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June 17, 2014
Robin Pearl, president of American Mariculture, Inc., which operates an intensive shrimp farm in St. James City on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is confident Americans will pay a premium for a fresh, locally grown shrimp that is raised without chemicals, antibiotics or preservatives.
Marketed under the Sun Shrimp brand, American Mariculture’s farm is located on 17-mile long Pine Island, the largest island off Florida’s west coast. Over the years, a variety of agriculture operations have struggled on the island due to the intrusion from the shallow saltwater aquifer. But the pure salt water works just fine for farming shrimp. “It’s a good thing that we’re able to use farmland that really hasn’t been good for anything,” says Pearl.
The company grows Pacific white shrimp, Penaeus vannamei, at its biosecure farm that consists of 8.5 acres of rectangular tanks, all under greenhouses. According to Pearl, it takes about 150 days to grow shrimp to 16/20-count, head-on size. The water is recirculated and the environment is climate controlled. Production, which is year-round, is estimated at about 2,000 pounds per day.
Although plans are in the works to build a processing plant to allow sales of shell-on tails, currently all the production is sold head-on. While a number of upscale distributors carry Sun Shrimp, Pearl says most of the sales are direct to restaurants and retailers using UPS overnight service. Typical orders run in the 20-25 pound range, he says. Marketing the shrimp has not been a problem—even at $13 a pound.
“Sales are going great. We’ve had a wonderful response. Chefs and retailers really like the concept of a fresh, all-natural shrimp raised in pure water without any drugs or chemicals. The only thing we use is ice. It’s just pure shrimp. People like it,” Pearl says, adding that the locally grown aspect resonates with buyers and consumers.
Although the story of shrimp farming in America is riddled with broken dreams and disgruntled investors, Pearl is confident American Mariculture has found the right formula. “We’ve been very methodical in what we’re doing. You need to make sure you have all the parts in place or you lose control. It’s easy to make mistakes in an intensive, technological operation like this. It’s hard to match what we have.”
Pearl says the company plans to grow slowly, only as fast as the market allows. “This is phase-1 and so far so good. Everything is working well. Our customers are reordering week after week and we’re getting more customers every day.”
John [Michael] Mogollon is the Vice President of American Mariculture, Inc.
Shrimp Farms on Pine Island: In a letter to the editor of the Pine Island Eagle, Phil Buchanan, a resident of St. James City, Florida, where the farm is located, said:
Land-based shrimp farms are the fastest growing industry on Pine Island. The Pine Island Plan supports agriculture, and these facilities, if properly run, will be a welcome addition to our economy. All were recently created, all are fenced and shielded from even local government inspection and all have the potential to produce serious environmental damage. We welcome new industry, but we need oversight to assure that these operations are not contributing to our present water quality crisis.
Information on the farms is sketchy: Lee County land and permit records tell us almost nothing because agricultural (including aquaculture) operations do not require county permits. All of the farms have, thus far, declined local requests for information.
Florida law (see Florida Statutes Chapter 570) requires that shrimp farms and other aquaculture operations register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs. The Certificate of Registration costs $50 and requires that the farmer agree to follow the Department’s “Best Management Practices” (BMP’s). If the farmer follows the BMP’s, the Department of Environmental Protection is prohibited from charging the farmer with environmental violations (such as the discharge of sewage or effluent) into Pine Island Sound or surface waters.
The implementing rules (see Florida Administrative Code Chapter 5L-3) do not require aquaframers “to follow the effluent treatment BMP’s” if they use “recirculation systems” or “do not discharge to waters of the state”—in those cases, they are labeled as having a “minimal impact on the surrounding environment.” Even if they do not meet those exceptions, the BMP”s for effluent treatment require only a retention, evaporation, or percolation pond or vegetated filter strip. Information: Phil Buchanan, 3861 Galt Island Avenue, St. James City, Florida 33956, USA (phone 239-283-4067, cell 239-789-6114, email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Information: Robin Pearl, American Mariculture, Inc., 9703 Stringfellow Road, St. James City, Florida 33956, USA (phone 1-954-494-3774).
Sources: 1. FishChoice.com. Sun Shrimp’s Success in Fresh and Natural. May 22, 2014. 2. Facebook. Letter to the Editor/Pine Island Eagle/Shrimp Farms on Pine Island. January 2014. 3. Corporation Wiki. American Mariculture, Inc./Overview of American Mariculture, Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. April 4, 2014. 4. Florida Department of State/Division of Corporations. American Mariculture, Inc. March 23, 2013. 5. SunShrimp.com. Picture of Farm. Website Visit on June 16, 2014.
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