HILTON HEAD ISLAND -- Don Smith has 100,000 "green" shrimp in his acre backyard pond in Pritchardville that he hopes one day will be able to compete with imported shrimp.
His shrimp are actually white in color; the green means they're on the way to becoming certified as organic because of what they eat.
"The idea is to try and combine natural productivity with new and innovative feeds that meet organic standards to produce environmentally friendly shrimp," said state Department of Natural Resources biologist Craig Browdy.
The farm is an experiment being conducted with the help of the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton. Waddell, a DNR marine research facility, won a $435,000 federal grant two years ago that paid for the research and shrimp farming project, which offers an alternative to traditional shrimping.
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Most farm-raised shrimp are fed fish meal, Browdy said. But Smith's shrimp are being fed an organic diet of algae oils, soybean and wheat products, vitamins and amino acids. The organic diet replaces the nutrients found in the fish meal, which contains fatty acids good for human heart and brain development, Browdy said
"The benefit for growers is it gives them an advantage over an imported product," Browdy said. "In order to compete, whether you are a shrimper or a farmer, you've got to be able to produce something that's different -- quality, local, fresh and healthy."
Waddell has been researching the diet for the past two years and developed an experimental feed.
It recently purchased a line of disease-free Pacific white shrimp, which had been raised in captivity for 20 years at a Florida breeding company.
The tropical shrimp are not native to South Carolina and are typically found off the coast of Mexico and Ecuador, Waddell manager Al Stokes said. The Pacific white shrimp are the most commonly farmed species, he said.
Waddell nursed the shrimp for a few weeks and stocked Smith's pond in early July.
The shrimp should grow to about 4 inches long, Stokes said, and be available for local sale by the fall. Stokes expects a 75 percent survival rate, which would produce about 20 to 30 shrimp per pound. The entire stock should total nearly 3,000 pounds.
"This is to support local shrimpers and local growers so they can survive ... ," Stokes said. "Hopefully people will pay a few extra bucks for it."
Smith said he will seek the organic certification when it becomes available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and as it nears the time for marketing his product.
As part of the agreement with Waddell, he must abide by the center's diet standards, and feed the shrimp twice a day. When they are ready for harvesting, he will drain them into a catch basin filtered with screens to ensure none escape.
He is allowed to sell all except 100 pounds, which must be returned to Waddell for testing.
Smith, who is taking a break from working as a boat captain and building yachts, said he hopes shrimp prices will increase so the venture will become profitable. He might even open an organic restaurant one day, Smith said.
"I like it because I'm pretty much a nature nut," he said. "People are going to love the opportunity to have green shrimp."