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Freshwater Prawns Raised in Midwest

September 9, 2002

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JONESBORO, Ill. (AP) _ There’s not a beach or seaworthy boat anywhere near Bobby Boyd’s house in the southern Illinois woods, but the 20,000 Malaysian prawns living in his ponds taste like they came out of the Pacific Ocean.

Boyd is one of a tiny but growing number of people in the Midwest raising the 6-inch crustaceans, once raised only in big hatcheries in the Deep South.

Since researchers discovered the prawns can grow in cooler climates, farmers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois and Ohio have been dumping buckets of the half-inch juveniles into their ponds and raising them the few months to adulthood, netting as much as $4,000 an acre.

In Illinois, 27 farmers are raising prawns, triple the number of last year. The state’s 40 acres will probably yield at least 20,000 pounds of prawns at $8 a pound, said Dan Selock, an aquaculture researcher at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Last year’s nine acres generated a fraction of that.

``Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t tell me, ’You can’t grow (prawns) in southern Illinois,‴ said Boyd. ``We’re showing them that you can, and you can make money.″

The former vegetable grower first learned of the crop two years ago in a newspaper article from Kentucky, where researchers from Kentucky State University in Frankfort spearheaded studies on the subject.

The United States imports about $4 billion more shrimp from other countries _ mostly in Southeast Asia _ than it exports, said James Tidwell, a researcher at Kentucky State.

Boyd dug a couple of ponds near his house and rigged two 10,000-gallon tanks in his garage out of parts of grain bins and swimming-pool liners to make a ``nursery.″

He fashioned a filter from quilt batting to clean the tanks of excrement, and Bob’s Shrimp Farm was born.

``I call it that because no one around here knows what prawns are,″ he said. ``You say ‘shrimp,’ and they know what you’re talking about.‴

A hatchery in Weatherford, Texas, sent some baby prawns in a cooler, and they lived in the indoor tanks until about 60 days old, when Boyd scooped them up in buckets and dumped them into the outdoor ponds for the summer.

Purina Mills Inc. of St. Louis sent a representative to discuss the animals’ diet. It wasn’t long before the country’s largest animal-feed maker was pumping out Purina Freshwater Shrimp Chow, and Boyd had perched a homemade dispenser on the back of a riding lawnmower to spread the stuff in the ponds.

``We were responding to the growth of the industry in the Midwest,″ said Mark Griffin, director of zoology and aquatics for the feed-maker. ``There’s no question the industry has seen major growth in the past couple of years.″

So far, Boyd and his fellow growers have sold their harvest to people who preorder or at local festivals, which have proven popular in the rural area where the closest thing to seafood has been mostly catfish, bass and bluegill.

Last year, Boyd sold all 1,000 pounds of his harvest at a party on harvest day. Some 350 people came to eat his jambalaya and kabobs, or to take their frozen prawns home on ice.

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