VALPARAISO | The whole idea of raising shrimp in a Northwest Indiana warehouse seems implausible, but that’s exactly what the Valparaiso Shrimp Co. did.
The company, primarily owned by Robert Batson, began the local aquaculture venture in the spring 2012. Batson raised koi and other ornamental fish locally and at his farm in Missouri for three decades and always had considered about taking his production a step further, said Richard Ferlazzo, who owns 10 percent of the company and is its director of marketing.
“I’ve been buying koi from him (Batson) for several years and we started talking about raising shrimp and he decided to go for it,” Ferlazzo said. “Shrimp are the largest selling fish in the world and no one was producing them here.”
The company has one of the nine privately-held indoor re-circulation salt water systems in the country, he said, and the only one currently operational.
“We use a clear saltwater filtered system,” Ferlazzo said. “We get the saltwater as close to ocean water as possible. We don’t use any chemicals, antibiotics or hormones.”
In late July, the company moved all its shrimp production from a warehouse in Valparaiso to an aquaculture farm in downstate Hope, Ind. The company decided go do a joint venture in order to increase its shrimp production, something it was unable to do because of space limitations in its Northwest Indiana location, said Batson.
The company imports the shrimp larvae from a hatchery in Florida, ships them by air to its farm where are were placed in tubs filled with salt water and fed high protein food. In Valparaiso, the tubs had been placed on shelves lining the industrial building rented by the company.
There will be a similar, but much larger operation in Hope while the Valparaiso location is being used for marketing and distribution, Batson said.
After 90 to 95 days when the shrimp are ready for harvesting, they are taken out of the brine and put in ice bath.
“We sell them as is, the whole shrimp,” Ferlazzo said. “Four hours after they’re harvested they’re brought to market.”
About $300,000 has been invested in the venture with Batson selling a small percentage of its shares to pay its bills.
“It’s not been easy,” Ferlazzo said. “We’ve taken out some loans. We need light to grow the shrimp and the NIPSCO bill is pretty high. We’re not taking a salary, but putting what we make back in (to the business.) If it keeps going like this it should take a few years to get our investment back and more."
Increasing production will enable company to service several high-end area restaurants that have expressed an interest in carrying the shrimp, he said.
The shrimp currently are sold at local Farmer’s Markets: Valparaiso on Tuesdays; Griffith on Fridays; Chesterton on Saturdays; and Munster on Sundays. They also are featured as a menu specialty at a restaurant in Valparaiso and at the Shoreline Brewery in Michigan City.