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The Future of Japanese Shrimp - Is Land-Based Aquaculture the Solution?

12 August 2016

JAPAN - In June this year, Tokyo-based Nippon Suisan Kaisha, or Nissui, announced its intention to build a new land-based shrimp farm in southern Japan. The company outlined its plans in the Yomiuri Shimbun to build a farming facility for the vannamei shrimp species and sell to Japan's sushi and sashimi sectors. Bonnie Waycott reports for The Fish Site on the company's latest project, as well as the feasibility of land-based aquaculture.

Vannamei is a species of shrimp that's consumed widely in Japan. By establishing new land-based farming technology for the species, Nissui is hoping to stabilize future shrimp supplies, given the limited availability of natural shrimp resources worldwide and tighter, more strict natural resource conservation.

Around 421 million yen has been put towards building a 30,000 square-meter site in Minamikyushu City. There, Nissui aims to produce around 200 metric tonnes of vannamei a year by fiscal 2018. The shrimp will be known as Shirahime Ebi, or Snow White shrimp, and customers will be able to eat it raw or use it as a sushi or sashimi ingredient. Nissui has already developed land-based farming technology at its Oita Marine Research Center, also in southern Japan, but this latest project is its first commercial one.

Shrimp larvae from overseas will be raised using seawater and microbes. Because the microbes can cleanse the water, changing it won't be necessary, and rearing the shrimp should be much easier and more efficient. Nissui is also confident that demand will be high as the shrimp will be in a fresh condition when they are put on the market. Operations are due to begin as early as November this year with the running of three main ponds. If things go well, the company intends to expand its operations to other parts of Japan.

Another reason for Nissui's interest in land-based shrimp aquaculture is to ensure that shrimp is consumed regularly in Japan. The company is hoping to recommend various ways of preparing the species, not just by frying (which can be seen as fattening) but also by lightly sautéing in a frying pan using sauce. Nissui is aiming to further boost Japan's shrimp consumption by promoting tasty new dishes made from shrimp.

Nissui is not the only Japanese company moving into aquaculture operations on land. West Japan Railway or JR West, and a fishery research centre in Tottori Prefecture in the westernmost region of Honshu, are raising mackerel on land.

The project is possible thanks to seawater that is pumped from about 50 metres underground near the research centre. The water temperature is stable, which allows the fish to grow faster, while the risk of contamination with parasites is low. The internal organs of mackerel often contain anisakid nematode worms, but because the seawater they are cultivated in is filtered in the ground, it is hard for the parasite to infest. This means that the fish don't have to be frozen to kill the parasite and can be transported alive and fresh rather than refrigerated. JR West is aiming to expand its marketing channels and help revitalize local communities along its railway lines.

Meanwhile, a valve maker called Kitz in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo has been testing the farming of species such as red sea bream, ever since it established fish farming facilities in Nagano Prefecture, central Japan, in 2012.

A new water purification technology developed by the company is turning tap water into seawater, before purifying and circulating it in fish pools. It causes a chain of chemical reactions to convert ammonia and other molecules into nitrogen gas, while disinfecting, decolorizing and deodorizing the water in which the fish are reared. This helps decrease the risk of harmful bacteria and other agents entering the pools, while traceability is ensured and the use of chemicals can be minimized. Kitz is aiming to sell its inland aquaculture facilities in 2017 and start full-scale commercial production.

Why are land-based farms drawing attention? In the case of shrimp farming, the industry has grown considerably across the world, particularly in Asia. But its development has also led to a number of environmental problems, such as the destruction of mangrove forests for shrimp-pond construction or the deterioration of coastal environments due to waste products from shrimp farms. In light of this, promoting new technology that could minimize such impacts has become increasingly important.

As more companies and other operations bring aquaculture to land, it is hoped that land-based farming will be a sustainable solution.

Tracey Carrillo, an agronomy professor at New Mexico State University, raises shrimp in a land-based recirculating aquaculture system using a beneficial and naturally occurring bacteria called biofloc that breaks down solids in the water and recycles a harmful form of nitrogen to a neutral one.

Ms Carrillo explains that his system can control what the fish eat, what they are exposed to and their living conditions, as well as providing greater traceability.

Back in Japan, the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) has formed a research consortium with a land-based shrimp farm in Niigata Prefecture off the Sea of Japan, an aquaculture feed company and the National Research Institute of Aquaculture. The centre hopes that land-based technology in regions where shrimp farming is a major industry will contribute to the sustainability of aquaculture production and the amelioration of the environment.

Bonnie Waycott

Bonnie Waycott
Freelance journalist

Based in Tokyo, Bonnie became interested in marine life when she learned how to snorkel on the Sea of Japan coast near her mother's hometown. With a keen interest in marine conservation, fish farming and sustainable oceans, she's a freelance writer who covers diving and marine-related issues in Japan and is currently taking an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture.



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