Eduardo Figueras, recently named CEO of GBT’s Taft Campus, welcomed us to this state-of-the-art site, where aquaculture has been re-defined. With more than three decades of experience, Figueras has been involved in the project since its early stages, and he has been responsible for the development of GBT’s genetic lines.
Who is Behind GBT?
The persevering force behind GBT is David Wills. Before venturing into aquaculture, Wills spent a lifetime protecting and fighting for animal rights. It was at that time, and years later during his time as a consultant for Darden Restaurants, that Wills detected a problem behind shrimp farming: it represented a strong source of employment and income in developing countries, however, the traditional aquaculture techniques that were used had immense environmental impacts on ecosystems.
In 1998, David collaborated in a university shrimp farming research project at Gulfport, Mississippi. During this period, he realized that the discoveries made were impressive but far from commercially viable. Afterwards, Wills and some colleagues founded Penaeus Ltd. to test different ideas on how to improve shrimp farming in an environmentally compatible way.
An opportunity to take the project to a commercial scale emerged, and, in 2006, Wills opened a facility in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The performance results were good, then Wills returned to the US where he started a small pilot aquaculture project in Brownsville´s Port Isabel, Texas. It was then that GBT´s innovative technology attracted investors’ attention, and the group started working on what is now known as Global Blue Technologies (GBT).
The Vision Behind GBT
GBT’s investor group is driven by a shared vision, presented by John Elkington in his book Cannibals with forks (1997). In this book, Elkington analyzes how companies implement sustainability principles in their business, and he presents the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) principle: People, Planet, and Profit. The TBL may seem similar to the three aspects of sustainability (environmental, social and economic); nevertheless, Elkington gives special importance to transparency and the investors’ role in business, two key aspects for achieving sustainability.
Besides generating profits, GBT’s investors are interested in giving something back to the environment. They really believe in the TBL principle, and all stakeholders have developed the entire project around it. Eduardo Figueras stated that GBT’s mission is to generate animal protein with low impact on the environment, while the project generates returns for investors and employees.
Located on Copano Bay, Texas, GBT Taft Campus is composed of 4 production modules, housing 32 ponds. Each pond is approximately 1,600 m2. The inflated and imposing white domes that mark the site are one of the aspects that distinguish GBT. The domes have the function of protecting the ponds from viral diseases and climate events, and maintaining optimal conditions (temperature and humidity) for shrimp culture.
The domes allow year-round production, with consecutive cycles of 140 days each. The ponds are stocked with PL 12 larvae from GBT’s own genetic core, at a stocking density of 150 PL/m2. GBT has achieved an average survival rate of 68 % and a Feed Conversion Ratio of 1.87.
GBT staff has managed to harvest shrimp with an average size of 39 g. This can be attributed to the highly monitored recirculating aquaculture system andthe administration of 40 % protein and 25 % energy feed, among many other factors. At present, the production cost is $4.25 USD, a significantly higher cost than that of the main producing countries. However, GBT has achieved a selling price of $10.45 USD (head off), leaving a good profit margin. GBT offers a high value product and there is a market that is willing to pay for it. Global Blue Technologies has developed its own brand - Copano Blues Shrimp®. So far, it has had excellent acceptance in the U.S. and other countries such as Japan.
Japan is a peculiar and demanding market. Copano Blues Shrimp® has been considered as sushi grade – an unofficial term used by stores/restaurants to refer to the highest quality of seafood offered in the market. Additionally, the company is planning the construction of a second production site in Texas to satisfy the increasing demand of the region.
GBT Recirculating Aquaculture System
The Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) used at GBT is a modular bio-secure system that requires no chemical or antibiotic additives; it uses bacterial flocks, which allow for reduced feed costs and accelerated growth. In addition, water heaters are used to maintain temperature. All the water that enters the system is treated and recirculated. The massive multi-chambered biofilter that serves the 32 ponds is located in two adjacent buildings.
After completing the construction of the first production module, the GBT staff had to master several challenges, like the system’s automation. “Over time, we have discovered that the domes are wonderful, but they also have certain complications that make automation harder. For example, changes in temperature during winter and the high humidity levels inside make it difficult to have electrical equipment indoors. We have adapted the design to our conditions. Each dome is different and better than the previous one,” shared Figueras.
An aeration system, which is activated through an oxygen probe, was installed recently. However, feeding automation has not yet been achieved; it continues to be accomplished using feeding trays.
Sea Product Development (SPD)
Seed production is essential for achieving more productive, efficient, biosecure and environmentally friendly aquaculture. Therefore, GBT has also developed its own genetic line of specific pathogen-free (SPF) Litopenaeus vannamei.
Sea Product Development (SPD) is GBT’s genetics development center and core hatchery. SPD facilities are housed within air domes like GBT´s growout facilities, which, together with management protocols and strict control of all environmental parameters, produce ideal biosecurity conditions. SPD facilities have the capability of producing over 300,000 broodstock, 200 million postlarvae (PL) and 300 million nauplii annually.
The genetic program is designed to produce two distinct lines, one for growth and the other for stress resistance to high-density stocking, every three months. Each family produced is challenged in laboratory and field conditions. The best performing families are selected and become the next generation of pure lines, which are never used in commercial ponds. The combination of these two genetic lines generates crossbred animals that integrate the best growth and resistance characteristics. These hybrids become SPD broodstock.
SPD is one of only two companies in the world that has genetic lines that are 100 % free of all the viruses listed by the WOAH. And in order to maintain this, the University of Arizona Aquaculture and Pathology Laboratory monitors SPD’s broodstock for diseases on a monthly basis. The USDA also certifies SDP’s larvae quality for export to Europe. In mid-2015, the company won approval for selling broodstock to India, a country known for its strict restrictions on broodstock importation and commercialization.
SPD: Towards Shrimp Genetics’ Future
Many crustacean species exhibit a bimodal growth pattern, where females grow larger than males or vice versa. In Litopenaeus vannamei, it has been demonstrated that females grow larger than males, up to 25 % and with lower FCR. Therefore, the production of an all-female population is desirable. Currently, SPD is seeking to partner with a company in Israel that has successfully developed the technology to produce all-female progeny in Macrobrachium rosenbergii. SPD is looking to develop this technology for L. vannamei.
“In SPD, we want to differentiate ourselves, do what no one else is doing,” shared Figueras. “The path is already there, we just have to adapt the technology to L. vannamei. We expect to achieve this in the next 1-2 years. What are the benefits? Well, first, culturing only females allows a reduction in the disparity of sizes. Here is an example: when a female reaches 28-30g, a male barely reaches 22g. Nowadays, there are many genetic programs for aquaculture species, but the majority of the producers are unaware of the work that has been done,” commented Figueras.
“The future in shrimp farming is not on what we are doing now. The future lies on what we are going to do in the next 2-3 years. We can’t stay behind with what is working today. We have to compete with ourselves to become better. We have to think about what hasn’t been made, break the barriers a little in order to make something distinct.”
The Way Ahead for SPD
Currently, GBT is working on building a second genetic development center in Yonaguni Island, the westernmost island of Japan.
The process has been long, due to the strict planning and permitting requirements, but construction is expected to start at the end of 2017. The SPD site in Japan is intended to supply the increasing demand of Asian countries for high quality broodstock, estimated at nearly 300 thousand per year.
GBT’s primary mission is to contribute to the environmentally and socially responsible production of marine animal protein. Since its conception, GBT has experienced rapid growth; therefore, for the time being, efforts will be focused on improving processes and generating profits for future investments. For GBT, production growth will be regulated by the capacity to maintain a low environmental impact and socially responsible production. “This year we are in an adjustment process. Currently, we produce 7 kg/m2, and our goal is to reach 15 kg/m2. But for now, we will focus on achieving a steady production,” added Figueras.
In addition to L. vannamei super-intensive production, GBT is seeking to diversify production species. GBT’s research team is developing breeding and culture techniques for finfish species, especially black sable fish (Anoplopoma fimbria). The completion of this project is expected in the upcoming months.
On the other hand, GBT Systems permits its replication anywhere in the world. The investor group has certain preferences for investing in countries that are recovering from difficult situations, so do not be surprised if in the future you hear about the construction of a GBT Campus in Malaysia or Vietnam.
Currently, GBT has another new project in sight: chitin extraction. Chitin is a by-product of the aquaculture industry, and it is a major component of shrimp shells. It has unlimited uses and is in high demand, especially in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
At present, chitin plants are forbidden in North America and Europe, due to hazardous processes and high environmental impacts. This new venture is focused on funding an environmentally benign chitin production facility, which will benefit from the constant supply of GBT’s shrimp shells.
So expect more from Global Blue Technologies in the coming years. It has demonstrated a commitment to the development of sustainable technologies to overcome some of the present-day and future industry challenges. More information can be found at www.globalbluetechnologies.com