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FEATURE

Putting it all together
by Roy Palmer, Association of International Seafood Professionals

B

ack in the 13th century, maybe even earlier, it has been
recorded that when people travelled in Europe they were
often given dried seaweed on arrival at their destination
to nourish them after their tiring efforts.

Whilst western society ignored that, history countries like China,
Japan and Korea did not. In those countries you can browse the
multitude of supermarkets and food shops and see all the different
preparations, processes, species and packaging of seaweed - this is an
increasing and expanding business.
It has been known for a long time that algae are one of the keys to
excellent nutrition of fish/seafood and why species have vital essential
fats and vitamins which are not only good for them but also for multiple benefits to human health when we eat fish/seafood. We know that
land animals cannot get close to the level of crucial omega-3 content
of even the smallest levels in fish/seafood and as the world moves
to healthier nutrition it is expected that seafood will be the food of
choice.
At present, algae is mainly used as an ingredient in functional food,
that is, food that bring health benefits greater than the simple provision of basic nutrients. There are some moves by ‘fashion trend’ chefs
to include salads containing seaweed and this may filter through to
main outlets in western world. In Japan the Ulva species of algae is
well known and highly regarded as a flavoring agent and as a part of
a healthful diet.
One aquaculture company has done many years of research and
planning and is now getting ready for its next phase and putting it all
together.

Aonori Aquafarms, Inc. is a land-based aquaculture operation producing Ulva (a species of seaweed named Ulva clathrata) and shrimp
(Farfantepenaeus californiensis – Pacific Brown) for protein and food
production in Mexico, although the headquarters are located in San
Diego, California, US.
The Company had a research farm in Sinaloa Mexico from 1998 to
2008 and, in a second phase, the Company operated a small-scale farm
and hatchery based in Mexico at San Quintin, Baja California with an
infrastructure consisting of 16 ponds operating a total pond area of 3.0
hectares, located only 180 miles from San Diego, California. During this
time, the Company achieved two years of successful sales to Safeway
and other buyers.
Ponds are set back from the shore and built on flat, salinized land
so that no harm is done to sensitive habitats such as mangroves or
estuaries, where traditional farms are located. The facility produced
6 tons of shrimp each year (head-off) and Ulva meal samples, having
made its first shrimp sale on December 2012.
The Company has now developed a proprietary biomimetic
technology that reproduces the natural marine habitat of shrimp,
which goes by the name of NatureFarming™, creating a shrimp/Ulva
co-culture environment.
The shrimp are fed with Ulva, leaving approximately 60 percent of
the Ulva in each pond to be commercialised in various forms such a
salt substitute, high value food or feed ingredient, nutraceutical or as a
roasted seaweed snack.
Aonori claims to be the first successfully integrated multi-species
aquaculture company to produce brown shrimp and algae with a new
and unique patented process. The Company has developed a method

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FEATURE

regular aquaculture producers, and even more so compared to conventional sustainable farms, making it a model for the future. Traditional
farms, it says, are likely to be forced to move further inland to avoid
environmental damage (especially in mangrove areas), but will face
high water consumption, remediation and discharge costs. The cost

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of shrimp culture that rapidly recycles mineral nutrients, eliminating the
need to pump large quantities of water and providing the shrimp with a
source of fresh feed rich in protein, carotenoids and other compounds
essential to good shrimp health, which is seen as a major breakthrough.
It seems that Aonori’s technology almost eliminates the possibility
of shrimp being affected by diseases, which have devastated many
producers in the industry worldwide. Reduced feed costs and reduced
water pumping costs more than compensate for the slower growth
rate of the Brown shrimp species, and better feed quality results in the
highest possible quality shrimp.
Aonori claims their seaweed process is almost 10 times more productive than the systems used in Japan, and Aonori’s PrimeShrimp®,
grown in a cooler climatic zone, seem not to be exposed to the disease
risks generated by conventional shrimp farming methods.
Armando A. Leon, President and CEO, has been the driving force
behind the organisation, and he is ecstatic regarding the fact that
Aonori’s shrimp qualify for a green label – the first and only imported
green label shrimp using standards from the Seafood Watch program
of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Armando said, “Our shrimp have the
sweet flavor, deep red color and firm texture consumers want – quality
unmatched even by wild-caught shrimp and far superior to conventional farmed shrimp. Brown shrimp are the highest priced shrimp on
the market in North America, and Aonori shrimp are the best of the
Browns.”
Price of shrimp has been trending up over the last 20 years, peaking in disease-plagued years, and U.S. shrimp consumption continues
historical rise, where it is the most consumed seafood. Added to that,
shrimp demand and distribution systems are well established. The
problem is that the cost of feed, water, biosecurity and electricity is
increasing for traditional and highly intensive shrimp operations.
Aonori says it has substantially reduced its feed costs compared to

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FEATURE

of meeting responsible sustainable standards is potentially even higher.
President Leon says “Research & development work has been going
on for 20 years (with an approximate cost of USD $16 million) in order
to create this new approach to aquaculture, producing a high value crop
using only seawater and desert coastal (non–arable) land. We have five
patents (two PCTs related to Ulva crop development and sustainable
prophylactic health promoting ecosystem) and an array of trade secrets.
Additionally, we have successfully operated a ‘proof of concept’ 1-hectare farm and a pre-commercial farm, the latter of which consisted in 16
ponds with a total pond area of 3 hectares. This integrated shrimp-Ulva
operation, which included a shrimp hatchery for post-larvae production
and an Ulva nursery to grow planting stock had all the parts of a commercial farm, but at a below break-even scale. At this point, we took the
product to the market and secured shrimp sales.”
He added, “Production systems have been fully tested at the precommercial farm and the Company is ready for commercial expansion
upon funding, which will enable it to fulfill existing potential shrimp sales
to companies that have manifested strong interest, such as Safeway.
We are now looking for funds to carry out our expansion project, for
which the business plan contemplates funding of USD $ 6.2 million,
with which we will:
• Have a full market launch.
• Increase production to 25 hectares in the first 2 years.
• Build shrimp processing facilities.
• Produce and sell AonoriTM (Ulva)
• Be the first company to achieve a high yield culture of the
premium quality macro algae, Ulva clathrata (known as “Aonori”
in Japan).
The plan, as has been proven before, is for the Company’s shrimp
to consume 40 percent of the Ulva, while the remaining 60 percent will

be available for the consumer market. Ulva can be a healthy alternative
seasoning (low sodium salt substitute), a healthy ingredient for food or
feed and an incredible seaweed-based snack. The product could also
be available as bulk for wholesale distribution. Aonori’s Umami* flavor
enhances the taste properties of many foods.
The team behind the Aonori Aquafarms is bi-national (Mexico –
US) and has a solid experience in the shrimp & algae businesses, which
has made innovative advancements in aquaculture and developed a
clear path to commercialise the company’s products. Its scientific and
technical team has an expertise in algal physiology, shrimp nutrition and
shrimp domestication. Additionally, the board of directors and management team has experience in all key areas, such as operations (growing
and processing) and commercial areas (marketing and distribution).
They truly believe that they have put it all together with a production
cost around 40 percent less than other shrimp farms. Aonori’s culture
system, they say, keeps the water in the ponds clean the same way a
natural wetland does, so pollution and other environmental impacts
are fully eliminated.
Armando says, “The company is the only entity in the world that is
successfully growing the Pacific Brown (F. californiensis) shrimp, found
from Washington State to Peru, which has a history as one of the
top-priced wild caught shrimp because of its deep red color, full ocean
sweet flavor and firm texture. We have so many advantages from both
commercial and operational standpoints: a tasty and scrumptious flavor,
as well as a firm, full bodied texture, on one hand; and, on the other,
our shrimp are raised in a disease-free, high immunity, nature-like environment, which results in the appropriate conditions for our healthy
shrimp to meet the highest standards required for environmental
stewardship. We cannot wait to be fulfilling our potential and be a
leader in the aquaculture industry.”

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