Recently, shrimp surpassed tuna as the most-consumed seafood in the United States. Most of the shrimp Americans eat is produced in Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and Brazil. Russ Allen wants to change that. He’s opened one of the world’s few indoor shrimp farms in the Midwest. Allen says his operation meets an obvious market demand, is good for the environment, and presents a new economic opportunity for the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Recently, shrimp surpassed tuna as the most-consumed seafood in the
United States. Most of the shrimp Americans eat is produced in
Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and Brazil. Russ Allen wants to change
that. He’s opened one of the world’s few indoor shrimp farms in the
Midwest. Allen says his operation meets an obvious market demand, is
good for the environment, and presents a new economic opportunity for
the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
In a big blue barn in Russ Allen’s backyard, there are thousands of
shrimp… beady-eyed, bacteria-munching, bottom-feeders.
Here, the life cycle of the shrimp starts in the breeding center, where
two big tanks of water mimic a place 150 feet deep off the shore of the
ocean where the water quality and temperature are stable. Allen says
it’s the perfect environment for shrimp to mate.
“Like in just about all animals the male chases the female, and they do a
little courtship dance, and then the male will deposit a spermatophore on
the female and when she spawns, the eggs pass through the
spermatophore, are fertilized and then go out into the water.”
A few months later, the shrimp end up in the production room where all
they do is eat, and sometimes, if they get excited or spooked, they jump
right out of their tanks.
“They don’t like light…”
“Oh (laughing)! Do you ever have them hit you as you’re standing
“Oh yeah, that’s why we have the nets up so they don’t jump.”
Russ Allen has been farming shrimp for three decades. He started in
Ecuador, and then went to Belize, where he started the country’s first
Allen and his wife moved back to Michigan in 1990, when he started
designing his indoor shrimp farm. It finally opened for business about a
year ago, and now, he’s selling all the shrimp he produces.
(Sound of shrimp market)
Allen says his indoor shrimp farm is one of the first of its kind in the
world. There’s no waste leaving his farm, so pollution’s not an issue,
and because there’s no water coming in or going out, there’s no danger
of introducing diseases into his system.
Allen says an indoor farm also moves shrimp farming away from fragile
coastal ecosystems. That’s where most of the industry has developed
around the world.
“In a place like the United States with all the development on the
coastline and land costs, you can’t really do it anywhere near the ocean
anyway. So, if you’re going to have a viable shrimp farming system in
the United States, you need to move it away from – you know – these coastal areas.”
But indoor farms haven’t always been a viable option, either.
In the 1980s, a handful of them opened in the U.S., including a big one in
Chicago. They all failed because the technology didn’t work quite right,
and because the cost of production made them unable to compete with
Bill More is a shrimp farming consultant and vice president of the
Aquaculture Certification Council. He says now, indoor shrimp farmers
have a better chance of making a go of it.
“Coming from third-world countries, there’s been a lot of issues with
illegal antibiotics being found in shrimp. There’s been environmental
and social issues that environmentalists have come down hard upon. It’s
sort of prompted the opportunity for a good indoor system where
you could manage those and you didn’t challenge the environment.”
But More says creating and maintaining a clean, organic indoor shrimp
farm is still very expensive, and it seems an even bigger problem now
that the price of shrimp is the lowest it’s been in a decade.
Shrimp farmer Russ Allen says he’s invested several million dollars in
his business. He’s the only guy in the game right now, which he
admits is good for business, but he doesn’t want it that way. He says
he’d like to see the industry grow in Michigan, and throughout the
“In order to do that the government has got to be a partner in this, and
that has been the challenge… that when you don’t have an industry, you
don’t have lobbyists and nobody listens to you and you can’t get an
industry until they do listen to you. So, that’s been our real challenge
Allen says he wants the government to offer tax breaks and other
financial assistance to the aquaculture industry like it does to other
sectors of the economy, but he says he can’t even get some local elected
officials to come and see his shrimp farm. He says with so many
companies moving jobs and factories overseas, he thinks government
leaders should be looking for ways to help new and perhaps
unconventional industries like his, grow.
For the GLRC, I’m Erin Toner.