Most Marylanders probably don’t realize that 90 percent of the shrimp sold in this country is imported.
“People really don’t know much about shrimp farming,” says Scott Fritze, one of three owners of Marvesta Shrimp Farms in Dorchester County. “They are farmed in traditional ponds on coastal areas in Third World countries.”
What that translates into is significant environmental damage as the dirty water from the ponds is returned to the ocean. And, as shrimp are highly susceptible to disease, some of that water contains the chemical preservatives and antibiotics used by shrimp farmers.
All in all, not a good situation.
Along with Guy Furman, who did his college thesis on shrimp agriculture as a biological-engineering major at Cornell University, and Andy Hanzlik, Fritze’s roommate at Bucknell University, Fritze began tossing around ideas for a shrimp farm that would use water that is 100-percent re-circulating and be as environmentally sustainable as possible.
“We were developing and pioneering an industry that really doesn’t exist in this country,” says Fritze. “After we developed a business plan, we went around to commercial lenders on the Eastern Shore.”
He adds, “Marvesta—Mar is the Latin word for sea and Vesta is the goddess of the hearth and home—got started in 2002 and finished our first construction of five greenhouse-like structures in 2003.”
Marvesta buys its shrimp—a pathogen-free strain of Pacific white shrimp—from a hatchery in Florida. The process begins when the shrimp are about the size of a grain of salt; six months after arriving at the Hurlock-based Marvesta, the creatures average about 15 shrimp to the pound.
What began with three people has now grown to 15, and Marvesta has just completed an expansion that should bring its production to between 100,000 and 120,000 pounds of shrimp per year.
“We use five acres to produce what traditional shrimp farms would need 400 acres to produce,” says Fritze. “And the biggest difference is that we have the ability to have fresh shrimp 365 days a year.
“There is no limit as to where this can be replicated. Shrimp is a huge, huge market.”
Fritze estimates that 80 percent of his shrimp is sold to specialty restaurants in the region and throughout the country. To generate those restaurants’ interest, he and his partners began inviting chefs from the finer dining establishments in Easton and St. Michaels for tours of the farm.
“The chefs were very interested,” recalls Fritze. “When we had our first harvest in 2005, we went to all the restaurants with samples, and everyone was really amazed by the product.”
Today, some of those same restaurants proudly state on their menus that they serve Marvesta Shrimp. As of now, Fritze notes, there are no branded seafood products on the market, except for StarKist, but he’s hoping to change that.
“We really wanted to get the word out about Marvesta Shrimp,” he says. “Our shrimp really tastes different from frozen shrimp. It is very clean tasting, [and] all are hand-harvested and packed and delivered within hours of coming out of the water.
“Our focus was to responsibly and in a sustainable manner develop this system of shrimp farming,” he continues.
“It was a challenge because, essentially, we were building a technology and business without a blueprint. There was no one who had already done this and no one to call upon for advice.”
Clearly, the three entrepreneurs seem to have managed quite nicely.
For more information on Marvesta Shrimp Farms, visit www.marvesta.com.
Click here for our Honey-Mustard Pilaf Marvesta Recipe