Alberta's first shrimp farm launched near Strathmore
Waterford Farms is latest and possibly most unlikely entrant into aquaculture
Alberta is famous for many things, good and bad, in the eyes of the rest of the country.
Shrimp isn't one of them.
But thanks to a initiative launched in January by Calgary's Keith Driver, that may be about to change.
Driver is the owner of Waterford Farms, near Strathmore, the first large scale commercial shrimp growing operation to open in the province.
All of which begs the question: why shrimp? In Alberta?
"It's one of those ubiquitous proteins," Driver said in an interview with Doug Dirks on The Homestretch. "People talk about eating fish. They talk about salmon as being the No. 1 seafood. Number 2 would be shrimp."
"Fresh shrimp is a really good market opportunity."
How, exactly, do you grow shrimp in landlocked Alberta?
In the case of Waterford Farms, this means importing enough baby shrimp from Texas to grow around 45,000 kilograms a year.
"We bring the shrimp babies in when they're about 10 days old from Texas," he said. "We put them in a tank at the top of the stack and we keep letting them drop down through the system as they grow, and then we harvest them at the bottom, so that they live essentially in a moving river."
It turns out baby shrimp isn't the only thing being imported into Waterford Farms, either.
"We actually have to import the salt," Driver said. "You can't use just a table salt because that doesn't have all the things that the ocean might provide for the shrimp to develop their shells or to balance the chemistry of the water."
"We actually import sea salt," he added. "We mix it up in our systems of zero discharge — so we bring water in, we get it salted the way we want it, [we get] the salinity where we want it and then we run it through the system, changing the water out every 45 minutes and just cycling it all day, every day."
Driver said the quality of water is the core of what he does.
"Aquaculture is really a water science business," he said.
"We spend the vast majority of our capital and time worrying about the water quality, because if the water is good, the shrimp will grow," he said.
That involves a process of continuously recycling water through mechanical filtration devices, and adding no chemicals.
So in a way, Waterford Farms is growing Gulf of Mexico shrimp with an Alberta postal code — 50,000 of them a month, in fact.
"They're not born here but about as close as you can get," said Driver, an environmental engineer.
Blending skill sets
It was a combination of market analysis and plugging that into his particular skill set that allowed Driver to hatch the idea of being a landlocked aquaculture developer, he said.
"My expertise and those of the people in my network was around water and wastewater treatment and around environmental concerns," he said, "and this is what this industry hinges on.
"So it was a natural convergence of engineering and sustainability and [the] social component put together to build a business. That's something I'm pretty proud of," he added.
Driver said the first harvest is coming up at the end of the month. He's already had about 80 chefs come out to check out the farm and the shrimp. With good luck, the first Waterford Farm shrimps will be plated somewhere around the end of May.
But does he like shrimp?
"I love shrimp. I love it and a lot of ways I've had it. Everything from fresh — straight out of the tank — to prepared any number of ways by the chefs that we've had out to play with the product. "
With files from The Homestretch.