According to a souvenir t-shirt you got as a kid, life’s a beach. Turns out the tee was wrong, at least when it comes to shrimp. Americans now consume 1.2 billion pounds of shrimp each year, with the hazards of the harvest destroying our oceans’ ecosystems. Environmentalists call it “meals of mass destruction.” Jean Claude Frajmund, a Brazilian with French parents, helms Eco Shrimp Garden, a business he created to give us far better underwater options. His daily catch of shrimp raised in healthy, sustainable bio-system tanks are the product of New York State’s first indoor shrimp farm.
A warehouse on Liberty Street in urban Newburgh is an unlikely site for a shrimp farm that produces tantalizingly fresh shrimp free of chemicals, antibiotics and hormones traditionally associated with shrimp farms. Eco Shrimp Garden also minimizes the ecological impact—there’s no by-catch killing sea turtles, marine mammals or ocean birds in the process, as with wild caught shrimp trawling. And no destruction of mangrove trees, as with shrimp pond farming, which is a pretty fishy business also tied to the use of antibiotics, hormones, borax (to keep them pink) and phosphates to prevent drying out during shipping, with waste, uneaten food and bacteria created as infectious byproducts.
While Frajmund had the vision, found the technology and had a host of us anxious to purchase fresh (never frozen) farm-to-table shrimp with a low carbon footprint, he lacked the capital to go the distance. A small business loan of $144,000 from Community Capital New York enabled him to nearly double his shrimp tanks from 16 to 29, increase the number of employees from 1.5 to five and bring his output to 200,000 shrimp, beginning to start to satisfy the hunger for his cleanly-raised crustaceans. Part of the Million for Main Street Fund, Community Capital’s financing, coupled with business management support, have made it possible for Jean Claude’s bio-flock system to takeover another entire section of the warehouse, a system that cleans the water without producing any waste. The taste, texture and color of his shrimp garner rave reviews. Find them at www.ecoshrimpgarden.com and at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC on Fridays and Saturdays, and at the factory farm in Newburgh on Thursdays.
Here, the man who harbors a wicked work ethic and a love of the ocean, tells us how his underwater business swims against the current:
How did you get your ambitious, sustainable aquaculture business under way?
Thirty-five years ago, at 16, before college, I took a three-month hiking trip around Brazil. In the early morning, before sunrise, I would join fisherman who walked up to their necks in the water by the shoreline and caught 30 to 40 pounds of shrimp before breakfast with simple nets. The shrimp had a taste never equaled anywhere. Inspired, I wanted to grow shrimp locally and supply locally. But in 1980, there was no bio-flock method. After six months of research, I gave up. The temperature and altitude in Brazil was too hot in the day and too cold at night for the kind of tanks that might have worked then. Years later I came to New York, and realized that if you can have grass-fed meat and cage-free poultry raised without antibiotics, why couldn’t you have organic seafood? It took two years of solid research, followed by a year to get the licenses and the paperwork done, secure the initial tanks and get a bio-flock system running. I fell in love with the City of Newburgh, its proximity to New York City, and the fact that it is itself a real city with beautiful architecture, a Main Street, a waterfront and interesting, vibrant people. There are 25 shrimp farms in the US, mostly in rural areas run by people transitioning from hog and cattle farming. This is the first one in New York State. I particularly wanted to do it in an urban environment so that I could deliver to a market within two hours.
How is your shrimp farm different?
For each pound of shrimp caught in the wild there are 15 pounds of “by-catch,” sea birds, marine mammals, fish and sea turtles left to die on boat decks and be discarded at sea. To create shrimp farms, mangroves are torn out and destroyed. This is a serious loss to ecosystems on the coastline. Mangroves absorb five times the amount of carbon other forest trees do. As much as 50% of mangrove destruction in recent years has been to clear cutting for shrimp ponds. Remember the tsunami in the Indian Ocean? A large part of the devastation was caused by the lack of mangroves to catch the waves. These man-made mangrove-depleting shrimp ponds don’t last. The shrimp are fed with antibiotics and hormones, and ultimately die from disease. The ponds are abandoned leaving polluted deserts on the coastline. Last year the US imported 560,000 metric tons of this type of shrimp. Their popularity has surpassed tuna in consumption. They come frozen from these shrimp farms and are not fresh. (According to a report in The New York Times) they are raised with antibiotics, pesticides and hormones. I’m part of the movement for healthy foods, farm-to-table, low carbon footprint. My shrimp taste like those shrimp the Brazilian fisherman caught. And by buying them you are not harming the environment to enjoy good seafood.
How did Community Capital help?
The small business loan from Community Capital, with another $100,000 possibly available for a phase 2, enabled me to double the number of tanks and employees. This is a 24-hour business. It takes five months to reach market size, and my employees and I take care of the shrimp as though they are babies, from infancy. It is labor intensive. With the eco shrimp management system we now have in place we can harvest every week to supply our customers and restaurants. It’s local. It’s totally sustainable. We sell fresh, never frozen, shrimp with the heads and shells on—proof of their freshness—harvested only hours before. Fresher than any boat that has to go out for 10 days at a time and keep them on ice. Community Capital made it possible for us to expand, so more people can have alternatives to buying Gulf-caught shrimp harvested by bulldozing the bottom of the ocean and imported shrimp.
What advice do you suggest for entrepreneurs?
To listen and ask questions. Don’t be too sure of anything.
Our concept is to stay small and sell locally, close to consumer food markets. What we do is artisanal. We test the water manually every day; we feed the shrimp manually every single day. We do have another entire room we can fill with another 39 tanks. It’s all about investment, money and capital. The market is willing to buy the production. With 70 tanks we will be even more profitable. We can also launch satellites anywhere, in any city. The goal is to serve local populations with local, healthy shrimp!
ECO Shrimp Garden, 99 S William Street, Newburgh, NY 12550
(845) 561-2048 www.ecoshrimpgarden.com