GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shaun Moss, left, and Bruce Anderson stand over the shrimp production system at the Oceanic Institute at Makapuu.
Shrimp farm pays off
The Oceanic Institute lost millions in federal funding last year in the controversy over the congressional practice of earmarking funds for projects, but it will receive $3.1 million in earmarked federal money this fiscal year.
The funds support the U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program, a consortium of seven institutions led by the Makapuu research facility to develop a competitive domestic shrimp farming industry.
Two decades of steady funding have allowed the institute to develop a disease-free shrimp breeding program, said Oceanic President Bruce Anderson.
The program received $4.1 million in earmarked federal funds in fiscal 2006 but was one of the casualties of the move to eliminate earmarks last year, he said.
"One of the things earmarks allow is continued research over many years like shrimp breeding, which takes years to develop new lines of shrimp -- in our case, 20 years," Anderson said. "We have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in the shrimp breeding program. It is known throughout the world as the premier shrimp breeding program today."
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shrimp raised at the Oceanic Institute at Makapuu are fertilized by hand. A male shrimp is gently squeezed, and its spermatozoa is then transferred to the female.
Aquaculture programs have taken on new importance as ocean stocks continue to decline due to overfishing and environmental degradation.
Most shrimp imported for isle consumers from Asia have "genetic roots" at the Oceanic Institute, Anderson pointed out.
Such a program cannot be sustained for years with competitive grants, and federal agencies have their own priorities, he said, adding that funding for the shrimp project would not be possible without support from Hawaii's congressional delegation.
He said the institute was able to keep the program going through sales of shrimp brood stock to overseas clients. "We were not able to raise as much as we previously had, but at least were able to keep the lights on and the shrimp alive."
An affiliate of Hawaii Pacific University, the Oceanic Institute will receive about $1.3 million of this year's federal allocation. The rest will be shared by mainland partners, each working on a different aspect of the program.
Shrimp is the No. 1 sea product consumed by Americans, at 1.4 billion pounds annually, and most of it is imported, said Tony Ostrowski, director of the Marine Shrimp Farming Program and institute vice president.
The program's goal is to support a domestic industry that will help offset a $3.7 billion trade imbalance for shrimp, as well as address eating habits and safety concerns of health-conscious American consumers, he said.
"We can't compete head-on with lower cost production overseas, but we can produce a high-quality fresh product in the U.S.," Ostrowski said.
Success requires developing advanced selective breeding techniques, disease management control methods and intensive production systems that are biologically sustainable, he said.
The institute owns the most genetically diverse population of shrimp, and "all shrimp are pedigrees so we know who is related to whom," said Shaun Moss, director of the institute's shrimp department.
"We are able to improve the animal genetically while minimizing inbreeding, and we take the best animals from the diverse population and make them available to the U.S. industry," Moss said.
Over the past two years, he said, the institute has sold or distributed about 2 million post-larvae shrimp (about 30 days old) to U.S. companies, universities, high schools and research institutions.
U.S. brood stock suppliers buy the baby shrimp and raise them as brood stock for sale, he said. "They're used to produce millions of baby shrimp stocked in ponds in Asia and Latin America and grown and sold back to the U.S."
The cycle has created a multimillion-dollar brood stock industry in Hawaii, Moss said.
He said the institute is working toward what it calls a "grow-out technology package," developing completely enclosed, or "biosecure," shrimp production systems that can be located inland near big markets. "That technology coupled with genetic stocks, we think, can fuel a domestic production industry."
In a trial, the institute produced 8,000 pounds of shrimp in a pond less than one-fourth of an acre, Anderson said. "This is almost 10 times what is normally produced in a shrimp farm. Obviously, that cuts down on costs."
The projected cost was $1.66 a pound, compared to a wholesale market price of $2 a pound, "which starts to look very attractive even to U.S. shrimp growers," Anderson added.
The Oceanic Institute's partners in the U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program are the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, University of Southern Mississippi; Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Texas A&M University; University of Arizona; Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Massachusetts; the Waddell Mariculture Center, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; and Nicholls State University, Louisiana.