Monday, April 16, 2018

the interview | Professor Addison Lawrence

Professor Addison Lawrence founded modern-day aquaculture.
International Aquafeed magazine caught up with the 82-year-old at this year’s Aquaculture America event. Today, he consults on feeds, feed additives, nutrition, super-intensive, shallow-water, stacked raceway system for commercial shrimp production.
Professor Lawrence, worked at several universities with most of his time spent at Texas A&M University – from which he retired in 2015. After 38 years service he retired as a Regent Fellow, Senior Faculty Fellow, Project Leader and Scientist-in-Charge for Texas A&M Agrilife Research, and as a member of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and Intercollegiate Faculty of Nutrition.
Most recently he played a pivotal role in developing and constructing a new, state-of-the-art shrimp research facility and pilot demonstration plant at the Ralco Technology Campus in Balaton, Minnesota after retiring in March 2015. That facility was created to commercialise the patented technology that was developed at the Shrimp Mariculture Laboratory at Texas A&M University in Port Aransas, Texas.
It was a privilege for IAF to ask him questions at Aquaculture America in Las Vegas in mid-February 2018.

When did you first become interested in shrimp and fish farming?
In the early 1960s, when I was considering what I would like to do, aquaculture was like ‘Star Trek’ – it was not on my radar.  Space and the oceans they were frontiers. Space was out of the question, so I chose oceans.
I preferred marine over freshwater. A lot less was known about marine. It was an excitement, going to places and doing things we didn’t know about. We had very little information about shrimp farming or aquaculture at that time.
I got my PhD at the University of Missouri and a fellowship at Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University and that did it for me; that cemented my interest in oceans and the life in it. Two years Post-doctorate and lecturing at Stanford confirmed what I wanted to do with my life.

Why shrimp?
I wasn’t thinking aquaculture at that time in the early 1960s; however, when I went from California to the University of Houston to my surprise the diversity of marine life on the Gulf of Mexico Galveston coast was much more limited.  Of my choices I selected shrimp to study because of its interesting lifecycle and its role and importance in the ecosystem.
At that time the old National Marine Fisheries Service at Galveston, Texas had a major shrimp research program and thus shrimp were readily available free of cost for my research.  It was working with natural shrimp species and the Galveston research program is why I got interested in farming shrimp – that was in 1963-64.
From there it just blossomed. When I look back on it, initially I was just interested in shrimp and didn’t dream it would become one of the most important species to be farmed today.

What do you think are reasons shrimp farming has done so well?
There are multiple reasons why shrimp have become such a popular farmed aquatic food, and not least is that it is delectable. As it turns out shrimp represents a low food conversion ratio, short crop times, high fecundity, etc. better than that of chicken.
You could create a new commercial strain of shrimp every year through genetics given that a single female less than six months old can spawn over two million eggs per month. That’s very high fecundity. It might take 15-20 years to achieve a new commercial strain of cattle while shrimp can achieve the same in one year.

In your view what are other important aspects of shrimp farming?
We know that shrimp can grow six grammes a week since this growth is achieved in their natural environment. Therefore, all we need to do is achieve that growth under farming conditions. It is the short production crop time from the nursery phase to harvest of only two to six weeks with production levels of 500,000 to 2,000,000 kg per square meter footprint of water per year that makes shrimp farming so desirable.
Shrimp farming industry has the potential of being bigger than chicken farming in the future. The commodity price for shrimp has the potential of being cheaper than chicken in the future.

If that is so, what role will shrimp play in our dietary future?
My dream is to see shrimp as the chicken of the sea. We are the third rock from the sun with a growing human population. Shrimp is one of the best animal protein sources we have to produce the protein in the volumes needed to keep up with population growth. We will be eating more shrimp in the future.
Disease is a challenge. Presently, shrimp farming uses open systems (ponds) and is experiencing a new catastrophic disease every one to four years. Controlling disease in enclosed and bio-secure facilities is the only sustainable, long-term, environmental solution. Also, we have to get away from coastal farming. We must go inland. I visualise every city in the world will have an associated shrimp production system.

But how much shrimp can these farming systems produce? Will they meet the demand of cities?
Shrimp production must be sustainable and carried out inside buildings that are bio-secure and alongside cities with minimum production levels of one million kg per ha footprint of water per year. This will minimise land use, reduce the need for transportation and provide up to two million kg of shrimp per ha footprint of water per year in a standard system – especially in one that is stacked up to eight raceways high.
That’s the future I predict for shrimp farming.

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