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September 30, 2015

Canada

First Ontario Shrimp—And Planet Shrimp!

   

Paul Cocchio’s introduction to inland shrimp farming did not go well.  There is no manual, after all, for converting a rural Ontario hog barn into a tropical saltwater shrimp farm—nobody had ever tried it before him.  Cocchio, who spent most of his life raising pigs and dairy cows could barely keep the tiny things alive.  They got sucked into water pumps.  They got wiped out from over and underfeeding.  A few grams of food either way spelled certain doom.  Last winter, his hot water heaters all gave out.

 

After years of planning and construction—not to mention the two years it took to have Pacific white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) added to the list of species that can be legally farmed in Ontario, Canada—the 49-year-old farmer nearly gave up.  “When you’re putting 12,000 shrimp in one of those starter tanks and getting only 500 of them to survive, that’s not great,” he said.

 

But on a sunny afternoon in September, as his son—and business partner—Brad, swished a net through one of the barn’s ponds, it filled with glistening, fighting, fully-grown shrimp.  Cocchio looked like a man who’d discovered the tip of a diamond seam in his backyard.

 

The pair’s pioneering operation, aptly named, “First Ontario Shrimp” (the first shrimp farm in the Ontario), now spins out the most sublimely fresh and delicate-tasting jumbo shrimp ever served in this province.  The tiny project provides a taste of a future that seafood lovers and many conservationists have long imagined: one in which maritime species can be raised indoors in otherwise landlocked regions, in zero-discharge aquaculture farms within a couple hours’ drive of major markets.

 

Cocchios’ hog barn is divided into 16 concrete tanks, each with its own specialized pump and precisely calibrated water biology.  The Cocchios don’t use antibiotics or chemical additives, only salt and a bacterial starter to encourage the growth of shrimp-friendly algae, which consume waste and grow into valuable food.  They get 20,000 postlarval shrimp every two weeks, couriered overnight from a hatchery in Florida, USA.  It takes 17 weeks to grow them to full size.  They’ve got far more demand for their shrimp at the moment than supply, though they expect their own production to quadruple in the next few months, to 400 pounds weekly.

 

But the family still has two empty hog barns.  The other weekend, Cocchio said, a couple of strangers drove out to Campbellford and offered to put up the money to convert those into shrimp farms, too.  “It’d be a lot cheaper than this barn, because we wouldn’t make all the mistakes,” he said.  The thing is, Cocchio says he isn’t interested in working with outside investors.  He’s beginning to discover what a good thing he’s got.

 

 

Planet Shrimp

 

First Ontario is only the beginning of a central Canadian shrimp bonanza.  A few hours southwest of Campbellford, in a former Imperial Tobacco plant in Aylmer, Ontario, construction is set to begin on a state-of-the-art, 65,000 square-foot operation called Planet Shrimp (check out the video on its website!).  The facility’s first phase, slated to open late this year and begin shipping by April 2016, has the capacity to produce some 400,000 pounds of top-quality shrimp annually.

 

Planet Shrimp has hired expert aquaculture consultants from the southern United States to guide its operations.  They’ve also brought in structural engineers and architects to develop a proprietary system that will stack the shrimp ponds seven or eight high, to maximize productivity.  Company founder Marvyn Budd said, “We’ll harvest at 10 o’clock at night, put it on our trucks at 2 o’clock in the morning, it’ll be on the distributors’ docks at 3 o’clock and in the restaurants by noon,” he added.  “It’s fresh, man.  Fresh.” 

 

“The Cocchios are the pioneers, the innovators – they started this,” said Steve Naylor, aquaculture specialist with Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.  “Planet Shrimp is moving the scale up by literally 50 to 100 times.  If Planet Shrimp is successful, it’s going to make a huge difference in the way that shrimp are grown in temperate climates.”

 

Information: Marvyn Budd, Planet Shrimp, 516 John St. North, Unit 11-D, Aylmer, Ontario, Canada N5H 2B8 (phone +1-647-345-1181, toll free 1-888-316-8188, email info@planetshrimp.com, webpage http://www.planetshrimp.com).

 

 

Information: Paul Cocchio, First Ontario Shrimp, 266 2nd Line East, Campbellford, Ontario, Canada K0L 1L0 (phone 705-653-3365, email firstontarioshrimp@outlook.com, webpage http://firstontarioshrimp.com/index.php).

 

Sources: 1. The Globe and Mail.  Meet the Father-Son Farmer Duo Revolutionizing Ontario’s Shrimp Business.  Chris Nuttall-Smith.  Photos by Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail.  September 29, 2015.  2. First Ontario’s Webpage.  Website Visit on September 30, 2015.  3.  Planet Shrimp’s Website.  Website Visit on September 29, 2015.

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