As a supplier and importer of frozen shrimp for Hy-Vee, I am familiar with the process involved in getting a bag of shrimp on the grocery shelf. However, it takes a trip to the source to be reminded of the amazing process involved in growing and harvesting the shrimp in that bag. I was fortunate to recently visit Thailand to see that process firsthand.
Along with our sourcing team, I recently visited the Surat Thani province of Thailand, which includes a large coastline on the Gulf of Thailand. The lush landscape, mountains and expansive views of acres of water reminded me of some of the best tropical regions I have visited.
This province has proven to be a fertile area for shrimp farming for many years and includes a proud tradition of family-owned shrimp farms. The farmers in this region regularly meet to share best practices for their farming techniques and to discuss advancements in the industry, such as third-party sustainability certification. The farmers have been committed to encouraging high-quality and sustainable farming practices.
We met with many shrimp farmers in the region, including a farm owned and operated by a husband and wife. The farmers proudly walked us through the various processes and farming techniques each use for their farms, and shared with us the challenges they have faced to maintain consistent and high-quality crops. These farmers want their crops to be not just viable, but thriving.
The process begins with the shrimp growing in nursery ponds after they first hatch, which is the most sensitive time for the shrimp and when they have the highest risk of dying. The farmers have worked over the years to develop techniques to improve the survival rate of shrimp during this phase, including covering the nursery ponds and monitoring the water temperature and pH with sophisticated devices.
After growing in the nursery pond for two weeks, the shrimp are transferred to the larger growing ponds, where they can grow for up to 120 days to sizes as large as 1.2 ounces per shrimp (13 to 15 shrimp per pound). The rapid growth of these shrimp is aided by a circulating water system, multiple aerators, timed feedings to ensure the shrimp receive the necessary nutrition, and testing of the water quality throughout the growth process.
The farmers know that quality is key to their long-term viability, and quality begins with ensuring shrimp grow in the right conditions. The farms we visited all have their farms audited and certified annually by the Global Aquaculture Alliance to ensure they are following Best Aquaculture Practices, which is the industry-leading standard for shrimp aquaculture.
When the shrimp are ready for harvesting, the manual process begins. It involves pulling nets through the pond several times and manually scooping up the shrimp with buckets. The harvest of each pond can take up to 4 hours, and many farms have 50 or more ponds at each location.
Once harvested, the shrimp are first inspected and sorted at the farm for quality. The shrimp are then iced and transported to the plant, where they are further inspected, peeled or cooked, frozen and packed into Hy-Vee’s retail bags.
With the worldwide demand for seafood growing and limited ocean resources to meet that growing demand, high-quality aquaculture is growing in importance. The Surat Thani farmers are seeing this increased demand for their product, and are building more ponds and farms to meet this demand.
Seeing firsthand the best practices these farmers follow to ensure their shrimp meets and exceeds the quality expectations for Hy-Vee is always worth the effort and time, and renews my appreciation for the dedication to quality these farmers demonstrate. Hy-Vee’s commitment to placing a quality product on the shelf truly begins with these farmers.