Freshwater Prawns A freshwater shrimp farmer needs to be as comfortable in front of a camera or crowd as she is wading into a muck-filled pond. Dolores Fratesi, co-owner of the Lauren Farms catfish and prawn operation in Leland, learned that lesson as soon as she and her husband hooked up with Mississippi State University to launch one of the state’s first freshwater prawn businesses in 2001. Turn on the television on any given Tuesday in the Mississippi Delta, and there’s Fratesi cooking up freshwater crustaceans on the morning news program. You’ll also see her at the county fair. At the trade show. At a demonstration on seafood preparation. And, yes, that’s her at a national conference on aquaculture in California, too. Fratesi travels the South and beyond with one goal in mind: to educate people about freshwater shrimp. Marketing Freshwater Prawns The biggest obstacle in freshwater shrimp farming “is the marketing of the product,” Fratesi says. “A catfish farmer sends fish to the plant. That’s his responsibility and that’s it. The prawn is a niche market. The individual producers market their own prawns. Some people are more comfortable with marketing and some are not. But once they get the word out about the prawns, they pretty well sell themselves.” Fratesi has become a sort of spokeswoman for the relatively small freshwater prawn industry. Here’s a taste of what she tells her audience: First and probably foremost, freshwater prawns are delicious. Their flavor and texture is more delicate than saltwater shrimp – something closer to lobster. In taste tests at Mississippi State and Kentucky State University, freshwater shrimp compared favorably to their saltwater friends. Second, they’re good for you. Prawns, which are low in fat but high in protein, are a good alternative to many meat products. Third, there are lots of ways to prepare them. When you read about freshwater shrimp or hear someone talking about them, you can almost hear Bubba Blue, the character in Forrest Gump, “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it …” Actually, there are lot more possibilities. Fratesi spends a lot of her time sharing recipes to generate interest in freshwater shrimp. Fratesi is also eager to tell people that prawns fit in well with the local food movement. Currently, most freshwater prawns are sold direct to customers. With the exception of some mail-order clients around the country, that means selling to folks in the region, either pond-side at the time of harvest or through other local sales. Prawns meet most definitions of sustainable seafood. They don’t deplete naturally occurring resources, and they rarely require the use of chemicals. As concerns grow over depleting ocean fish stocks, customers are increasingly seeking out sustainable alternatives. Recent ratings from organizations like Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium give freshwater prawns their highest ranking for sustainability. A Growing Industry Fratesi and her husband, Steve, started out as catfish farmers in 1986. In the late 1990s, they were approached by Mississippi State to see if they would be interested in participating in a trial to determine the viability of a freshwater prawn industry. “Steve thought it would be a great opportunity to diversify,” Fratesi says. Mississippi State saw Lauren Farm’s existing catfish ponds as a good opportunity. The aquifer under the Mississippi Delta also seemed ideal. Prawns offer some clear benefits for the farmer. The growing cycle is only 120 days or four months. Farms can average between 750 and 1,000 pounds of shrimp an acre. Prawns also do well in smaller ponds – an acre or half acre – so it’s possible to get more production using smaller acreage. The viability of the industry also depends on the ability to raise prawns to a juvenile stage and provide them to farmers who are raising them. The testing with Mississippi State proved Lauren Farms could be a provider of juvenile prawns for Mississippi farmers, and that has become a large part of their business. Fratesi has enjoyed the business, both in her public role and on the farm. She likes that Lauren Farms is on the forefront of a relatively new industry. “My husband, he’s a visionary,” Fratesi says. “He really saw a need for a large-scale, viable source of seafood that’s sustainable and nonpolluting. So far, it’s been an adventure.”

See Also:  Mississippi Cow Country


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