SUMMARY: Olazul, a non-profit organization working to improve coastal community livelihoods in developing countries, is developing a more sustainable model of shrimp farming, and contributing to the restoration of ocean ecosystems as well as increasing support for marine conservation.
PROBLEM SPACE: Though small in stature, a shrimp can have a big ecological footprint. Bottom trawling for wild shrimp disturbs benthic habitat and captures six pounds of unwanted bycatch, including sea turtles and sharks, for every pound of shrimp. Onshore shrimp ponds uproot mangroves, which serve as nurseries for wild shrimp, and release toxic chemicals and non-native shrimp into sensitive waterways. Both methods are extremely carbon intensive.
Once deemed the Gulf of California’s pink gold, shrimp has lost its luster. Fishermen spend more time and money on fuel to catch less. Disillusioned youth are leaving their communities for lack of economic opportunities. They want to help fisheries rebound but cannot support any restrictions on fishing in the absence of viable economic alternatives.
Eating shrimp is not inherently unsustainable; rather, shrimp are detritivores and one of the only high-value seafood products to occupy a low rung on the food web. Olazul draws on principles of ecological aquaculture and the lessons of sustainable agriculture to design a production system for native shrimp that utilizes – and further cultivates – the abundant nutrients available in the open ocean. Our model can generate long-term economic benefits and a window of opportunity for ecological restoration.
SOLUTION: Olazul is a non-profit organization innovating coastal livelihoods that restore ocean ecosystems. Beau Perry witnessed the devastating effect of collapsing fisheries and unsustainable shrimp aquaculture on coastal communities in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He knew that marine protected areas could help stocks rebound but understood fishermen would not support these initiatives while they struggled to feed their families. Once he graduated from business school, Beau founded Olazul to work on a win-win solution. He recognized offshore aquaculture as an opportunity to get it right from the start: to create community-based businesses that provide steady income to fishing communities and take the pressure off overfished ecosystems. Beau convened an expert advisory team, developed a plan, and raised funds for Olazul’s research site in La Paz.
Olazul envisions vibrant coastal communities working to support healthy marine ecosystems. Our community-based, science-driven innovation process relies on trained local staff (including current and former fishermen with skills learned in training onsite). In 2012, the hatchery team sourced broodstock for native brown shrimp and began to experiment with rearing shrimp post-larvae using probiotics instead of using antibiotics and other harmful chemicals commonly applied as treatments in shrimp hatcheries. We obtained mariculture research concession near La Paz, obtained all the necessary government permits, deployed two Aquapods and stocked the first cohort of shrimp in September with 99% survivorship. We implemented a no-feed regime in the Aquapods to determine feasibility of this approach and three months later, more than 90% of these shrimp continued to survive, which demonstrated that it is possible to cultivate organic shrimp in open ocean pens without artificial feed inputs. We extended the experiment to determine the long-term carrying capacity of the system and are now developing a protocol for importing enhanced natural productivity (i.e., algae, copepods, etc.) into the containment system to improve growth rates.
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