October 20, 2019

Tru Shrimp research shows importance of water quality - Daily Leader Extra : Local News

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Tru Shrimp research shows importance of water quality

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Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2019 2:43 pm

(Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series about Tru Shrimp, exploring the delay in breaking ground for the Madison Bay Harbor and the challenges the company must address before the Luverne Bay Harbor can be constructed.)

 If anyone understands the importance of water quality to aquatic life, it's the folks at Tru Shrimp.

"Much of our non-feed research has to do with optimum water quality, which involves everything from temperature and salinity to water movement and oxygen levels in water," said Jamie Brink-Thordson, director of sales and marketing.

Tru Shrimp, an affiliate of Ralco Nutrition, has been working to raise shrimp in a controlled environment since acquiring the patent for "super-intense shallow water raceway" technology developed by Texas A&M. Having validated years of research with the Balaton Bay Reef in Minnesota, the company is currently raising capital to build its first commercial harbor, the Madison Bay Harbor.


Madison wasn't the company's first choice, though.

Luverne, Minn., was Tru Shrimp's first choice. The company chose Luverne and invested in site development not only because the company is based in Minnesota but also because "it was an ideal site," according to Michael Ziebell, president and CEO.

The Luverne Bay Harbor was never intended to be Tru Shrimp's only harbor, just its first.

"Our intent is to build multiple harbors throughout the Midwest," Ziebell said.

However, Luverne got bumped from that top slot when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began to look at Luverne's wastewater treatment processes and changed the limit for specific conductivity in July 2018.

Specific conductivity looks at the concentration of ions in the water. While seawater does have a higher concentration of ions, or higher conductivity, water from inland water sources has the same ions, but in smaller concentrations.

Unfortunately, Tru Shrimp was not notified about the MPCA's change and didn't learn of it until the company's engineers were preparing the application for a user permit in October 2018.

That development blindsided company officials. No red flags had been raised when the Balaton Bay Reef was constructed.

"We've got a holding tank in place where we monitor anything before releasing to ensure it is within local specs," Brink-Thordson explained.


Brad Lawrence, utilities director for the city of Madison, indicated specific conductivity is not a widely used measure of pollution.

"If you look in the EPA regulations, you don't find much," he said.

Ziebell considers it an obsolete measurement. However, he knows his company must address this issue to build harbors in Minnesota.

"We immediately called for a meeting in Marshall," Ziebell said.

Walking out of the meeting, company officials knew the issue could not easily be addressed and might take as long as three years to be resolved. That posed a problem for the company.

"We can't raise the capital to build a harbor with any regulatory issues hanging over our heads," Ziebell explained.

Because lab research had been validated with the Balaton Bay Reef, the company needed to move forward with commercialization. Consequently, Tru Shrimp decided to construct another harbor first, the Madison Bay Harbor.


In making this decision, Tru Shrimp ignited a media firestorm. Company officials understand why this happened.

"Why wouldn't the people of Luverne be disappointed? Why wouldn't the people of Minnesota be disappointed?" Ziebell asked rhetorically.

However, company officials were surprised by the direction this firestorm has taken. Because the MPCA had concerns about wastewater -- which Tru Shrimp is seeking to address -- company officials fear they are being viewed as polluters rather than as environmental stewards.

"We're not going to pollute anybody's water. Our entire mantra is sustainability. We want to be good stewards of our resources," Ziebell stated.

For Tru Shrimp, water quality is a nonnegotiable. Their own research has demonstrated over and over the importance of water quality.

"If we keep the water healthy, the shrimp are happy," Brink-Thordson said. This affects the shrimp's health and growth.

Company officials want nothing less for the aquatic life in waterways affected by water Tru Shrimp discharges. For this reason, their design for harbors includes a water reclamation facility. The company does not want to have a negative impact on the environment.

"Every day we work here to protect the environment. That's never going to stop," Ziebell said.

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