Growers' Insights: Freshwater prawns

Farmers say this is a safe, sustainable seafood that is swimming in popularity and profitability.

Published in FSD Update

The terms “shrimp” and “prawn” are often used interchangeably, although various organizations emphasize the slight distinctions between the two. But for the farmers that raise them, it’s all about taste and texture. “A prawn is not a shrimp,” clarifies Charlene Jacobs, an owner and manager of Harvest of the Great Spirit Prawn Farm, in Clinton, N.C., and president of the American Prawn Cooperative. “A prawn’s flavor and texture is comparable to lobster.”

Farm-raised, freshwater prawns (the species Macrobrachium rosenbergii, also called the Malaysian prawn or giant river prawn) are designated a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, and the 200 million gallons of oil spilt in the Gulf in 2010 certainly enhanced farm-raised prawns’ status as a safe, sustainable seafood, when ocean-raised shellfish were covered in crude.

Dolores Fratesi, an owner/operator with husband, Steve, of Lauren Farms, in Leland, Miss., produces an average of 800 pounds of prawns per acre. “No chemicals are ever used,” she says of the small-pond, free-range, locally fed prawns that she raises, alongside other crops on their 500-acre farm. “Having a free-range environment requires a minimum of feed, as prawns eat the natural productivity of ponds (plant life and algae), which is stimulated by an organic fertilization practice that uses corn gluten pellets, range cubes and alfalfa pellets.”

Growing conditions

Water quality is crucial. Jacobs’ pond water is checked twice daily for pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), the depth of the bloom (how deep you can see in the water) and water temperature. “The alkalinity and hardness of the water are checked weekly,” Jacobs says. “If the balance is incorrect, the prawn can’t survive.”

Brenda Lyons is the owner and operator of Lyons Fisheries, a land-locked farm in south central Illinois. “During a good year, we will raise 1,100 pounds of freshwater prawns,” Lyons says. “We harvest the prawns by draining our specifically designed ponds. We recycle all the pond water into a reservoir and then pump it back into the production ponds.”

Prawns are kept alive in chilled, aerated tanks after giving them a thorough washing in a clean water bath. “Then we quickly chill-kill them in an ice slurry right before freezing them to keep that sweet, mild flavor in the tail meat,” she adds.

Price points

According to Fratesi, U.S. farm-raised prawns are a niche market, not a commodity market, and prices have held steady for many years.

Lyons says, “We price our shrimp based on the cost of juveniles, feed prices, electricity and anything that goes into the cost of raising the prawns. Previously, we’d kept the price at $9 per pound for four years, but in 2013 we got $10 per pound for fresh, live prawns.”

After processing and packaging, the prices vary due to grade or how many prawns it takes to make a pound. “It would take almost two pounds of whole prawns to equal one pound of tail meat. Tail meat varies from $18.95 downward,” Jacobs says. “Whole prawns can sell from $14.95 down to $6.50, depending on the grade.

“Currently the market prefers whole prawns over tail meat,” Jacobs says. “Two years ago, the American Prawn Cooperative started blast freezing the whole prawns with legs and claws intact. This decision was driven by market demand,” she says. 

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
baked bread

Instead of sourcing value-added product to reduce labor, the food and nutrition team at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison outsources its baked goods to a local shop that hires only formerly incarcerated workers. The bakery was able to hire two new former inmates in order to keep up with the volume needs of the hospital. “We want to be really entrenched in the community, not just have a building that sits in the center of Madison,” says Amy Mihm, clinical nutrition specialist for the hospital.

Ideas and Innovation
cold storage boxes

When working with a small footprint, the back of the house often gets squeezed in the interest of preserving precious seats. But as storage space contracts, these restaurant operators are getting resourceful with everything from shelves to ceiling height to inventory in ways that FSDs can apply, too.

“When we were first tasked with figuring out smaller footprints, when it came to interiors, it was like a bad riddle,” says Trinity Hall, SVP of development for Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which shrunk its prototype from 2,200 square feet to 1,800. “Let’s make it smaller and...

Managing Your Business
food symbols allergens

Bellevue School District in King County, Wash., has reduced the instances of life-threatening allergic reactions by 94% since 2013. Wendy Weyer, business manager for nutrition services, says that success stems from direct communication with the district’s 20,000 students.

Q: What was the first thing you did to start reducing allergic reactions?

A: More than five years ago, we changed our menu signage to provide information to students on what the common allergens were on all the foods that were served at every station. We use symbols such as an egg or a wheat stalk for younger...

Menu Development
induction cooking nuts

Thanks to prolific fast casuals such as Chipotle, guests have come to expect a certain level of customization in their dining options. For almost 50% of Generation Zers, customization is a deciding factor when purchasing food, according Technomic’s 2016 Generational Consumer Trend Report . Taking customization even further, operations are handing over even more control to customers with both build-your-own and cook-your-own stations.

Elder Hall’s My Kitchen station at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., offers a daily rotating ingredient bar with items such as stir-fry,...

FSD Resources