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Indoor Shrimp Production Opens New Possibilities For Food


Americans love shrimp. We import it from all over the globe - India, Thailand, Indonesia, about $5 billion worth a year. But we're learning about the downsides of global shrimp production - stories of slave labor and environmental problems. This next story is about a man who wants to show there is an alternative. He set up a new kind of shrimp business not on a boat, not even along the coast. He's actually producing shrimp indoors inside an old mattress factory in a little town in the Hudson Valley. That's where I met him a few weeks back. His name is Jean Claude Frajmund. And when I stepped inside his facility, I was taken aback by how he's created his own mini ocean.

JEAN CLAUDE FRAJMUND: You can feel the tropical weather.

AUBREY: I feel like I've just arrived at the beach.

FRAJMUND: Yeah that's correct. You mean it is very high, around 80, 85.

AUBREY: All inside an old mattress factory.

FRAJMUND: That's it.

AUBREY: As we talk, we wend our way through a few dozen tanks. They look like above-ground kiddie pools. The lighting is very dim. It's windowless in here. But apparently this is how the shrimp like it. Frajmund says it's almost like a spa for them. They're well-fed, kept very clean. They have no predators, and there's no pollution.

FRAJMUND: You see them swimming?

AUBREY: Yeah, they're just tiny.

FRAJMUND: Tiny, tiny, tiny - it's like...

AUBREY: Like the tip of your fingernail.

FRAJMUND: Yeah. Those we have to feed eight times a day. It's very like a baby.

AUBREY: Frajmund puts in 13-hour days here. He tests water quality, temperatures, checks that his filters are working, and he's got three employees to help.

So you really have to babysit these shrimp.

FRAJMUND: Yeah, totally. Yes.

AUBREY: Very labor intensive.

FRAJMUND: Yeah, yeah. It's really delicate. We have to be very diligent, watch the temperature, watch the dissolved oxygen, do water tests and correct if needed. And we never had any chemicals. The correction basically - is basically baking soda in order to keep the pH in the right level.

AUBREY: The shrimp grow quickly and every Saturday at the crack of dawn, Jean Claude gets up to harvest the latest batch.

He fishes them out with nets, puts them on ice and makes the hour-and-a-half drive in his van to Union Square Market in New York City.

FRAJMUND: So by 7 o'clock, we are here. We set up.

AUBREY: One of his first customers today is chef Peter Hoffman.

PETER HOFFMAN: How are you? Nice to see you.

AUBREY: Hoffman has run several restaurants, and he loves shrimp.

FRAJMUND: You want the small one or the big one?

HOFFMAN: I want one with as best long tentacles as we can get (laughter).

AUBREY: The attraction here is the freshness. Three hours ago, these shrimp were still alive.

HOFFMAN: It's pristine flesh. You can see that there's no deterioration of any kind.

AUBREY: Hoffman squeezes the head off a shrimp and pops the shrimp in his mouth.

HOFFMAN: It's sweet with a little bit of brine - tastes great.

AUBREY: At about $25 a pound, this shrimp is certainly not in everybody's budget, but customer Celia Chang (ph) says she is sold on it, even if it is a splurge.

CELIA CHANG: It's local. It's sustainable, and the flavor is really great. So it's worth the value.

AUBREY: By 10 a.m., Jean Claude is closing up shop.

FRAJMUND: You can ring the sold-out bells. Sold out, sold out. Thank you.

AUBREY: This happens every week, he says, and he's got a waiting list of customers. Right now, he's in the process of doubling his production by adding more tanks.

You can sell 300 pounds a week no problem?

FRAJMUND: No problem. My demand is very huge.

AUBREY: Jean Claude grew up hundreds of miles away from the coast, and fresh shrimp was hard to come by. Now, he says, he can imagine a shrimp operation like this in every city, at least that's his hope. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.