By: Aquaculture Magazine *
The future of aquaculture production fits in a container, uses state of the art technology, and was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico. This is the story of Shrimpbox, Atarraya Inc.’s most ambitious project, which promises to transform an entire industry and satisfy the hunger of an overpopulated world.
For the US market ($40 bn a year), fresh and sustainable shrimp is a far off dream. But it won’t be for long if our coastal Oaxaca team has anything to say about it.
From Mexico, we have developed Shrimpbox, the world’s first robotic shrimp farm: a sophisticated yet straightforward technological piece of equipment that challenges the dominant decades-old aquaculture paradigms.
Shrimpbox is more than a cargo container: it is a technological system designed to create life. With automated systems and software capable of learning and making decisions, this piece of engineering has the potential to help aquaculture take its biggest step forward in decades.
“One day, I was talking with a Harvard astrophysicist who was experimenting the International Space Station,” recalls Daniel Russek, CEO of Atarraya Inc., in an interview for Aquaculture Magazine. “He thought there must be a way to bring live shrimp to restaurants in the United States, and I, as a producer, assured him that this was impossible.”
- “Why is it impossible?” Asked the scientist, and Russek replied that heating the water is too expensive.
- “Not true,” responded the scientist, “everything depends on thermal inertia.”
From that conversation, one by one, all the technical obstacles that Russek raised were dismantled under scientific scrutiny. “You haven’t done your homework,” stated the physicist at some point, leaving an idea planted in the businessman’s mind. Months later, an idea would begin to grow, be nurtured, be tested by trial and error, and, finally, become a functional prototype.
Human talent, artificial intelligence
For ten years, Maricultura Vigas a producer and part of the Atarraya Inc. consortium has produced shrimp using biofloc technology. Biofloc eliminates the need for antibiotics and other dangerous chemicals. It also reduces land and water usage to a fraction of that used by traditional techniques.
Maricultura Vigas also exports to the United States under the Agua Blanca brand. The flavor of our First prototype model of Shrimpbox, “Blue Whale” produce has enchanted chefs like José Andrés, owner of Grupo Jaleo, and one of TIME’s most influential people in the United States.
With all that said, air transportation’s financial and environmental costs are an obstacle to achieving financial profitability and full sustainability. For which Shrimpbox is the answer.
“Shrimpbox allows for production in diverse climates, requires less labor, and is modular: the containers that make up a farm can be located in different locations and moved as often as necessary.”
However, creating a system capable of automating up to 85% of aquaculture production requires the inventiveness and knowledge of a multidisciplinary team. Biologists, engineers, programmers, and designers from different parts of the world have embraced the huge challenge of this project, and in it, they have found inspiration.
Michel Facen, born in the Netherlands and raised in Argentina, was an agricultural production engineer in Switzerland before coming to Puerto Escondido and becoming Maricultura Vigas’ principal hardware developer.
For Michel, the most complex part of Shrimpbox’s creation was the automation “of practically all the processes. For example, monitoring the quality of water, oxygen, and the initiation of the different systems.”
A failure in oxygen supply can result in high mortality in a matter of hours even minutes. To guard against this, Shrimpbox can send alerts by cell phone so that, from a distance, experts can take the necessary measures to avoid any disaster.
The Shrimpbox automatic feeding system not only reduces labor hours in the ponds but improves the growth scheme by supplying the feed in the containers as and when it is necessary and in the right quantities to avoid waste.
For all these systems to operate in an integrated way, artificial intelligence is needed, a software capable of storing and processing enormous amounts of data and then learning to make decisions based on that data.
“Shrimpbox is more than a cargo container: it is a technological system designed to create life. With automated systems and software capable of learning and making decisions, this piece of engineering has the potential to help aquaculture take its biggest step forward in decades.”
The company is named for its software: Atarraya, and it’s the main reason why Shrimpbox will become attractive to investment funds interested in projects with a vision for the future.
Today, the most valued companies in global financial markets are those that produce software, whether for mobility (Waze, Uber, Tesla), entertainment (Netflix, Prime, Spotify), computing (Apple), or any other software imaginable. According to Daniel Russek, it was time for aquaculture to take a step into the future.
Michel Facen, production engineering manager at Atarraya, Inc.
Seeing is believing
In December 2019, just as the world was about to change forever, Arleta Skrzyńska was working as a teacher and researcher at the Autonomous University of Baja California in Ensenada. She was 9,700 kilometers away from her native Poland and just about as far away again from imagining the turn her life would take in the following months.
“One day, Daniel Russek visited the university. He was asking me about food issues: how to produce the most sustainable fish and shrimp, and what experiments we were conducting at the University.”
Then Russek told her about his shrimp farm. “He told me about the issues he faced, about the work that Maricultura Vigas was doing in Oaxaca, about the whole story of where he came from and where he was going.”
However, Skrzyńska was well aware of the shrimp industry’s reputation. “It’s bad. It’s an industry that hasn’t changed a bit in the last 20 years. The same techniques, the same engineering, or rather, the same lack of engineering.”
So, “when Daniel talked about Atarraya’s automation processes, I was amazed. The truth is, I didn’t believe a single word,” she says, laughing.
Months later, Skrzyńska would see with her own eyes that producing shrimp with biofloc was not only possible but viable. The biologist would go on to join Atarraya’s development team for their most ambitious project: Shrimpbox.
“I was really happy to be able to participate in a project that has so much to do with the future of global shrimp farming.” She admits that while she was skeptical, she understood that Shrimpbox solved strategic problems in the industry and functions within the constraints of a depleted planet.
An animal welfare specialist, Skrzyńska, conducted the first cultivation experiments on the Shrimpbox prototype. She watched the container’s tanks fill and then explode with life.
“At that moment, we saw the containers filled with water; everything worked, the shrimp were inside, that was a great relief. We saw that this container, which had only been an idea, became a living thing and that it was working.”
The keys to success
There is probably no one better qualified in the world to talk about biofloc in shrimp farming than Plinio Furtado Smith, MV’s Production chief. For many years Furtado has seen projects born in Brazil and other parts of the world.
“For Daniel Russek, shrimp production’s horizons are golden. As long as it’s oriented towards technological innovation with a vision of the future.”
The difference of Shrimpbox, he says, is “the degree of automation that will decrease personnel labor hours. It can save you a lot in terms of the number of workers since almost everything is going to be done automatically.”
Furthermore, he highlights the ease of installation and movement of the farms. “If you want to start a project, it would only be a matter of buying the Shrimpbox, constructing a base, and getting started. That buys you time which is a competitive advantage of the system.”
“After the first successful tests of the prototype, Atarraya has commenced serial production of the first commercial model of Shrimpbox: Blue Whale, which, perhaps, will prove to be the missing piece of the puzzle that aquaculture needed to bring it into the 21st century.”
It is “a closed system that allows for more stability than a large pond, which needs to resist the elements.” Producing in a Shrimpbox is “much easier. It gives you reliability in the quality of the water, and it reduces the oscillation of PH throughout the day with aeration. It maintains simple oxygen levels above 5 milligrams per liter, even if you have a biomass of 6 to 8 kilos per cubic meter.”
Farms of the future, the near future
For Daniel Russek, shrimp production’s horizons are golden. As long as it’s oriented towards technological innovation with a vision of the future.
The company is already planning the first installation of an automated farm in the United States: Around 100 containers in just over half a hectare. This will be the starting pistol for a revolutionary project.
“This model could, at last, attract the attention of investment funds looking out for revolutionary projects.”
With Shrimpbox, “you can open up financing for aquaculture,” Russek says. “If you ask a bank for money to dig holes in the ground for ponds, that’s not attractive for them. If you can’t pay them back, all they can do is seize your holes in the ground. With Shrimpbox, you can offer the equipped containers as a guarantee.”
After the first successful tests of the prototype, Atarraya has commenced serial production of the first commercial model of Shrimpbox: Blue Whale, which, perhaps, will prove to be the missing piece of the puzzle that aquaculture needed to bring it into the 21st century.
One stone, four different birds
Due to its sophisticated simplicity and the technological integration that brings it all together, Shrimpbox has exciting possibilities for different clients and users:
Farm: 25 units can produce 30 tons of produce per year. They take up little space, and installation is quick.
Maturity: a traditional farm could use the Shrimpbox as a pregrowth module to improve its productivity by extending the production cycle to obtain better sizes or by attaining more cycles per year.
Laboratory/school: in universities, the equipment could be used for students to learn biofloc cultivation in a hyperintensive and automated system.
Research and development: tests of systems and types of feeding, salinities, genetics, and other parameters can be carried out.
*For more information, please visit: https://atarraya.ai/