Residents of Bayside have been asking what the “long white thing” is across Copano Bay near Swan Lake.
From Bayside, the structure on the southeastern part of Copano Bay looks like an elongated igloo.
The structure is the beginning of a $50 million (including research) high-tech, state-of-the-art shrimp farm.
The igloo-like module is 1,150 feet long (about three football fields in length), 37 feet tall and 155 feet wide.
The white material over its frame is woven PCV. The module is one of many to come until Global Blue Technologies reaches its production goal: 10 million pounds of shrimp a year.
“It’s the world’s largest dome,” said Stephen White, director of operations at the farm.
The dome is also tested to withstand 130 mph winds. White said if the module is compromised, the shrimp in it would be killed.
Back up power is in place at the facility as well, in case of a power outage.
Air is blown into the enclosure creating a closed-system environment. Inside the module are eight ponds that will require eight million gallons of bay water.
“We started construction in May 2013. It will be up and running after we have two consecutive weeks of at least 75-degree weather to warm the bay, and get water warm enough to make the PLs (post larvae) happy,” said John Aquilino, one of the principle investors from Maryland.
Once the water is pumped into the module’s ponds, no more water is needed except to replace the water that evaporates.
The module has a recirculating filter that cleans the water. The technology is a guarded secret of Global Blue Technologies.
“We bring water in and never put it back. We treat it naturally – no antibiotics, chemicals or additives,” White said.
“There’s no discharge,” he added.
The farm also is above the 100-year flood plain.
White said the farm is completely environmentally friendly.
“Our priority is the health of our animals and the environment.”
In the mid 1990s, a traditional shrimp farm was constructed at the same location, but White said his shrimp farm is a closed system, nothing like the shrimp farms of old.
The old traditional system sucked in water from Copano Bay and was kept in open-air ponds. Then, after the harvest, the water was released back into the bay.
The 1990s farm also introduced an invasive species to the bay—huge Asian Tiger Shrimp, which could potentially kill off the natural species in the Gulf of Mexico.
Needless to say, after much review, the 1990s farm was shut down.
The new 21st century closed-system farm will grow a Pacific white shrimp species—Penaeus vannamel—also know as Whiteleg shrimp, from the western coast of the Americas.
“We have a no-discharge permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and we work closely with Texas Parks & Wildlife. We’re totally permitted, and we do everything by the book,” White said.
The farm does have an exotic species permit.
“Although the species we raise is not native to this specific area, it is considered an approved animal for culture by the different regulatory agencies and does require this permit. But, they are not considered invasive,” Aquilino said.
The farm’s closed system also prevents contamination in any way, including the introduction of the white shrimp into the bay.
The entrance to the module is right out of science fiction. One enters an air lock. After going through the first door and it is closed, then the second door opens to an entrance inside the module, which is cavern-like with its eight ponds.
When harvest time comes, the shrimp are removed through a closed system.
The farm is funded entirely by private U.S. investment. The number of investors was not known.
After 13 years, $50 million of research and development funds are being put to use.
Once the modules have been constructed and the farm is completed, the facility will have 60 employees.
White said the farm is “Texas grown and Texas owned.”
Most of the personnel are from Texas and come from different walks of life.
White, besides having expertise in business, was a chef at Hunter’s Inn in Maryland.
Others on the team have expertise in marketing, business management, finance, water quality, biology, chemistry, aquaculture, farming and farm management.
John Harvin, who has a degree from Texas A&M University, is an aquaculurist.
His son, Nick Harvin, is the farm’s production manager.
Joshua Moeckel is the water quality manager, and there are many more from Texas.
Jason Shanahan, production supervisor, spent eight years in Iraq.
“We’re all about hiring locally, and we are pro-veteran. Veterans have put themselves out on the line for us, and they are hard workers,” White said.
The crew is currently spending long hours at the facility. Of course, the ultimate goal is to create a worldwide industry originating in the United States.
Work continues on the module, and the beginnings of a second module has begun.
White said the colossal shrimp that the farm grows has tremendous flavor and is rated as Suschi-grade shrimp.
A Japanese restaurant group—TKS—and its corporate chef, Chef Nojiri, from Okinawa labeled the shrimp as Sushi-grade shrimp, meaning it has lots of flavor and can be eaten raw.
“It is a viable shrimp for any kind of cooking,” White said.
“One of our goals is to create a legitimate, competitive aquaculture industry in the United States,” Aquilino said.
“We want to feed the world,” White said.