Brothers Turn toward the Unconventional with St. Charles County Shrimp Farm

By Gray, Bryce | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

Brothers Turn toward the Unconventional with St. Charles County Shrimp Farm


Gray, Bryce, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


FORISTELL * "I see they're closed, but I still gotta ask questions," said Nick Damaso, after pulling down the gravel driveway marked with the shrimp-emblazoned sign for Triple J Farms, near Foristell. Damaso, a resident of nearby Lake Sherwood, walked to the door, determined to learn more.

His curiosity was justified, since it's not often one comes across a shrimp farm in Missouri. But here, about 650 miles removed from the nearest ocean saltwater, Triple J Farms is making its move into inland shrimp aquaculture.

In place of the sea, the operation has crammed eight round pools plus an additional water storage tank into a modestly sized indoor facility enough to stock up to 28,000 Pacific whiteleg shrimp. In November, the farm welcomed its first delivery of post-larval shrimp and made its first sale in February when that shipment completed its roughly three-month growth cycle into jumbo-size specimens as long as a human hand.

The novelty of the business might raise some eyebrows and attract visitors such as Damaso for tours, but Jeff and James Howell the brothers who operate the farm hope its regional uniqueness can become a selling point. So far, the farm has served customers only over the counter at its Foristell facility, but the Howells are aiming to attract business from restaurants looking to buy locally produced and responsibly raised seafood.

"We'd love to partner with a restaurant," Jeff Howell said. "There's nobody yet (in St. Louis) with farm-to-table seafood."

Triple J sees an opportunity to step into that void.

"A lot of people today, they don't know where their main protein comes from," James Howell said. That's especially true, the brothers say, for seafood in the U.S., more than 90 percent of which is imported.

Shrimp, like many kinds of seafood, is prone to overfishing. But the majority of the world's supply is farmed not caught with Asian countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam dominating production. Shrimp aquaculture in Asia is its own cause of environmental concern, with shrimp farms' discharge of effluent representing a significant pollution issue in coastal areas.

The opportunity to provide a locally sourced alternative was compelling enough to draw the Howell brothers away from former jobs in excavation and helping on the family's farm of row crops near Defiance. The idea originated with their father, Dave Howell, who read about shrimp farms as a market for soybean meal in a Corn and Soybean Digest article several years ago. Triple J doesn't use soy-based feed, but the story piqued a lasting interest in aquaculture that Dave eventually passed to his sons.

"I just thought it was something different and no one was doing it around here," said Dave, who co-owns the business along with a third son, Jason. "And I love shrimp."

Now Jeff and James' around-the-clock attention is commanded by the undertaking, which requires constant management of water temperature, oxygen levels, alkalinity and other variables crucial to shrimp survival. The operation does not discharge any of its water, recycling it through the system and relying on the bacteria that coexist with the shrimp to consume the waste and keep the water clean.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Howells aren't alone as Midwestern shrimp producers. …

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