Dutch firm puts ‘green’ shrimp on the menu

16th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

In a happy marriage between gastronomy and sustainable development, two savvy Dutchmen have devised a way to tap waste heat from a power plant to raise tropical shrimp for the food market.

Litopenaeus vannamei:
The Pacific white shrimp
Photo: by Maartje Blijdens

The year-old business is nestled next to a dune at the foot of the huge Eon power plant on the otherwise uninspiring industrial park at Rotterdam's port, known as the Maasvlakte. With only imposing factories and chemical plants, it seems an unlikely site for a place called the Happy Shrimp Farm.

"We installed a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) pipeline to the power plant and we recover the residual heat from the industrial process, not the cooling water because that is not warm enough," said Gilbert Curtessi.

In an immense hangar, where sunlight filters through a white roof covering, sit 24 basins filled with sea water for the Pacific white shrimp, or Litopenaeus vannamei - billed as the species of choice for shrimp farming that has had great success elsewhere, notably Ecuador. The adult jumbo variety can grow to a meaty 10 centimetres (four inches).

The sea water, warmed by a complicated system fed by waste heat from the energy plant, is kept at 29 degrees C (84.2 degrees F), the ideal temperature for the creatures native to tropical seas.

Curtessi and his business partner Bas Greiner, both energy conservation specialists, hope to sell a first symbolic batch, a modest kilo (2.2 pounds) of shrimp, in September at a special auction - as the Dutch traditionally do at the start of the season for another delicacy, their beloved herring.

He says the farm will be the only firm in northern Europe that can deliver fresh tropical shrimp - they will not freeze, which affects flavour - so he forecasts no problem in selling the 60 tonnes they hope to produce annually.

The Dutch Agricultural Economic Institute said most shrimp in the Netherlands is now imported from Asia, often frozen, and Curtessi said restaurant owners are already awaiting his product.

But "what is really innovative is not really the shrimps but our approach," he said.

Everything is done in the spirit of sustainable development: special bacteria is used to break down the ammonia in the shrimps' excreta to a less environmentally harmful substance; the fresh water supply comes from recovered rain water, and the shrimp are fed with algae and other natural products like soja, corn and starch.
Worldwide consumer taste for shrimp has soared and "there is simply not enough shrimp to meet global demand," according to the website of the environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

The result has been more shrimp farming, mainly in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America. But these "increasing levels of shrimp farming are unsustainable because of the devastation it causes to tropical coastal regions," through inappropriate land clearing and use of pollutants, Greenpeace said.

"As this demand is increasing year after year, huge expanses of tropical coastlines are threatened, together with a lot of coastal communities," the website said.
With a start-up investment of 2.5 million euros (3.4 million dollars), the Happy Shrimp Farm - which is supported by the Dutch ministries of agriculture and economic affairs and the Port of Rotterdam - is only the first stroke in a larger picture of sustainable development.

At the shrimp farm in Rotterdam
Photo: by Maartje Blijdenstein (AFP)

"Our objective is to set up another 20 shrimp farms worldwide in the next five years," said Curtessi, who added he already had contacts in Germany, the United States and Canada.

"We need big cities where you can find both residual industrial heat and a consumer market for fresh shrimp," he said.

And they are not limiting themselves to shrimp. This month, the Rotterdam farm will start a trial to raise edible algae in water from the shrimp tanks.
Curtessi said they will start with two varieties, glasswort and sea lavender, both used in Dutch cuisine to accompany fish dishes. More a delicacy than an everyday "veggie," they will be marketed to upscale restaurants.

"We could grow them all year and deliver the algae to restaurants with the roots attached, which will guarantee that they are fresh," Curtessi said.

16 August 2007

[Copyright Expatica + AFP]

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