NEW LONDON—Mark Tanner’s business of raising walleye to stock popular fishing lakes is about as Minnesotan as you can get.
But he hopes his new sideline business of raising saltwater shrimp for people to buy fresh by the pound and take home to grill, boil or saute with butter will become a new Minnesota tradition.
“They’re good,” said Tanner, commenting on the home-grown shrimp he taste-tested recently.
Locals will have a chance to find that out for themselves this week when his first batch of shrimp goes on sale.
Starting Wednesday, customers can come to West Central Bait and Fisheries Company on the west edge of New London and Tanner will scoop up a net full of shrimp and toss them on ice.
They’ll be sold until the tank is empty.
Tanner is hoping to produce about 300 pounds of shrimp each month.
Unlike many commercial shrimp that are imported and eaten in the the U.S., Tanner said his locally grown shrimp are chemical-free and are not given antibiotics.
He intends to sell them for $20 a pound with the guarantee that they will be fresh.
“They’ll be swimming until you walk in the door and tell me what you want,” Tanner said, adding that taking the shrimp from their 85-degree water habitat and putting them on ice is a humane way of killing them.
Raising shrimp is Tanner’s effort to expand his fisheries business beyond hatching and raising walleye for stocking lakes, which he said is very competitive in Minnesota.
The “pie just isn’t big enough” to support all the fisheries in the state, he said.
A big fish kill late this summer when deadly blue-green algae hit one of his brood lakes—it will take him five years to recover—also reinforced Tanner’s desire to diversify his business.
“It’s good not to put all your eggs in one basket,” he said.
Tanner began working with the state Department of Natural Resources in February of 2015 to become licensed to raise shrimp.
He got his first batch of 12,500 very tiny shrimp a year later from a Miami hatchery.
When they arrived, they were about “half the size of an eyelash,” Tanner said. “Twenty thousand will fit in the palm of my hand.”
Two weeks later they were the full size of an eyelash.
Tanner isn’t the only Minnesotan looking to generate income by growing and selling shrimp.
Raising shrimp in a confined environment is being researched in Balaton in southern Minnesota. There Marshall-based Tru Shrimp Systems of Ralco Nutrition has teamed up with Texas A&M University, which has patented a technology to raise shrimp far away from coastal waters.
A research lab is testing the shrimp-raising waters and a large-scale commercial shrimp farm is planned to be built next year in Tracy.
Tanner has done his own research, and is using the expertise of a consultant, to raise shrimp here as economically as possible by retrofitting large, concrete tanks left over from when the company had a commercial bait business.
He has installed a water heating and feeding system that he designed that goes to separate tanks that have batches of shrimp in various sizes.
“I’m not afraid of new challenges,” Tanner said.
Since February, he has received four batches of shrimp, with an expected maturity time of about five months.
The first batch has taken a bit longer to get to full size, in part because it takes a while to establish the correct balance of salinity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH and food in the water.
And it takes a while to learn how to raise shrimp compared to raising walleye.
“This is like one big science project,” Tanner said, adding with a quick grin, “And I should’ve paid more attention in biology class.”
There are more empty tanks in his facility that he intends to fill with shrimp.
Tanner estimates it will take two years to fine-tune his system and determine if it’s financially feasible to expand beyond that.
“We’re still in that experimental stage,” he said. “I’m hoping to do it full-time, but we have to crawl before we can run.”
The community gets to benefit from his science project by having fresh shrimp available for sale. The first batch of shrimp will be for sale on a walk-in basis, from Wednesday through Sunday, while they last.
For more information call 320-354-5533.
West Central Tribune by Carolyn Lange