Why the Most Popular Seafood in the U.S. Is Now Grown in Hundreds of Indoor Swimming Pools Across the Country

The drive through Triple J Farms outside of St. Louis, Missouri is about what you’d expect. A long dirt road winds past fields of soybeans and the occasional Caterpillar construction vehicle in an expansive meadow, before arriving at a red metal-sided barn. But inside it’s filled with, well, shrimp.

Fourteen above-ground pools of shrimp, to be exact, are flanked by an inordinate amount of hoses, buckets and fans that make it possible to produce 5,000 pounds of white shrimp each year from the Pacific Ocean – 700 miles from the nearest ocean.

The operation is about as under the radar as it gets. Orders for Jeff Howell’s shrimp (sold under the Triple J Farms brand) have had a two-month waiting list, despite Howell’s no advertising beyond a few social media posts and a handful of community news articles. (As of publication, they are currently open to the public for no-wait orders.) Howell believes people want to know where their food comes from, and says when he gives tours, visitors often become direct customers after he talks about overfishing and the dangers of the global shrimp industry.

But it’s the freshness and unparalleled flavor of its shrimp that seals the deal — “along with the crazy little cooking videos I post on social media,” he laughs. “Not many people here have cooked a whole, frontal shrimp, so I thought it would be helpful to show how easy it is to cook them.” It’s clear that his small-scale tactics have a big impact. “We don’t advertise,” he says, “but people are constantly knocking on our door. Even with our sign closed, they still show up.”

For all the headaches such an operation could inspire, Triple J isn’t alone in their quest to bring shrimp, the most consumed seafood product in the US, to landlocked parts of the country in creative, DIY -setups that often look like indoor swimming centers. (In the US, shrimp are primarily grown indoors because, as tropical animals, they need certain temperature conditions to thrive.)

While shrimp farming (also known as aquaculture) is still a fast-growing industry in the US, there are more than a dozen farms in places like Kentucky, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. It’s a business model that seems more necessary than new as oceans around the world are becoming overfished. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 57% of fish species, including shrimp, are harvested at maximum sustainable levels. “We can’t increase our harvest from the ocean,” said David Brune, Ph.D., a professor of Plant Science and Technology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “So if we’re going to expand the seafood supply, the only way is aquaculture.”

This growth has sometimes entailed high costs. Mangrove forests, a tangle of trees and shrubs that grow along the coasts in tropical and subtropical regions, are often transformed into shrimp farms. Ocean advocacy organization Oceana says farms built in these vital ecosystems have destroyed natural habitats for birds, mammals and fish. The nonprofit also cites pollution of coastal systems from the discharge of heavy antibiotic use, as well as human trafficking and labor violations, all linked to shrimp aquaculture.

From an environmental standpoint, Brune says, “Most U.S. shrimp farmers operate at zero or near zero discharges and do not pollute water, as U.S. laws don’t allow water drainage. And most, if not all, don’t use chemicals or antibiotics.”

Indoor grow environments require electricity and fossil fuels to keep the lights on and keep the water temperature constant (Howell uses propane to keep his pools at 85 degrees). But Brune points out that the total energy consumption for sea shrimp production is lower than that required for pork and beef production: 15 kilowatt-hours of energy per pound of product versus 24 and 35 kWh, respectively.

Howell, who uses heterotrophic bacteria to eat the waste shrimp produce, converting ammonia from the waste into nitrite and nitrite into nitrate, says his process has some environmental benefits, such as being able to reuse the same water for year. He also points out some farms he’s seen that use solar panels to offset energy consumption, and says he’s interested in exploring the idea further.

Getting your shrimp fresh, not frozen, makes a big difference in flavor and texture, and there are environmental and economic benefits that come from supporting community farming models. But for most consumers, price plays a big role in purchasing decisions. Buying locally is an important consideration, but not everyone will be able to afford these shrimp. As Brune points out, “Imported fish costs $1 to $2 per pound of production cost. If we go into indoor systems, we’re talking $3 to $5 per pound of production cost. If people pay $8 per pound for shrimp, a local growers don’t mind, they charge about $20 a pound. People have to pay a higher price for a local product if these guys are to survive.”

Since the oceans can only produce a finite amount of fish, and we know this number is declining rapidly, domestic shrimp farming offers hope for the future. John Brawley of Sweet Sound in Charlotte, Vermont, has plans to double its production this year, and Karlanea and Darryl Brown, who have owned RDM Aquaculture in Fowler, Indiana since 2010, dream of making Indiana the shrimp capital of the world. to make.

And while the struggle for sustainability can sometimes feel like swimming upstream against a raging current, there’s one place where the water is calm and abundant – in a shed along a gravel road, where the wave of the future is closer than we ever imagined.

Follow these tips when looking for sustainable and responsibly farmed shrimp options at the grocery store:

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: