Fish farming goes in the tank

James Tran held a Pacific whiteleg shrimp at his facility in Stoughton.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
James Tran held a Pacific whiteleg shrimp at his facility in Stoughton.

Many people eat seafood as part of healthy living. James Tran is losing weight producing shrimp in a warehouse in Stoughton. “There’s so much stress, I lost 25 pounds in two years,” Tran laughed. “I beat Jenny Craig.” Tran is smiling because he is one of a new breed of innovative entrepreneurs keeping fish on the menu as fishing fleets confront increased catch restrictions.

Tran runs one of the nearly dozen indoor shrimp-tank farming operations that have popped up around the country in the last five years. The ability of these operators to figure out issues like water quality and temperature control, and raise shrimp for market without antibiotics while using sophisticated feed blends of fish oil, vegetables, algae, and seaweed, has stunned aquaculture experts. “I once did some shrimp and crayfish farming in old tidal ponds in South Carolina, and I never thought it would be possible to grow shrimp in a tank,” Michael Rubino, director of aquaculture for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in an interview. “These guys and gals are pioneers.”

Rubino believes farmers such as Tran have put the United States on the cusp of a “renaissance” of domestic seafood production, being led in part by the boom in oyster farming in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the revival of salmon farming in Maine. Indoor tank farming increases the possibilities even more, and many other entrepreneurs are considering similar operations for trout, salmon, Arctic char, and flounder. Tran sells most of his shrimp to customers in Boston’s Chinatown. But his pioneering spirit should be an inspiration in a promising new industry that other innovators in New England should take seriously.