OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Despite concerns about oil in the gulf, some shrimpers in Ocean Springs harvested 3,000 pounds of shrimp Tuesday. But in this case, the large shrimp didn't come from nets, they were produced at an indoor aquaculture facility.
Gulf Coast Research Lab's Cochran Aquaculture Center is the largest commercial-scale shrimp farm research and development site in the United States. Scientists at the Cedar Point facility are working to find the most economical and environmentally friendly way to raise shrimp.
Hundreds of large shrimp flowed from rectangular "grow tanks" into a capture net Tuesday morning. The healthy 25 to 30 count shrimp were grown in just 13 weeks.
"Right now, it probably costs about five dollars a pound to produce these shrimp, and we're trying to get that down lower. And the way we do that is faster growth rate and higher densities," explained Dr. Jeff Lotz, director of the Cochran Aquaculture Center.
Shrimp are raised in a dozen rectangular tanks called "raceways."
The water used to raise the shrimp is recycled. The same water is used to grow several seasons of shrimp.
"The water that we use for shrimp is not clear water. It has a microbial flock, we call it, which is particles, microbes which actually eat the waste products and keep the environment good for the shrimp," said Dr. Lotz.
One of the biggest challenges facing shrimp farmers is the same problem confronting South Mississippi shrimpers: How to battle cheap, foreign imports.
Andrew Ray is a grad student research assistant involved in the shrimp farming project.
"It's very difficult to compete against those foreign markets. One thing we hope we can do is that by growing shrimp in a sustainable fashion, and with low water exchange, we can potentially market our shrimp as a more "green" product," said Ray.
"Five or six years ago, the price of shrimp was much higher and people were getting into the shrimp farming business in the United States. But with the glut of imported, frozen shrimp from around the world, the price is down to where these systems are no longer economical. But we think in the next four to five years they will be economical," said Dr. Lotz.
The USDA is funding some of the shrimp farm research work at the Cochran Aquaculture Center. Currently, the United States has about a $4 billion annual trade deficit in shrimp due largely to those cheaper imports.