Growing Shrimp is Big Business
In the suburbs of Lansing, MI, far from the Pacific coast, there is a huge tank of salt water filled with many small creatures. Watching this tank, it is not uncommon to see a live shrimp flip into the air. But Andrew Wesolek just shrugs it off. He has seen startled shrimp before. “Yeah, they like to jump,” he notes.
In the suburbs of Lansing, MI, far from the Pacific coast, there is a huge tank of salt water filled with many small creatures. Watching this tank, it is not uncommon to see a live shrimp flip into the air. But Andrew Wesolek just shrugs it off. He has seen startled shrimp before. “Yeah, they like to jump,” he notes. Wesolek oversees operations at Seafood Systems Inc., in Okemos MI, one of America’s first indoor shrimp farms.
The plant is a pilot aquaculture R&D facility designed by company founder and president Russ Allen, a veteran shrimp farmer. He transformed Belize and Ecuador from shrimp niche players to powerhouses. After dotting Central America’s coasts with shrimp farms, the Michigan native returned home to raise a family and show that shrimp can grow just about anywhere.
A Wago PLC has been programmed with a tailored shrimp feed curve that disperses food based upon variables such as stock in tank and growth state. Source: SSI
He transformed a pole-barn into the ideal space to grow, breed, and harvest 10-limbed crustaceans. “We hope to revolutionize shrimp farming,” Wesolek adds. “The goal is to eventually produce 5 million pounds of shrimp per year out of a new, larger facility.”
Most farmed shrimp consumed in the U.S. come from Pacific-rim nations and Central America, so there is a desire to develop domestic supplies.
10 legs, big appetites
Keeping the stock of Pacific white shrimp fed is a labor-intensive process that has to be repeated several times daily. “I used to manually feed them at least three times a day—every day,” Wesolek said.
And the amount has to be just right. Excess feed degrades water quality, but underfed shrimp mature slowly, taking them longer to become high-value deep-fried jumbo shrimp. Wesolek took on the task of creating an automated feeding process using a distributed control system. He wanted something sophisticated enough to do the job right, but was easy to program because he would be doing the work himself.
After looking at a range of possibilities, Wesolek settled on a Wago 750-841 Programmable Fieldbus Controller with supporting digital output modules, relays, and power supply. “I reviewed other companies’ products, but Wago provided a lot of features for the price,” he said. “We needed something that would be easy to install, wire, and program. Wago provided that.”
The system disperses feed at predetermined intervals. Wesolek programmed the PLC with a feed curve to optimize shrimp growth and health. The system uses tank-specific input data, such as growth stage and amount of stock, to disperse precise amounts. All the data is available on a local HMI, plus an FTP client automatically backs up pertinent tank data on a local computer running an FTP server. The PLC can also send a message to the operator’s cell phone if an error halts the system.
The final product: Shrimp ready for processing and your dinner. Source: SSI
Scaling up production
SSI is already looking for ways to expand the system’s capabilities. For instance, naturally occurring bacteria will consume excess feed, but they cause oxygen level and water quality degradation, impairing stock growth and well-being. SSI is calibrating the system to monitor tank properties closely, such as oxygen and pH levels, ensuring stock health and growth. SSI sees this automation as key to building a large-scale commercial facility capable of processing 5 million pounds of shrimp annually. Allen hopes his innovations will benefit the fledgling U.S. shrimp farming sector and general aquaculture.
“We’ve developed this so we can also sell it to others in the future, because it has pretty unique capabilities,” says Wesolek. “It also works with fish and large outdoor ponds. It’s scalable on many levels. We can feed a large amount to just one tank or pond, or feed many tanks all with the same system.”
SSI gets direct consumer feedback, because it maintains an on-site outlet. Wesolek enjoys the positive response from the customers: “People think it’s cool and are impressed that we are actually farming shrimp,” he says. “They see it as new and innovative. Most people also really like that our product is locally grown because they know where it comes from.”
Paul Garcia is creative/technical writer for Wago Corporation. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .