Shrimp farm may revolutionize aquaculture industry
Attitudes on aquaculture have come full circle in the past 20 years. This evolution parallels a path toward cleaner technology that has resulted in the Coastal Bend welcoming a massive Global Blue Technologies shrimp farm to the shores of Port Bay. The site has a dubious history, where at least two previous mariculture facilities failed amid controversy, local government objections and pollution concerns.
Few or no objections were raised formally recently when an imposing white tent the length of three football fields rose quietly from the stark landscape at the end of Copano Retreat Road in Aransas County. Looking like one of those enclosed air-conditioned athletic practice fields, the cavernous rectangle conceals eight rubber-lined ponds. The structure measures 1,150 feet long and 155 feet wide.
Company officials said they plan to employ about 60 workers by 2017 at the high-tech operation, which will run around the clock. If all goes well, officials said Global Blue plans to build a shrimp processing plant in a few years somewhere in the area, which could employ between 200 and 600 workers.
The plant was a topic at this last week’s Seafood Expo North America in Boston, where Chuck Anderson, director of retail seafood at Pier Fish Co. in Massachusetts extolled the virtues of Global Blue’s technology. Anderson said he has toured aquaculture facilities throughout the world and has never seen anything like what he saw in Aransas County.
“If they can produce the size and volume they plan to this will make a big difference in the price of shrimp nationally and globally,” Anderson said. “It’s causing a lot of interest in the industry. Plus it’s a U.S. product. It’s great to see these operations come here.”
Aransas County Judge Burt Mills said he is aware of the zero-discharge project and has received no complaints. In the mid-1990s the Aransas Pass City Council and the Aransas County Commissioners Court passed separate resolutions asking the state to reject permit requests from proposed shrimp farms at the Port Bay site.
Residents of the region who recall problems associated with previous shrimp farms harbor lingering concerns about the coming operation, said nearby resident Monte Swetnam. They’ll be watching, Swetnam added.
The company projects the first eight ponds will produce 625,000 pounds of shrimp each year. Production is scheduled to begin in April. Eventually Global Blue plans to erect 16 of these temperature-controlled and bio-secure structures, which also will feature a double-lock and airtight entry system to prevent cross contamination of the delicate and exotic stock inside. A second structure is scheduled for completion in April, said Stephen White, Global Blue Technologies director of operations.
Compared with smelly shrimp farms of the past, the major difference Global Blue offers is a completely closed system for raising Pacific white shrimp, a fast-growing nonnative species. This scale and type of commercial operation represents a technological first for Texas.
At the Port Bay farm, a sophisticated multichambered biofilter will cleanse the water of waste. A single massive filter will service the 16 ponds housed within two adjacent buildings. After impurities are either removed or neutralized, the water will be recirculated back into the ponds, John Harvin, the company’s aquaculture operations director and construction supervisor, said.
“A lot of this technology is off the shelf,” said Harvin, who earned a graduate degree in aquaculture at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “And much of it was borrowed from municipal wastewater treatment facilities. Some of it came from Europe, which is way ahead of us in aquaculture technology.”
The ponds are built 12 feet above sea level, which is 5 feet above the 100-year floodplain, Harvin said. The tent-like buildings are built to withstand winds up to 120 mph, Harvin said. And in the event of a hurricane, they can be deflated to protect or contain the ponds and their contents from spilling into the bay.
Robert Adami Jr., a natural resources specialist with the parks and wildlife department, said Global Blue has gone well beyond the environmental safeguards required of Texas aqua farms.
“I’ve seen many aquaculture facilities and this one has really taken extra steps in security, water use, environmentally friendly features and biosecurity,” Adami said. “And it has what most of us like to see — no discharge.”
No chemical supplements, drugs or antibiotics will be used, Harvin said. Periodically the uneaten food, shells and other waste from the pond filters will be recycled, Harvin added. The biggest part of this waste by volume is molted shrimp shells, which is sold for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, he said.
Water to fill the ponds will come from the bay. It will be pumped at the rate of 80 gallons per minute to fill each pond, which has a capacity of 3,100 cubic meters. It takes four days to fill a single pond. When evaporation leaves a pond too salty, Harvin will pump freshwater from a well to make it right.
Because humidity and temperature will be controlled in the buildings, evaporation will be minimal. Adami said the amount of bay water used at the plant also would be negligible, with little or no impact on the ecosystem.