By Heather Sadusky
About three hours south of Houston, Texas is a little town called Taft, where “Gulf shrimp” is taking on new meaning. The nearby Copano Bay is a natural nursery for wild Gulf shrimp, and provides the water for a shrimp farming operation. But that’s where the extraction of natural resources stops.
The Copano Blues shrimp farm touts a state of the art Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS), enabling the facility to filter and reuse their own water. While Copano Bay provided the initial water, the farm is able to endlessly recirculate and has no need to discharge used water back into the bay. Pacific white shrimp are raised in the hatchery and the brood stock–the strongest, healthiest adults used in spawning—is sold worldwide.
The company also grows its own algae and bacteria used to increase the health of the shrimp at various life stages. Bacteria acts as a probiotic for the shrimp’s gut health, and another variety of bacteria eats waste produced by the shrimp. Much of the remaining effluent in the pond is broken down into harmless nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen gasses, which are then removed from the water in the massive onsite bio-filtration system.
While Copano Blues dismisses the idea of paying for certifications, the shrimp are as sustainable as can be. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch rating system recognizes indoor RAS shrimp operations as green-rated, the best choice, as are all US-farmed shrimp. Copano Blues is under a parent company that requires no antibiotics, no growth hormones, and no chemicals. The RAS nature of the Copano Blues facility means the farm does not discharge any water into local estuaries, and the company makes sure to harm no animals – going as far as to relocate rattlesnakes during construction.
This high-tech recirculation system allows their shrimp to grow faster and larger than traditional pond shrimp, according to a spokesperson. The Pacific white shrimp (species Penaeus vannamei) at Copano Blues have a texture akin to black tiger shrimp due to the healthy conditions. They have a light bluish tint and a clean, sweet flavor. A sister company of Copano Blues, Sea Products Development, is currently working on naturally selecting for the healthiest and most productive white shrimp brood stock and post larvae.
In other parts of the world, shrimp aquaculture is a culprit for negative effects on the environment, largely due to the dumping of waste. Copano Blues is a prime example of the improvements that can be made through technology, and a successful case of American aquaculture.
Take a virtual tour of Copano Blues and see the shrimp farming process: