Shrimp farm expanding to Big Island

By HUNTER BISHOP

By HUNTER BISHOP

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Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

A worldwide shrimp breeder is moving its headquarters from Florida to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii and expanding its Hawaii operations.

Shrimp Improvement Systems, which started in 1998 in Plantation Key, Fla., will invest $8 million in new facilities at NELHA at Keahole Point, said SIS President Joe Tabrah.

SIS produces mature, adult broodstock for shrimp farming operations around the world. Specifically, they are “genetically improved and specific pathogen free (SPF)” stocks of Pacific white shrimp, Tabrah said, and one pair of healthy broodstock can produce two million offspring, he said.

Advantages of consolidating operations in Hawaii over Florida include proximity to the company’s largest markets in Asia, strict contamination controls at NELHA, less risk of hurricane damage, and warmer ocean water, Tabrah said. Some costs such as energy and shipping will be higher in Hawaii, he acknowledged, but there are “offsets.”

“Where there are costs, you look for offsets,” Tabrah said. One of them is ocean water temperature, which is warmer here than in Florida. “Shrimp need warm water to grow,” he explained. “(But) during the winter in Florida the water gets quite cold. Now we won’t be heating water in the winter months.”

Sanitation is crucial to the successful production of high quality shrimp, Tabrah said. Diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoans have caused losses for shrimp operations for years so strict precautions are employed to keep the product pathogen free. But NELHA has “a history of being clean,” he said, which should improve production.

Said to be one of the world’s largest shrimp breeders, the privately held SIS doesn’t release its sales revenue figures.

“We’re doing well, that’s why we’re expanding,” Tabrah said. The company will keep its existing production facilities and an office in the Florida Keys.

Earlier this year, SIS purchased High Health Aquaculture Inc., a smaller shrimp breding company, which was operating on two acres at NELHA. SIS also acquired leases on an additional 6.5 acres and is negotiating to acquire two more to build on at the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park at NELHA.

Shrimp is the most popular seafood consumed in the United States at 4 pounds per person in 2010, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. is the largest shrimp consumer in the world. Canned tuna was the second most popular seafood in the U.S. at 2.7 pounds consumed per person. Shrimp is largely imported to the United States, though. There is little domestic production resulting in a U.S. shrimp trade deficit of about $3.7 billion a year.

SIS ships broodstock to markets in the U.S., Europe and Latin America but the company’s biggest buyers are in Asia. The move to Hawaii puts SIS in closer proximity to its largest markets.

Although marketed as “genetically improved,” Tabrah said that doesn’t mean SIS produces GMO shrimp. Tabrah said the broodstock are selectively bred to be disease-free and are not genetically modified as the term “genetically improved” might imply. SIS already sells its broodstock without restriction to shrimp operations in nations concerned about introducing GMO or genetically modified products into their food supply.

Tabrah is a former employee of Oceanic Institute, an affiliate of Hawaii Pacific University, where a research project was the genesis of Shrimp Improvement Systems. Tabrah also formerly headed Pacific Aquaculture in Hawaii at the Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu, later also moving to NELHA, which merged with SIS four years ago. With High Health Aquaculture, “we’re consolidating breeding programs in Hawaii,” Tabrah said, which is the primary reason for the move. After that it’s the “excellent conditions” — weather and infrastructure.

Tabrah said he expects to be up and running by the end of 2013, “if we get our (building) permits from the county.” SIS has about 25 employees now and would add about 20 more when the new facilities are completed. Most of the new employees will be hired locally, Pabrah said.

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SIS has partnerships with firms under the umbrella of CP Group of Indonesia, a transnational firm with investments in 15 countries and earnings of US $30 billion.

Email Hunter Bishop at hbishop@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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