FELLSMERE -- A company with a plan to grow large shrimp for grocery stores could be coming to Fellsmere, officials announced this week.
An investment firm is scouting locations in Fellsmere that would allow for the large-scale aquaculture production of shrimp for consumption. Mirzam Investor Green Card LLC is simultaneously reaching out to foreign investors to fund the start-up of the venture in exchange for green cards.
"America is still the most desirable country in the world," said Mirzam CEO Cliff Morris.
Mirzam is proposing a 22-acre shrimp farm that is expected to have 53 full-time employees and be operational within four months of breaking ground on the site.
The firm is looking at property within the Fellsmere Joint Venture acreage.
Fellsmere City Manager Jason Nunemaker was credited for the possibility of the farm coming to Fellsmere due to his enthusiasm and responsiveness.
Morris told the Indian River County Economic Development Council that he had been in contact with several other government bodies that all said a lot, but nothing ever came of their talk.
“It happened here,” he said of Fellsmere. “I’m partial to Fellsmere.”
When asked if the shrimp farm would need any special zoning, Nunemake said it wouldn’t be needed.
"It's agriculture," Nunemaker said. "The one thing we don't want for" is agricultural land in Indian River County.
Morris and fellow aquaculture partner Dr. Bill McGraw made a presentation of the proposed farm to the economic group, explaining how the project would work..
McGraw worked on a similar project in South Africa, where Morris is from, and explained how the facility would work.
The shrimp farm would be located under a bio-dome type structure, which would allow for more environmental control.
There would be no water discharge from the farm, McGraw said, explaining that the pond water would be filtered through plants or clams.
Economic Development Council member Scott Carson asked Morris if market research had been done and if that research showed people would be willing to pay more for the larger, locally-grown shrimp.
"If it came from Fellsmere, it's a plus," Carson said, explaining that people are becoming more aware of where their food is coming from and are willing to pay more for it..
Morris told the council that the only way the farm would be financially viable is if shoppers are willing to pay a premium for the larger shrimp.
The Fellsmere farm is projected to grow 40-gram (1.4-ounce) shrimp, compared to Asian shrimp that weigh 30 grams or less.
"It's not a commodity," Morris said, but instead a "superior" product that is expected to fetch a higher price than the smaller, mass produced shrimp grown in Asia.
"We're confident there's market demand," he added.
Along with shrimp, the firm is considering farming cobia - a quick-growing fish that has a proven to do well farm-raised.
McGraw explained that farm-raised fish help to take the burden off wild-caught fish. And cobia can be a profitable endeavor.
“They want to be environmentally friendly,” McGraw said of investors, “but they do want to make money.”
There is no firm timetable for when Mirzam Investor Green Card expects to secure property and establish Florida Organic Aquaculture. The timetable depends upon the speed with which Mirzam can secure investors.
As for the foreign investment, Morris explained that about a month ago, he received permission from the federal government to establish an EB-5 “regional center” that allows foreign investors to get a green card if they invest $1 million in an American business that creates at least 10 full-time jobs for American workers.
Because the shrimp farm is expected to be located in a rural and high unemployment area, the investment level can be lowered to $500,000. Indian River County has the third highest unemployment rate in Florida.