and healthy.”

Waddell has been researching the diet for two years and developed the experimental feed. It recently purchased a line of disease-free Pacific white shrimp, which had been raised in captivity for 20 years at a Florida breeding company.

The tropical shrimp are typically found off the coast of Mexico and Ecuador, Waddell manager Al Stokes said. The Pacific white shrimp are the most commonly farmed species, he said.

Waddell stocked Smith's 1-acre pond in early July. They should grow to 4 inches long, Stokes said, and be available for local sale by the fall. He expects a 75percent survival rate, which would produce 20 to 30 shrimp per pound. The entire stock should total nearly 3,000 pounds.

“This is to support local shrimpers and local growers so they can survive … ,” Stokes said. “Hopefully people will pay a few extra bucks for it.”

Smith said he will seek the organic certification when it becomes available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as it gets closer to marketing his product.

As part of the agreement with Waddell, he must abide by the center's diet standards and feed the shrimp twice a day. When they are ready for harvest, he will drain them into a catch basin filtered with screens to ensure none escape. He is allowed to sell all except 100 pounds, which must be returned to Waddell for testing.

Smith, who is taking a break from working as a boat captain and building yachts so he can he stay closer to home, said he hopes shrimp prices will increase so the venture will become profitable. He might even open an organic restaurant one day, Smith said.

“I like it because I'm pretty much a nature nut,” he said. “People are going to love the opportunity to have green shrimp. ... green, I love that word.”