food / travel

Farming Florida-Bred Shrimp In A German Sewage Plant

Clean waters?
Clean waters?
Gisela Reiners

STRANDE â€" Just north of Strande, along northern Germany's Kiel Fjord, stands the Bülk lighthouse, built in 1865 and still functioning. Around it are rocky beaches, a favorite spot for surfers because of the strong winds that kick up waves coming in from the Baltic Sea.

Just to the west, a less scenic view: a sewage facility, a modern plant with low buildings, lumpy towers and large, round pools that attract flocks of raucous sea gulls. Strangely enough, this is also home to shrimp. The crustaceans are raised by an aquaculture company called Förde-Garnelen (Fjord-Prawn), which set up shop right next to the waste treatment plant. The choice may sound counter-intuitive: Sewage and shrimp aren't exactly the most mouth-watering combination. But the facility's location is actually a stroke of genius.

As is often the case, it's best not to judge a book by its cover. The sewage plant, it turns out, is a fantastic source of clean water, It is also an ideal place to dispose of shrimp excretions, which can simultaneously be used to generate heat that the little critters need to thrive. The conditions, in other words, are nearly perfect.

Testing grounds

Seafood lovers might be disappointed to find they can't actually buy any shrimp at the Bülk facilty. For now, Förde-Garnelen is still experimenting with rather than selling its product: Litopenaeus vannamei, also known as whiteleg shrimp or Pacific white shrimp.

Outside, the facility is encircled by cold winds. But inside, its halls are a hot and steamy 30° Celsius (86°F), with a humidity index of 90%. Treated water drawn from the fjord is saturated with sea salt and aerated with oxygen. The shrimp are separated by size: they are initially grown upstairs, then allowed to migrate to the lower pools via pipes when they have reached a certain size.

Company general managers Stefan Paasch and Bert Wecker explain that this system allows them to avoid manually transfering the shrimp with fishing nets. On the lower floor the pools are draped with nets "to prevent the prawns from jumping out," Wecker explains. With 10 foot-like pods, the creatures have extremely powerful back fins and are able to propel themselves out of the warm water.

Some pools contain several lattices arranged horizontally above one another. These serve as "bedrooms" for the shrimp. "Prawns have quite strong urges to rest at times and that is when they retreat to the lattices," says Wecker. “In the wild they simply lie down on the ocean floor. But in an aquaculture facility, there simply isn't enough space for all the prawns to rest on the floor of the pools. The lattices allow for the pools to be used at their full capacity."

Local production

Wecker, who hails from Plauen in Saxony, is a marine biologist. Paasch, from Groß Wittensee near Eckernförde, is the builder. The two met at an aquaculture conference. Wecker knew about the sewage treatment plant because of work he did there as researcher with the Kiel University. Paasch, worked for a company that worked in tandem with the university. After they met, the two decided to pool their knowledge and utilize the treatment facility for their budding industry.

More than 90% of the 65 million tons of seafood consumed in Germany annually is imported from abroad, mostly from China, Vietnam and Indonesia. The frozen seafood can last for about 6-7 months, but its production often takes a toll on the environment. Increasing demand in Europe, Japan and the United States for shrimp is leading to water pollution and the deforestation in mangrove forests, where the crustaceans tend to be raised.

There are a number of reasons, therefore, why local aquaculture production makes sense, especially given the availability of EU subsidies. Another company, York Dyckerhoff, has established a shrimp farm in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

Still, raising prawns is no easy endeavor. In the case of Förde-Garnelen, Paasch is responsible for the technical aspects of the plant and is constantly striving to optimize its usage. Wecker looks after the animals, which arrive as babies in consignments of 500,000. They are transported by plane from Florida, arriving in plastic bags complete with water and oxygen.

"We work with seedlings seeing as it would be too expensive and difficult to produce the larvae ourselves," says Wecker. Between half and 80% of the seedlings survive, he says. "But we believe we can increase the rate."

The 5-mm long animals â€" all eyes at that stage â€" are nursed with special food consisting of tiny sardine crustaceans and soy protein. Over the course of six months, the shrimp grow from an initial weight of approximately 0.03 grams to 30-35 grams. That's when a tiny electrical shock and some very cold water are used to kill the prawns.

The very first gourmets are enjoying the fruit of the Bülk sewage plant, as local restaurants participating in a network called “Feinheimisch” (Fine Local) have, on occasion, been able to serve the tasty seafood treats. Other would-be customers are now lining up.

"The prawns aren't frozen," says Wecker. "We send them in thermal boxes that will enable them to be delivered fresh to any customer within the country within 24 hours."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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