Thousands of recently harvested shrimp make their way down a conveyer belt at Kaua‘i Shrimp’s processing facility. The journey eventually lands the crustaceans into the hands of some of the busiest people in Hanapepe, “Kaua‘i’s biggest little town.” The employees sort the robust sea creatures, which are raised at a farm in Kekaha where 20 tons of shrimp reside within 44 1-acre ponds, bound for destinations around the globe, including many restaurants in Waikiki.
“These are our babies,” says processing manager Andy Althouse, as he provides a tour of the refrigerated area of the processing facility where shrimp are plentiful and there is a noticeable method to the hustling and bustling madness.
There’s been a sharp up-tick in local shellfish sales of late, which keeps the staff at Kaua‘i Shrimp busy meeting the demand.
The business, which is conducted entirely on Kaua‘i, shrimp that are as natural as if you plucked them right out of the ocean. The so called “fruits of the sea” aren’t adulterated with sulfites (what makes people allergic to shrimp), chemicals or processing aids.
Harvest is at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays, after which the shrimp are put through a “chill kill” procedure before being sent to the processing plant a few hours later. There they are graded by size and cuticle hardness, and destined for distribution.
The plant can process more than 5,000 shrimp before noon, and by 2 p.m. have them frozen and bound for their eventual destination on someone’s dinner plate. Each week, roughly 16,000 to 17,000 pounds are delivered throughout the state and the Mainland, as well as other countries like Japan. Last month, however, the enterprise reached a new record by distributing more than 20,000 pounds of shrimp in one week.
“Things are really progressing well,” says Althouse. “Everything we make is already sold. As long as we get shrimp into people’s hands, once they try our product, all they want is more.”
According to Althouse, the magic starts at the nearby farming facility, which reopened its doors about a decade ago. Here, the shrimp are raised in salt water sourced from a well that has percolated through the volcanic substrata of Kaua‘i for eons. Kaua‘i Shrimp also cultivates its own algae to make a hospitable environment to sustain life for the shrimp. This domain, coupled with special anchovy-based food products, lends each Kaua‘i Shrimp crustacean its unique, snappy texture.
“Almost like lobster or a rock shrimp,” says Althouse.
The former executive chef prides himself for having used whole animals “tail to snout” when he professionally prepared food. That’s one reason he enjoys working for Kaua‘i Shrimp: the shrimp are sold with heads, shells and tails still intact. This business strategy contributes to sustainable farming and foregoing waste, allowing chefs to use as much of the product as possible.
Leaving the heads on the shrimp also gives buyers a way to determine freshness and whether the shrimp have been mishandled or if the “cold chain” — being frozen and then re-frozen — has been disrupted. Because if any of these things happen, the head turns red. And just like you wouldn’t want to purchase a fish at the market with cloudy eyes and slimy gills, you wouldn’t want to buy shrimp in this condition.
Providing this kind of superior product is another reason why Althouse continues to remain in charge at the processing facility — that, and the business’ focus on aspects like selective breeding and sustainability.
“It was a perfect match for me,” he says.
Now he gets to work on new projects that include raising and distributing clams and oysters, as well as implementing new traceability and inventory systems. He’s also instrumental in helping the business become one of the top broodstock suppliers on the planet, which means sending “mamas” and “papas” to countries like India, China and Vietnam.
“Aquaculture is going to become more and more important in feeding people on this planet,” says Althouse.
A movement, he adds, that wouldn’t be possible without a team effort.
Visit kauaishrimp.com for more information.