A new, urban shrimp farm in the Washington neighborhood, TransparentSea Farm, is projected to begin construction in spring 2020 and begin providing Long Beach and the surrounding area with organic, environmentally sustainable shrimp grown indoors sometime in summer 2020.
TransparentSea’s founder, Steve Sutton, told the Signal Tribune that his urban shrimp farm will give those living in Los Angeles County an alternative to shrimp imported from overseas, which currently accounts for over 90% of shrimp available in American markets.
“Unfortunately, the distribution chain is very unclear. The average piece of seafood changes hands seven to eight times before it hits your plate in the United States,” Sutton said. “Over 90% of shrimp is imported. And most of that’s from Asia, some of its from South America. We have no traceability or transparency into that, and I don’t want to be the guy who says ‘the whole industry is problematic, you have to buy our product,’ but we really will be the only product that is guaranteed to be good for your health, and [to] have very minimal impact on the environment. […]. So we’re talking less than 1% of the carbon footprint that these farms have because we’re not shipping it from India or China or Indonesia. We are shipping it only to Southern California.”
Sutton also told the Signal Tribune that there are potential ethical issues involved in the foreign labor currently used by the shrimp industry in which many third world workers are exploited and underpaid.
“We have really poor farmers all around the world, and people in the middle of the distribution channel are making money,” Sutton said. “But the farmers don’t make much money, the fishermen don’t make much money, because when you and I sit down or you and I go to the grocery store, we don’t know the difference, we have no way to know which shrimp is better or worse for the environment, which is better or worse for us.”
The shrimp grown in the filtered recycled salt water that Sutton will use for TransparentSea Farm differ in pigmentation from those normally found in grocery stores, appearing darker when raw and redder when cooked. According to Sutton, this is because most shrimp are grown in ponds of brown bioflocculant water that contain healthy microorganisms. While Sutton said that there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with growing shrimp in bioflocculant water, the clear purified salt water used at TransparentSea Farm will give him more precise control over the shrimp rearing process. His use of recirculated salt water also ensure that shrimp raised at the urban farm will be unaffected by ocean pollution.
The same recycled water used to cultivate the shrimp will also be used to grow a line of organic seaweed TransparentSea Farm will be selling. The seaweed will also draw carbon dioxide out of the water, leaving oxygen for the shrimp.
“It’s similar to what we learn in elementary school when we say ‘Oh trees are important because they take our carbon dioxide and they produce oxygen for us.’ We have a cycle. Same thing happens in the ocean, we’re just reproducing it on land,” Sutton said.
Sutton has worked in the aquaculture industry for nearly a decade, earning a Masters of Aquaculture from the University of Miami and holding positions in hatcheries as well as fish and shrimp farms in Brazil, Thailand, Chile, Panama and more.
TransparentSea Farm is still in the process of receiving all its permits from the City, but Sutton hopes that, besides being just a business, the urban shrimp farm can eventually open itself up to the community to host educational events that share the benefits of sustainable shrimp farming. He also plans to have educational videos and displays set up when TransparentSea Farm goes to farmers’ markets in order to teach the community about sustainable seafood.
“It is literally just shrimp grown in the way nature grows it” Sutton said. “We just simulate it and we try to do what nature does, within reason.”