North Fork shrimp farmers eye Peconic for farm

Tess Gordon of Celestial Shrimp shows off Bob the shrimp at Wednesday’s town board meeting. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)
Tess Gordon of Celestial Shrimp shows off Bob the shrimp at Wednesday’s town board meeting. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

A shrimp named Bob visited the Southold Town Board last week.

Bob — along with many other shrimp — was raised and harvested by Todd and Tess Gordon in tanks located in the basement of their Laurel home.

The couple was inspired to get into the shrimping business after the BP oil spill caused widespread damage to sea life in the Gulf of Mexico, they said. For the past two years, they’ve been receiving baby shrimp from a breeder in Florida and raising them to full-size.

The shrimp are housed in tanks that are self-sustaining, as the water is cleaned by a recirculating aquaculture system, Ms. Gordon explained to officials.

“We’ve been working on this a while,” Ms. Gordon said.

Now the couple, which owns a start-up business Celestial Shrimp, is looking to expand its operation into a commercial space on a nine-acre lot on Route 48 in Peconic. They are hoping to construct a 54-foot wide, 270-foot long freshwater shrimp farm, where up to 300 to 400 pounds of shrimp could be harvested weekly, Ms. Gordon said.

The property would need to be rezoned, requiring Town Board approval. That’s why they were before the board last Wednesday.

The wooded Peconic property is currently zoned for residential housing. Under current zoning, such an operation would only be permitted in one of Southold’s marine districts, which are near waterfronts.

The business model for Celestial Shrimp is comparable to year-round shrimp farms in Indiana, where aquaculture is thriving in an area known for its vast corn fields, the couple said.

Much of Celestial Shrimp’s baby shrimp will now arrive from RDM Aquaculture Inc., a shrimp farm in Fowler, Ind., Ms. Gordon said after the meeting.

If the proposal comes to fruition, Celestial Shrimp would be the only shrimp farm in New York, Ms. Gordon said.

To help bring to life their proposal, the couple brought Bob the shrimp to the meeting, where he delighted the board and audience members during Ms. Gordon’s brief biology lesson on shrimp.

“I think I just heard him say ‘I am dead man, don’t change the code,’ ” Supervisor Scott Russell joked.

The board said it would consider the zone change only after the proposal is reviewed by the town code committee.

If Celestial Shrimp receives the zone change it would then need to submit a site plan to the Planning Board for approval prior to its opening.

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(Cyndi Murray photo)
(Cyndi Murray photo)