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Published: Tuesday, 9/2/2008

Freshwater shrimp will be harvested

Freshwater shrimp gives new meaning to "locally grown" in Ohio.

There is growing interest in aquaculture in the state, and the closest aquaculture farm is a freshwater shrimp pond at the Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm owned by Duke Wheeler at 11500 Obee Rd. in Whitehouse.

His first shrimp harvest will begin at 9 a.m. on Sept. 13.

Last week I visited the three-quarter-acre pond where he is growing Malaysian freshwater tiger prawns using multiple aerators.

Although it is next to two ponds that have been on the property for 30 years, a new pond had to be dug for the freshwater shrimp. "Bass and blue gills eat them," says Mr. Wheeler. Other natural predators are geese, ducks, and turtles. "Blue heron are the best fishermen," he says. To keep the ducks out of the pond, music was played on a stereo system. Now the shrimp, which are bottomfeeders, are big enough and fast enough to escape enemies.

Back in June, about 16,000 baby shrimp were stocked in the pond. "We didn't count them," he says. "They are sold by weight."

Twice a day the shrimp are fed (50 pounds of food per day) and the pH and oxygen levels are checked. "There's photosynthesis in the daytime," he says. "At night the shrimp consume oxygen."

It's an expensive process. The pond was dug, the aerators put in place, the back-up generator readied for power, and harvesting equipment installed. Now he hopes the harvest will be 800 to 1,000 pounds, but no one knows for sure until the day comes to drain the pond.

The pond was specially designed. "When we drain it all the shrimp go to the deep end," he says. There are 20-foot pipes with holes that will drain the pond over a two-day period. Then the shrimp will be rinsed and immediately put on ice. "Draining the pond is stressful on shrimp. We'll keep the aerators going the entire time."

Prepaid orders are being taken. The shrimp are sold whole for $12 per pound.

Although he threw the cast-net in several times that day, we couldn't land any shrimp, but he says they are firm.

"They are really hard to catch," says Laura Tiu, aquaculture specialist for Ohio State University, estimating there are about 25 growers in Ohio. "The bigger the shrimp get the faster they get." Aquaculture farms range in size from 1/10-acre pond for personal use to 1 acre, the size of the pond at Ohio Center for Aquaculture Research and Development in Piketon in southern Ohio, where Ms. Tiu is located.

The flavor of freshwater shrimp is a little different from marine shrimp. "It's more like lobster," she says.

"Everything tastes better if you think it's natural," says Mr. Wheeler, who has been taking orders online at www.shrimp-farm.com for the shrimp. Customers are advised to bring ice and a cooler to take their purchases home.

On harvest day on Sept. 13, some of the shrimp will be cooked by local chef Kristy Ziesmer of Poco Piatti at Levis Commons in Perrysburg, and samples will be sold. She will be making several of the restaurant's signature dishes, including Shrimp Saganaki, the popular Greek appetizer made with white wine, tomatoes, and feta cheese, according to Elias Hajjar, owner. Shrimp Asti Spumante and Thai Shrimp Lasagna will be prepared.

The chefs have not worked with this product before. "We'll have to clean and devein the shrimp," said Mr. Hajjar. "I'm excited about using it."

The crop is unique. "I call it the 100-day crop because you're stocking them in June and harvesting in September," says Ms. Tiu. "It's hard to get live fresh shellfish here in Ohio. Most restaurants want something they can get a regular supply of. That's why festivals work so well in marketing this. It only happens one time a year."

There will also be free horse and wagon rides around the farm. The Butterfly House and the Corn Maze will be open during the harvest. Both require regular admission fees.



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