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Just as you may grow corn or other crops, you may grow shrimp. But how shrimp are cultivated has changed over the years to a more sustainable model, those super-intensive farming operations that use less land, water and other resources to grow these sea creatures, according to the Korea-based West Sea Mariculture Research Center.
The cultivation of shrimp for commercial sale started in the 1950s and experienced a boom in the early 1980s, according to aquaculture farming consultants AquaSol. From the start, the production method of choice was semi-intensive operations—which use large amounts of land for ponds and nurseries where shrimp develop. Water is continuously drained and redistributed again, which puts a strain on this resource. Super-intensive farming evolved as a means of using smaller tracts of land whereby water was recirculated, as opposed to drained and replenished.
Super-intensive operations are often referred to as “raceway” systems, as they resemble racing strips—far longer than they are wide. These nurseries for nurturing shrimp until they may be harvested are enclosed and covered like greenhouses, according to U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program. These structures are also equipped with systems whereby water is filtered and recirculated, doing away with the need to dump out old water and replace it with fresh, according to WSMRC. The density of the shrimp populations in super-intensive systems means that water quality must be monitored carefully.
If you are a semi-intensive shrimp farmer, you may have encountered diseases that killed off or impaired the quality of the shrimp you produced, according to AquaSol. In fact, it was two serious disease outbreaks that prompted those in the aquaculture community to look for a better way to sustain healthy shrimp. Through technological advancements such as recirculating systems, and enhanced monitoring of temperatures in greenhouse raceway nurseries, super-intensive systems have slashed the frequency of viral and bacterial diseases, like white spot syndrome virus, according to AquaSol.
It will cost to upgrade a semi-intensive system, but WSMRC reports you’ll also yield a larger, healthier harvest of shrimp. In addition, according to USMSFP, adding stock that grows faster than average can offset some of the costs associated with technological improvements, as these shrimp will be harvested more quickly than other strains.
In the past you had to be located in more rural areas to sustain the big farms needed for semi-intensive operations. Because super-intensive operations don’t require as many natural resources to keep them going, you can now start a farm near a big city or even inland, away from access to seas, according to AquaSol. This has opened up the market for additional food supplies in urban areas.
Since 2000 reporting and writing has taken Michelle Leach to Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, D.C., Chicago, London and Sydney, Australia. Her stories have appeared in various media outlets including NBC's "The Today Show," Reuters, Chicagoland dailies and network affiliates across the United States. Leach has a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor's degree in journalism/politics from Lake Forest College.