Farm Raised Shrimp Vs. Imported - How Do I Choose?

What’s for dinner? Local shrimp or Imported, how do I choose?

After sitting down and writing out my grocery list, I drove to my local Farmers market and picked up some local produce and a jar of honey. Well, I have to admit the honey was not on the list but Mr. Hammersmith gave me a sample of honeycomb dripping with golden deliciousness. At this point, I simply could not resist grabbing a jar to take home.

Now, on to the local grocery store for my remaining ingredients that I would need for a few of the dinners I had planned for my family for the coming week. I support my local agriculture when I can. I share a whole beef with a neighbor of mine that utilizes a local farmer to care for our animal. A local chicken farmer supplies my family with all our chicken and she even grows our turkey for the holiday season. Most of the animals we consume are locally grown and in doing so I support my area’s farm community along with really showing my kids where their food comes from but……one aspect of our diet that I had never really thought of was one of my husband’s favorite meat. What is it? Well, as you can guess, shrimp. Ok, I have seen catfish raised on a farm along with other types of fresh water fish but farm raised shrimp? I mean is that really a thing? So away I went in search of farm raised shrimp.

Can shrimp be farmed?

Before moving on, let me clarify what I am pondering and that is saltwater shrimp not fresh water. Fresh water shrimp or prawns are easily grown in farm ponds and utilizes fresh water as the environment. On the other hand, saltwater shrimp requires saltwater for the growing medium. Hence production can be a bit of a challenge but very possible.

In recent years, the idea of fish farming has grown as another crop for North American farmers or to replace one that has been lost, such as tobacco. Past farmed raised saltwater shrimp was limited to coastal areas but now has branched off into the Midwest where the consumer only had one choice and that was imported saltwater shrimp. On that note, did you know that 90 percent of the shrimp that hits your table is imported? High carbon footprint was a big issue to many consumers. This had been addressed before when the demand for fresh water fish made it possible and profitable to move beyond pay-lakes to mass production of this animal crop. Many ponds on farms were turned into the container that housed this new crop. Fish were grown in large cages that were filled with fish the same age. When it comes time to harvest the crop, the farmer simply lifts up the cage to gather the fish that are the same size and age. This equates out to the marketing size of the fish that the consumer desires. As the demand for fresh water fish increased, tanks inside of old barns or building were used in place of the farm ponds and this is where the shrimp farm begins. 

How does a shrimp farm work?

While there are a few shrimp farms along the coast that utilize coastal areas for shrimp farming, such as mangroves, most shrimp farms are in enclosed structures. These building provide protection from the elements; much like a barn does for livestock. Large tanks are set up on gravel and sand or concrete that will act as the “body of water” that the shrimp will be raised in. In areas that are warm year round, a simple roof is enough cover for the tanks. For climates that do have flexible temperatures from warm to cold, a building with walls that have been insulated will be required. 

Mold and mildew is another issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to indoor shrimp farming. But a simple ventilation system is all that is required to take care of this problem.

The next requirement for shrimp farming is the cleaning of the water. In nature, the current moves the water to-and-fro bringing new food sources and removing waste. In a closed system like a tank, this must be artificially mimicked for the health of the shrimp. This cleaning of the water is handled in one of two ways. The first is the recirculating aquaculture system (RAC). In this system, water is filtered through biofilter medium that catches waste, and feed that is consumed by bacteria growing on the biofilter medium. Once the water has gone through the biofilter, it is returned to the tank. This is repeated over and over again. The only time water is added to the tank is to make up for any water that has splashed out. 

The second type of filtration system is referred to as biofloc, which describes the clumps of “floc” that can be seen floating on top of the water. In simplest form, this is food that has been created by photosynthesis breaking down unused food, and feces along with other nutrients. This system also breaks down ammonia and nitrates, which produces bacteria that host a wide assortment of fungi, algae, diatoms, protozoans, and several different types of plankton. These organisms are loosely held together by bacterial mucous. Hence, this is the creation of “floc.” While it looks very unsightly to humans, shrimp love this

Now, this biofloc technique works great in the outdoor environment where the sun shines bright but what about indoor fish farms? Since there is no natural sunlight available in the indoor fish farm, algae will not be produced. This is not an issue since the system will still work and produce brown algae only compared to systems that are exposed to natural sunlight, which produce both green and brown algae.  

What are attributes of a good shrimp farm?

Before we get to this topic, let’s take a walk down the farm lane. Farms by nature have a natural aroma that is created by the simple production of the crop. This is especially true when you are talking about animal production, such as hogs, chickens, cattle, and yes shrimp. Each animal has its own aroma and comes not only from the presence of the animal but also the waste. As an example, if you own a dog or cat you may notice a certain smell. On the other hand, if you have walked into someone’s home that has a cat and a litter box then you have experienced the second odor. This is simply animal waste. Now on to the question as to what attributes of a good shrimp farm.

Whether talking about an outdoor tank or indoor system, the first thing you will notice is the smell of fish. This is much like that smell you get when you visit an aquarium, which is one of clean water and healthy fish.

The facility of the shrimp farm should be clean. Both outdoor and indoor types of farms should be clear of trash. Due to different electrical components of a shrimp farm, it should have some type of backup system that provides power to lifesaving equipment required for this production, such as power for the aeration system.

Just like any other farm production business, records should be clear and include feeding schedules, harvesting schedules, and notes on any problems. All feed should be in sealed containers and no trace of mice or rat involvement in the feed.

Now keep in mind that the goal in any farm animal production system is to create a safe environment for man and beast. This includes reducing any stress on the animals while being respectful in their treatment and yes this includes shrimp. Believe it or not, any living organism that is under stress produces less. This is true with plants or animals. So an environment that is not stressing the animals means an increase in production.

Ok, this all sounds a bit complicated I know but keep in mind that shrimp farms are inspected just like any other type of production whose product is for human consumption.

Is farm raised shrimp bad for you?

What you may not know is that 90 percent of the shrimp that U.S. consumers eat is actually farm raised, which can be from foreign fish farms or U.S. farms. This shrimp has the same nutrimental value as wild caught shrimp. Shrimp is low in carbohydrates, and filled with nutrients for their 99 calories per 100 grams. Hence, farm raised shrimp is a great choice by which to use for your protein needs.  

Is farm raised shrimp better than wild caught?

In recent years, the idea of the food footprint has been into question. What is the food footprint? Well, it is very similar to the concept of the carbon footprint. A food footprint is the amount of energy it takes to get that particular food item to your table. This idea not only covers foreign fruits and vegetables, such as breadfruit but also foods that are out of season and artificially grown indoors. Meats and seafood have gone through the same analysis. The question is still up for debate when it comes to shipping from foreign countries and/or wild harvesting to meet the demand. But beyond the food footprint there is another way of answering this question.

In the U.S., if you live near the coast you can get shrimp right off the boat that was caught that day in the ocean or wild caught. Sometimes harvesting from the wild makes sense due to overpopulation, such as the case with deer hunting in the U.S. But, when one is talking about wild harvesting of fish, in many cases this is a different story. As the demand for shrimp has increased wild populations are being removed in record numbers and scientists have been warning for years about a possible collapse of the world oceans. A collapse that is created by overfishing but it does not have to be.

On the other hand, farm raised jumbo shrimp as the numbers have shown is really stepping up to the plate to meet the demand. In past years, foreign markets carried contain many fish farms including shrimp. The problem with this was the fact that this enterprise still had a large food footprint. Now, things are changing and farm raised shrimp are becoming more popular in the U. S. These “farms” due to new approaches of fish farming can not only be found along the coast but also in the Midwest.

Beyond the food footprint and saving the wild populations from overharvesting, the question still remains. Is farm raised shrimp better than wild caught? To answer the question, let’s take a brief look at the environment of a farm raised shrimp verses one that Mother Nature grows in the ocean.

The best example I can give on farm raised fish of any kind is that of raising a child. You as the parent or in this case the farmer must feed and care for the “child.” The goal is to nurture that “child” into adulthood. This means providing healthy food, clean water, and shelter. Now, this is what is provided when you talk about farm raised fish or in this case shrimp. The farmer cares for shrimp in the best possible way. He/she can tell you what they eat, how big they are or what stage of growth they are, and when they should be ready for harvesting. The farmer is there every step of the way from larvae to maturity.

On the other hand, wild caught shrimp are essentially raising themselves. In recent years, there have been many studies done on the health of our oceans from the perspective of how clean the water is and what has actually been dumped in our oceans. Now keep in mind that this is the wild shrimp’s home. The quality of the food that the shrimp eats is what can be found. The quality of the water is not up to the shrimp but what is or is not dumped into it. So from the angle of you are what you eat, farm raised shrimp is better compared to wild caught due to the management of the farmer.

While you may feel that farm raised shrimp and wild caught are different as night and day, they do share a common flaw beyond those we have covered. What is it? Well, the truth is the labeling. Unfortunately, both farm raised shrimp and wild caught have this vague country of origin as part of their label. No more detailed information than let’s say China, Indonesia or United States. This lack of information is not for deception by any way. The information provided is what is required and that is country of origin but this is not what you get when you buy locally farm raised shrimp. Your product simply comes from that local shrimp farm just like the bison farm down the road from where I live.

Should I buy local farm raised shrimp?

In the past, consumers that lived along the coast could get fresh shrimp off the boat or in the market but it was wild caught. Today, there are several markets that sell fresh, locally farm raised shrimp alongside other meats. As farm raised shrimp farms become more common in the Midwest, this trend will continue. But the question remains, why should you buy local farm raised shrimp?

Depending on where you live the answer can be different. Buying locally anything provides support for your local economy, which creates is passed on over and over again beyond your purchase. It also allows individuals to protect wild species for future generations. Finally, buying from local farms can give you an opportunity to see the production beyond what arrives on a ship. Due to the fact that in the U.S. these farms raised shrimp are grown in small operations, you may have the honor of seeing the farm itself and to talk to the farmer about his/her operation.  This simple but profound relationship between the farmer, the food, and the consumer can and will build that trust in our food system that has been lost.

 Why buy Sun shrimp?

Frankly, you are very lucky if you live in an area where farm raised shrimp is easily available but that is not always the case. In doing so, you may pick a product that is not the best quality but your desire for shrimp for dinner takes over the need to explore your choices. I mean, where do you go, who do you talk to, and are they speaking the truth when it comes to the quality of your shrimp. There are so many factors to consider, such as if the fish farm is clean, and is it sustainable. Well, do not worry anymore Sun shrimp is here to answer these questions.

When it comes to Sun shrimp, they are very open to their production, even if you are in the middle of the Midwest. They have created a video by which you can see their tanks and shrimp. I mean this is a breath of fresh air when it comes to animal production. Large farms typically hide the production and resist being transparent but not Sun shrimp. They explain why they call the brand Sun shrimp, which may not be that important to you but it is to me. They utilize the sun or Mother Nature’s own process in their production instead of fighting it. They also harvest daily so I know that the shrimp are constantly being monitored. Sun shrimp states that the shrimp are not treated with chemicals, fed antibiotics, and their environment is micro-plastic free. At this point, you may be going what is micro-plastic and why is this important when I select my shrimp? To answer this question, let’s just get to the point that the ocean has been used as a dumping ground for years. Now, this habit of dumping is catching up to us. This is especially true when it comes to plastic. As the waves move the trash around, the movement breaks down the plastic into micro-pieces. The fish in the ocean then eat the micro-plastic and it continues up the food chain. This plastic ends up in the flesh of the fish, which when you eat wild caught fish is a chance you take but not with Sun shrimp. Yes, a company can say anything but Sun shrimp backs up what they say with a Best Choice Rating from the Seafood Watch Program through the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The last point I would like to make as the head chef for my family is the packaging that Sun shrimp uses in their production. I have bought other brands and I do not know about you but after a long day at work the last thing I want to do is fight with food packaging. I can tell, this is not the case with Sun shrimp, which frankly from my perspective has addressed everything and more that the consumer would want.

As my kids come through the door and inquire what’s for dinner as kids do, I think tonight’s menu will be some locally farm raised shrimp that I picked up today and cook them on the grill alongside some homegrown tomatoes and zucchini. I wish I could invite you over but fortunately you too can purchase your own locally farm raised shrimp and join the local movement in your own backyard by buying some Sun shrimp.  So I have to ask you, what’s for dinner?


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