Multinational food manufacturer Findus has committed to meet all of its shrimp supply needs in Sweden from a sustainable start-up company named Vegafish.
Vegafish uses a 'biofloc' method, where microorganisms introduced to a shrimp pond digest shrimp excrement, and are in turn ingested as a protein feed source for the shrimps. This food source removes the need for fishmeal, which is often wasted, leading to deterioration of water quality. Furthermore, biofloc ponds can rear 10 to 40 times more than conventional shrimp farming.
Vegafish’s operations are based in Bjuv, Sweden, where a facility is nearing completion at the end of July. Excess heat from Findus’s local factories is redirected towards this facility in a closed loop system, which also uses robotic monitoring to control heat to optimise growing conditions in the shrimp ponds. The presence of microorganisms makes the biofloc production process self-cleansing and disease-resistant. There is zero water exchange from the plant, and also no flushing of nitrate-laden organic waste into the environment. Locally sourced agricultural by-products and surplus garden peas produced by Findus in Bjuv are used to supplement the shrimp feed. Production is planned to start in autumn and the harvested shrimp product will be organic and antibiotic-free.
The relationship between Findus and Vegafish is one of the first partnerships between a multinational food manufacturer and biofloc shrimp producer; another example is the Vietnamese Minh Phu Seafood Corp. This project is currently exclusive to Sweden, but there is growing international attention from several buyers in 22 countries, including The Philippines, China, India, and about 10 different countries in Africa. This has provided Vegafish with the incentive to open several more facilities, nationally and internationally.
Speaking about the future of its shrimp projects, the CEO of Vegafish, Matilda Olstorpe, has remarked “we should have several production plants close to the market, so fresh shrimp can be distributed directly to customers”.
For some years, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation has been lobbying against the use of imported king shrimps due to their environmental impact. Illegal shrimp farming can contribute to loss of mangroves in tropical and subtropical nations. It is also associated with the use of antibiotics and harmful preservative chemicals. This has led to many Swedish restaurants and retailers no longer selling shrimp products.
There is also impetus for producers to switch to the biofloc method, as conventional production has led to early mortality syndrome (EMS), which is a fatal bacterial disease affecting shrimp in Southeast Asia. Yearly losses in Asia can amount to $1 billion equivalent, according to University of Arizona research.
Constraints to this production method include high initial costs and the need for continual maintenance to create stable environmental conditions in the shrimp ponds – for instance, keeping the carbon/nitrogen ratio at optimum. For now, these raise questions about the profitability and competitive value of the product. However, the interest shown indicates its potential to become successful in Sweden: where will the first followers be?
Interview with Matilda Olstorpe by email, conducted by Gillian Phair for the Futures Centre on 16th June 2015
SVT (2015, March 27) Jätteräkor matas med ärtor
Shrimp News International (2014, December 3) Sweden: Findus and Vegafish Start Shrimp Farming Project
Shrimp News International (2006, October 1) Meet the flockers