Aquaculture Provides New Revenue, Food Security

Sometimes opportunity doesn’t knock—it swims.

Jackson Kimle, a graduate of Iowa State University, decided to enter the aquaculture industry to take advantage of the profitable and environmentally sustainable opportunities it offers. After pursuing experiences in the seafood and restaurant industry, Kimle developed a novel approach to raise fresh shrimp in Iowa using a water recirculation system.

In 2016, aquaculture operations produced 4 million pounds of shrimp in the U.S., while importing 603,986 tons that same year. Among all the species Kimle could have used in modeling his aquaculture facility, from tilapia to clams, he chose to enter the shrimp market due to the high market value it brings.

“Tilapia is a highly tolerant species to lower oxygen and higher ammonia, but the price point [you receive for them] is much lower,” Kimle says. “Shrimp brings a higher price.”

Behind salmon, crabs and lobsters, shrimp are fourth on the list of the highest-valued species at $531 million produced every year.

“I see [aquaculture] as the next billion-dollar industry for the state of Iowa,” Kimle says.

Research shows aquaculture has grown faster than any other major food sector, including many forms of conventional livestock.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) projects aquaculture production in the United States will grow 11.4 percent by 2030, increasing from 444,000 tons in 2016 to 495,000 tons in 2030. From 1976 to 2016, the value of global fish exports grew from $8 billion to $143 billion.

The U.S. is the largest importer of seafood in the world, importing more than 90% of seafood consumed in the country, according to UNFAO. That strong reliance on sourcing from abroad offers promising opportunities for farmers.

Generating Lots of Green...and Not Just Cash

The technology used to power many aquaculture systems supports the environment.

The advanced technology designed to optimize fish production is simultaneously regulating harmful nutrients created during production.

On Kimle’s operation, he uses an algae-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), a method that reuses wastewater while filtering out unwanted particles and nutrients. Just as with conventional livestock and crop production, phosphorus and nitrogen are problematic in aquaculture.

Algae can both capture and treat nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide in a single process. This prevents the need to dispose of contaminated wastewater that would otherwise jeopardize the cleanliness of water bodies.

In addition to RAS, Kimle also uses revolving algal biofilm (RAB) technology that grows algae on vertical conveyor belts and filters it through a nutrient solution. The conveyor belt design serves to make harvesting the algae easier. RAB allows Kimle to grow large volumes of algae using a low amount of inputs.

He also hosts visitors at his facility. In doing this, Kimle aims to showcase how to implement RAS and RAB systems at a commercial scale, while producing shrimp as a food source and algae as an environmentally useful byproduct.

Eventually, Kimle plans to secure a site for a demonstration facility that will produce 40 tons of shrimp on a regular basis. The site will expand into a contract growing system in Iowa and serve to meet the growing demand for shrimp.

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