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2 months ago
Dirty Shrimp Farms are Punching a Huge Hole in the Environment. A.I. Could Cut It In Half

Originally published in Fortune, Oct 24, 2022.   

Inside a humid warehouse in suburban Indianapolis, a company called Atarraya is using large metal containers and the latest technology to grow shrimp hundreds of miles from the ocean. At one end of the hangar-like building sit blue metal boxes that look similar to shipping containers. But instead of holding cargo for transport, they’re designed to grow Pacific whiteleg shrimp anywhere in the world, overseen by employees who don’t require specialized training.

“The software does all the heavy lifting,” Daniel Russek, CEO of Mexico City– and Indianapolis-based Atarraya, tells Fortune during a tour of the company’s newly launched U.S. operation, which includes a small office building and a warehouse that it plans to fill with 20 of the micro shrimp farms. The software Russek refers to is cloud-based artificial intelligence that monitors water quality, regulates temperature and oxygenation, and feeds the shrimp. For Russek, the concept is a bet that Atarraya will be able not only to sell locally grown seafood itself but also to franchise its Shrimpbox technology to seafood distributors or farmers, whether they have aquaculture experience or not.

When paired with renewable energy, this technology-powered, distributed seafood model could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially as global demand for seafood rises. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that global per capita consumption of wild-caught and farmed aquatic animals will increase to 47 pounds annually in 2030 from 45 pounds in 2020, a year when global aquaculture production hit a record of 122.6 million metric tons.

For aquaculture to support this growth but also help the world reach net-zero emissions, it will have to go increasingly high-tech.

Farmed or Fished, Shrimping Emits

Even low-tech aquaculture is generally better for the environment than raising other protein such as beef, largely because aquatic animals reproduce in greater numbers and are more efficient in turning feed into protein that humans can consume. But seafood farming isn’t blameless, and the industry remains ripe for decarbonization.

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