Selling sonar for smart seafood farming

How much seafood do you imagine we eat in the U.S. in a year?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. per capita seafood consumption was roughly 19.2 pounds per person in 2019. That means roughly 6.2 billion pounds of seafood was eaten in total across the country.

If you know anything about Baltimore, it’d be fair to assume Early Charm’s home city is among those with higher seafood consumption rates. And Hawaii is high up in the ranks too. So, it makes sense that a technology aimed at making seafood farming, or aquaculture, more effective and efficient is being launched by a team that spans those two locations.

Seafood is a critical pillar of our global food chain, but aquaculture is a tough business, often plagued by high risks and low profits. The industry is in need of high-tech tools that make the job of farming the seafood we all want to eat easier and more profitable.

Enter Minnowtech, an Early Charm portfolio company that is developing that kind of technology. The company is launching its first product this quarter – a device specially designed to help shrimp farmers increase their production and profits.

Dr. Suzan Shahrestani, Minnowtech’s founder, says the tech was developed to solve a simple, well-known industry problem: shrimp farmers often don’t know exactly how many shrimp they have in a pond at any given time. After all, shrimp are pretty small and it would be next to impossible for a person to count how many were swimming around in a pond on their own.

Minnowtech’s device uses sonar to allow shrimp farmers to measure shrimp biomass. Essentially, it enables the farmers to “count” how many shrimp they have at a given time, so they know exactly how much food they need to put into the pond.

Shahrestani says about half of the expenses that go into running a shrimp farm are spent on feed. If the farmers feed their crop too little, they could end up with smaller shrimp that bring lower profits. And if they feed them too much, they could be wasting money.

Minnowtech’s sonar device aims to give shrimp farmers the real time data they need to find the right balance of biomass and feed. The company expects its device can save farmers thousands of dollars on feed in a single harvest cycle, Shahrestani says. The device’s data can also track biomass fluctuations, so that a farmer can quickly identify potential problems, like a disease outbreak, and address them before they become devastating to a harvest.

After more than a year of R&D work, Shahrestani looks forward to shrimp farmers getting their hands on the new device. In the months following the product launch, Minnowtech will be able to gather meaningful data from its real world customers, which will help in further honing its technology and to figuring out what else aqua farmers might need.

“We don’t know yet what they can really do with daily biomass data, because they’ve never had this kind of information to rely on before,” Shahrestani says.

Minnowtech will apply what it learns from this initial launch to future projects and applications. There are plenty of other seafood species grown using aquaculture, and plenty of people farming them who could use a tech boost to their bottom line.

Author: Morgan Eichensehr
Bio: Morgan Eichensehr is a technical writer for Early Charm. She tells the stories behind the science being done at the venture studio's portfolio companies.

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