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Japan

Video—Intensive Shrimp Farm

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): Check out this 2010 video of an intensive shrimp farm in Japan.  Is the farm in the video still operational?  It looks like it’s using wave technology from Germany.

 

Bob Rosenberry (bob@shrimpnews.com): You’ll understand the rest of this report much better if you click on the link below and watch the 12-minute video of the farm before reading the rest of this report.

 

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): The farm in the video is owned and operated by IMT Engineering Co. Ltd. (IMTE), located in Myoko City, Niigita Prefecture, Japan.  In response to the increasing importance of environmental conservation, the development of inshore aquaculture amidst climate change and the future of food security in Japan, the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Research (JIRCA) and Higashimaru Co., Ltd. developed it over a ten-year period.

 

Durwood Dugger (ddugger@biocepts.com, http://www.biocepts.com/BCI/Home.html): Nelson, Patrick and everyone else tuned into this discussion:

 

From the links and videos provided by Patrick and Nelson, plus some additional research, here’s my opinion on the IMTE/JIRAS venture:

 

Let’s start with the title of this video: “The World’s First Indoor Shrimp Production System.”  I find this grossly naive to the point of insulting those working in this field for decades.  This statement is factually, historically and demonstrably untrue, as anyone knows who has participated in or studied the growth of shrimp RAS production.  It also implies that IMTE isn’t even aware of the historic Japanese foundations and contributions to indoor intensive shrimp production.  That in itself reduces the probability of this group having significant technical credibility.

 

As far as answering Patrick’s logical and timely question as to whether JIRCAS/IMTE is still operating: In the information Nelson kindly provided, I see no information regarding its business/economic status between 2015 and March of 2017.  So, I looked further.

 

At the GPS coordinates Nelson provided on Google Earth (37°02’19.8”N, 138°15’60.0”E, dated August 2014), the IMTE facility, with several notices posted on its walls and doors, seems to show that it’s closed and shuttered.  While the notices are in Japanese, they look like those on buildings for sale or rent in the USA.

 

Additionally, I couldn’t find any new Google News about IMTE since 2015.

 

I think any small-scale shrimp production venture, like the IMTE/JIRCAS farm, would experience the same real-world economic challenges that other indoor RAS ventures have in competing with the commodity-priced shrimp produced in outdoor ponds in tropical countries.

 

The farm in the video uses wave generators, presumably for circulation and aeration.  Physical agitation removes supersaturated oxygen from aqueous mediums and complicates solids collection, and waves are not efficient for either circulation or aeration.  Additionally, the video references the use of plastic seaweed, apparently to increased surface substrates, which further complicate solids-removal systems.

 

All of these technologies are very out dated and mutually chemically, biologically, hydrodynamically and economically contradicting (if not totally exclusive) and seem to represent a totally uncoordinated collection of shrimp production concepts that most shrimp RAS designers abandoned in the 1970s and 1980s.  They also lack energy efficiency and technical and economic optimization.

 

My point in making these comments is for the benefit of the uninformed that might view the video as representing the technical state of the art in shrimp RAS technology.  No one should consider emulating these outdated concepts.

 

If I have misinterpreted anything about the IMTE/JIRCUS shrimp farm, please let me know about it, and or if anyone has some current information on the technical and economic status of the farm, I think we would all like to know about it.

 

Bob Rosenberry (bob@shrimpnews.com): Off The List, I contacted Daniel Gruenberg for more information on the video and farm.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Bob, I was a founder of IMTE (the farm in the video).  We contracted with Megafisch of Germany for the original technology.  Hazama Gumi construction company obtained a majority of the shares and moved the project forward.  I will make some calls and get you updated information.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): In 2001, I set up a project with IMTE at the Hazama construction research site for a German company with wave technology, using Penaeus vannamei from Molokai Sea Farms.

 

Durwood Dugger (ddugger@biocepts.com, http://www.biocepts.com/BCI/Home.html): Patrick, apparently these folks operated in a shrimp RAS-technology vacuum because there were far more efficient systems already in use for decades.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Bob, I called the guy in charge of the project, and yes it is still profitable and ongoing.  It’s not a biofloc system, but RAS with nitrifying filters.

 

Durwood, I was a founder and shareholder of IMTE.  At the time it was created (around 1996-1997), its mission was to license progressive technology and operate businesses in Japan’s aquaculture market to further stimulate innovation in Japan.

 

The Hazama Gumi construction company supported IMTE, and a German company licensed them the core technology.

 

The project leader from Hazama Gumi soon learned that the German technology was a pipe dream and not practical.  They had to make many changes in order to make it functional.  Later they joined with JIRCAS for technical assistance.

 

Given the time frame (the late 1990s) and the newness of the technology, I would say they did a tremendous job.  It was a construction project manager and an academic from JIRCAS that led this project.  None of them were actual shrimp farmers.  In that context, I would say they did a fantastic job.

 

By today’s standards the system is overly complex, but, to this day, it continues to produce shrimp.

 

Leon Claessens (info@aquaculture-ft.com, http://www.aquaculture-ft.com/home): This farm in Mongolia works with the shrimp farm in the video.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): Just found the mini-DV video I took of this project setup by Hazama Gumi in 2001.  I was there in support of the German company on the shrimp biology front.  Originally, the project was in greenhouses, using freshwater with salt added.  Because they were working with Penaeus vannamei, I recommended Zeigler feed and got them their first PLs from Molokai Sea Farms.  I left the project after the arrival of the PLs.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Patrick, I wasn’t aware that our paths crossed so closely without actually touching.  Small world.  Nohara-San is still there, and I guess Marcy from JIRCAS is still doing her thing.  I heard there was a falling out between Hazama and the German company.

 

Dallas Weaver (deweaver@me.com): Daniel, back in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was operating my little RAS hatchery in Southern California, I heard stories about economical indoor RAS for shrimp and other animals.  However, I could never square the economics with the price of shrimp and the production costs.  Since the amount of waste you have to handle in any system is directly related to the amount of feed you use (feed in manure out), I analyze the economics of systems based on the cost of feed per kilogram, plus the cost to treat the water.  Add those two figures together and multiply it by the feed conversion ratio and you get a ballpark number for the production cost of the animals.

 

Those numbers always said I couldn’t make money raising most food animals, so I limited my production to niche markets like research animals, ornamental animals, fingerlings and postlarvae, where the effective price per kilogram was greater than $50 a kilogram.

 

Even back in the 1970s, it was clear that indoor recycling aquaculture was technically feasible, but not economically feasible because the production costs were so high.  My conclusion was that most of these RAS technology proposals were either feel good wastes of money (an expensive hobby often funded with other peoples money) or aqua shyster operations making money selling systems to suckers.

 

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): Dallas, you are basing your comments on your experience, your personal concepts and your automated design, but RAS can have many different designs, efficiencies and operating costs.

 

Durwood Dugger (ddugger@biocepts.com, http://www.biocepts.com/BCI/Home.html): Daniel and others, I don’t doubt for a minute that you and all those involved with the IMTE/JIRCAS project were dedicated, hard working and filled with good intentions.  I still have to respectfully disagree that this project is/was “fantastic” or “tremendous”, or that it is/was exemplary of the state of the art—technically or economically.

 

Frankly, the use of a wave generator and plastic seaweed is unfathomable from an economic point of view.

 

To be fair to IMTE, I have to say that this isn’t the first time I have seen intensive shrimp RAS projects develop without having done sufficient homework.  During the past four-plus decades, I have reviewed dozens and dozens of intensive shrimp production projects all over the world.  Failing from the outset to involve experienced intensive shrimp production experts with state-of-the-art technology and economic analysis is an egregious mistake because it is so easily avoided.

 

Nelson, I think Dallas is talking basic math and economics.  In the business world, processes are either economically viable or not.  Systems can be subsidized in many ways, but usually not indefinitely.

 

I have one basic definition for all commercial aquaculture enterprises:

1. They have to be profitable (audited) for at least five successive years.

2. Their economics must be scaled sufficiently to be competitive with other similar species production processes in either national or global markets.

3. Their basic design has to be successfully employed at multiple sites.

 

In recent years, based on the economic evolution of the shrimp farming industry as a whole, I have added a fourth definition: their scalability economics have to allow for vertical integration.

 

Few if any shrimp RAS systems currently meet these simple parameters, in spite of what their promoters might say.  That doesn’t mean that they will not become economical in the future.  I think they will.  Unfortunately, both Dallas and I have examined enough shrimp and fish RAS economic failures to be very suspicious of them.

 

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): Durwood, there are plenty of fish and shrimp indoor recirculating systems that are profitable.  The IMTE/JIRCA farm, established more than a decade ago, is still operational!

 

I believe there are plenty of RAS systems silently operating that meet your definition and criteria for commercial aquaculture enterprise, while deliberately avoiding the limelight and public scrutiny.  Why don’t we hear about them?  They have nothing to prove to the world.  The most successful projects are usually the most silent ones.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Durwood, I split from IMTE soon after its establishment because of the lack of specific expertise and a conflict with my boss, so I don’t have a personal stake in the technology or the farm.  I just know the people, and I have confirmed that it’s still running.

 

I am in no way defending this system.  Its genesis was a flawed untested system and somehow they made it work.

 

I do think more efficient shrimp recirculating systems can be designed—without the funky wave machines and vertical substrates.

 

Nelson, the most agreeable quote you made so far: “The most successful projects are usually the most silent ones.”

 

Durwood Dugger (ddugger@biocepts.com, http://www.biocepts.com/BCI/Home.html): Nelson and Daniel, you’re implying that there are profitable recirculating shrimp farms out there.  This would probably mean that they are limited to small, local, retail, niche markets, making it impossible for them to scale-up.  But, for the sake of argument, let’s say one of them did scale-up successfully.  Its suppliers, employees, customers and the folks that collect its taxes would know all about it.  It would be impossible to keep it a “secret” for long.  Sooner or later the “big boys” would want to emulate or own that success.

 

I can’t prove that there are no profitable shrimp RAS ventures.  However, I’ve known and examined too many shrimp RAS ventures—international and domestic—that did not succeed because of the very immutable economic reasons that I have detailed on The List in the past.  The probability of a secret, economically successful shrimp RAS ventures existing is, in my opinion, improbable.  I suspect that where we disagree is on our respective definitions of what constitutes a successful business.  We should not forget that the global shrimp market is a commodity market.  Staying small and out of sight in a commodity market is very difficult economically.

 

I would appreciate any examples that aren’t too “secret” that meet my previous definitions of success—for all of us to study and learn from.  While it’s good to know that IMTE’s system still survives and operates at some level, its status as a profitable business remains unknown.  Just producing shrimp does not qualify as a business success.  I know of at least three large-scale shrimp RAS ventures that have been in business producing shrimp for quite a number of years, and none of them is profitable and none has expanded at a commercial scale to multiple locations.

 

Sooner or later this may change, but in my opinion, the successful model in shrimp RAS that emerges will not be based on a small-scale venture, but one that is large enough to be economically optimized to the point of competing globally with all producers in the commodity shrimp market.

 

Daniel, do you know if the IMTE/JIRCA farm is still at the same location that Nelson gave?  Again, I would love to see its balance sheet.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Durwood, as far as I’m concerned, you are preaching to the choir.  Although I spent a lot of time doing RAS, I’ve spent the last 15 years doing ponds.  I have developed innovative hybrid systems using both technologies.

 

I believe there is a significant niche for shrimp RAS, but I have yet to see what I would call an ideal system.  Nonetheless, I may soon get a chance to create something with my vision!  And yes, there are more frauds and fake systems around than real ones.

 

But, if the farm in the video has found a sustainable niche, good for it.  No need to criticize a system that works.  And by no means does it mean that such a system would be feasible in any other market or location.  I think that farm has cheap or almost free geothermal heat, which is a huge resource in Japan.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): From what I am seeing in this discussion from our USA colleagues is that there are and have been many shrimp RAS systems developed and not one of them has been successful.  Apparently, USA shrimp RAS is an economic failure.

 

My conclusion is that shrimp RAS intensive systems will always remain small to serve niche markets.  Nothing is wrong with that model.  If someone can grow shrimp in a bathtub and make a living from it, then good for them.

 

I also had a falling out with the German company.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): This is my point that Hazama Gumi construction and crew took what was a fraudulent technology and made it work.  I was personally impressed by the effort and execution while disagreeing with the technology they used.

 

Robert Bauman (hankbauman@gmail.com): Regarding RAS systems in the USA, I’ve noticed that in the past 10 or 15 years, the new generation of shrimp farmers has skipped the learning process that the old timers picked up from trial and error.  Today, everyone just reads the feeding rates off a bag of feed and then feeds robotically.  I’ve seen this in a few countries recently, and I have to take some of the blame because I create computer sheets for operations, so the staff won’t have to think or make too many unsupervised decisions.

 

Now, AHPND and EHP necessitate zero-exchange and limited exchange systems, so pond management has become more like intensive hatchery management.  You need some experience.  You need to be on the farm.  The footprint of the farmer is the best fertilizer.

 

But today’s RAS farmers have little to no experience and are counting on cookbook instructions for operational procedures.  The systems aren’t perfect yet.  You can’t turn on a blower, overfeed the pond and expect everything to turn into beneficial bioflocs.

 

I probably sound like an old fart.  It just ain’t like the good ole days, but I try to teach the hands-on approach where ever I go.  Look at the animals.  It’s not a factory yet.

 

Now, I’m in Phuket, Thailand, working for one of the broodstock companies.

 

Jerome Heng (jeromecpheng@gmail.com): I think the German company that everyone is referring to was called “Mermaid Aquaculture”.  If I remembered correctly, the owner’s name was Werner Gaus.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): I think the German company that was involved with IMTE was “Megafisch”, and, yes, Werner Gaus was the guy.

 

Manuel Poulain (manuel1274@yahoo.fr): Hank, I agree with your hands on approach.  Even in the most sophisticated shrimp production unit, knowledge on how the animals are doing is basic, but many shrimp farmers stick to the tables and books—and miss the bigger picture.

 

Sources: 1.  The Shrimp List (a mailing list for shrimp farmers).  Subjects: Japan Shrimp and Shrimp RAS Economic Challenges.  March 15 to 17, 2017.  2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International.  March 24, 2017.

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