UK Sustainable King Prawn Project

Principal Investigator: Professor Wilson, University of Exeter

Terrestrial farming is the greatest driver of biodiversity loss, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, and faces its most transformational reform in 50 years to improve both environmental and economic sustainability. The new Agriculture Act, 25YEP, has committed to net zero carbon emissions and policies to enhance environmental stewardship, sustainability and support the production of public goods.

This project aims to demonstrate the socio-economic benefit of a world-leading ‘terrestrial blue economy’, contributing multiple public goods to reform UK agriculture.

Combining high value shrimp aquaculture with farm-based renewable energy will provide a novel home-grown output with considerable but poorly understood economic and health potential. The public goods benefits of a switch from beef/sheep production to shrimp include:

  • lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • less water pollution
  • better land use.

This will also free land for other public goods such as trees, biodiversity and recreation. Furthermore, co-locating self-contained, indoor shrimp production units with UK farm anaerobic digesters (AD) will maximise use of the (otherwise wasted) heat energy. This will enhance the sustainability and circularity of both industries. Extra income will also boost the farm-based renewable energy sector, helping the UK meet emissions targets.

Shrimp is a healthy seafood that promotes brain and heart health by being:

  • high protein
  • low in calories
  • low fat
  • rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Warm water shrimp is already highly popular in the UK, with 22,852 tons (UK retail £319M) imported annually from Central America and SE Asia. However, traditional overseas production is:

  • vulnerable to climate/disease crises
  • has high transport-related CO2 emissions
  • often uses environmentally unsustainable practices.

These practices include destroying up to 80% of nations’ mangrove forests, which absorb and trap more CO2 than any other of Earth’s ecosystems. They also provide coastal protection against storms and coastal erosion. Plus, there is the problem of illegal use (or just misuse) of chemicals such as pesticides and antibiotics. This results in contaminant residues in some of the shrimp exported to the UK, EU and US, which can cause health issues.

This proposal aims to completely avoid these problems and ensure a risk-free, healthier and sustainable supply chain of this heart- and brain- healthy seafood for UK-consumers. We’ll do this by facilitating a major expansion of the UK’s shrimp recirculation agricultural systems (RAS) production sector, which currently supplies the equivalent of <1% of imports.

We aim to co-locate RAS production with renewable energy sources on UK terrestrial farms. We conservatively estimate that if only 20% of the UK’s current AD plants were adapted for shrimp farming, we could sustain 960 shrimp production units and harvest 5,520 tonnes of shrimp per year (~25% of current UK warm water shrimp imports).

With the rapid growth of AD plants across UK farms (a tenfold increase since 2010), there is clear potential for truly sustainable, healthier, home-grown shrimp to provide the majority consumed in the near future.

This will be in addition to enhancing environmental stewardship, sustainability and supporting the production of public goods from UK agricultural practices.

Importantly, this project will generate data to evaluate the true potential of sustainable UK shrimp production using renewable energy technology. It will also provide the shrimp industry with the necessary world-class scientific support.

This project will therefore address three goals to transform the UK food system:

  1. increased environmental sustainability of farm practices (for example, sustainable use of existing waste heat from ADs)
  2. economically sustainable expansion of UK land-based aquaculture production and employment
  3. establishing the UK as a leader regarding capability, expertise and innovation in coreforming agriculture and aquaculture.