Tucked away in a warehouse just south of downtown Greenville, marine biologist Valeska Minkowski has been quietly incubating a food source that’s typically found thousands of miles away off the coast of California: Pacific white shrimp.
In June, Minkowski started an indoor shrimp farm called Urban Seas Aquaculture. It’s a big change of pace for the scientist who once spent her summers reintroducing long-spined sea urchins to coral reefs off the coast of Florida.
Now Minkowski is part of a small, yet growing group of American farmers trying to feed the country’s seemingly insatiable appetite for shrimp and other seafood, without damaging coastal ecosystems and using harmful chemicals.
“I feel like I’m trying to save the entire ocean sometimes,” says Minkowski. “I’m really trying to curb the effects of traditional shrimp farms and trawlers that disrupt coastal ecosystems and cause food safety issues.”
Americans consumed 4.8 billion pounds of seafood in 2009, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then they consumed an average of 3.8 pounds of shrimp in 2012, twice the amount three decades ago.
But the nation’s taste for shrimp comes with huge environmental costs, according to Minkowski. However, the shrimp farmer stressed that there’s a huge difference between store-bought shrimp and what she’s growing in her warehouse.