The Caribbean Shrimp Farm has been operating since 1986 and is the longest continuously operating shrimp farm in the country - and though they're the smallest, they're the first to get certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

This means their farm was audited and deemed to be a clean, safe, and fair business. And because the certification is internationally recognized, it will help them to export more of their products and guarantee a certain standard of quality.

Courtney Menzies visited the farm today and spoke to the owner. Here's her story.

The Caribbean Shrimp Farm is a small fish - or crustacean - in a big pond, but this little farm has become the first in Belize to receive certification by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

ASC is an International organization that manages the strictest standards in the aquaculture industry. And according to the co-owner of Caribbean Shrimp Farm, Heather McIntosh, vying for the certification during the pandemic wasn't easy - but it was completely worth it.

Heather McIntosh Rivera, General Manager/Co-Owner, Caribbean Shrimp Farm
"I jumped up and down. I was really really thrilled, it was a lot of work and it's been so stressful through COVID, I mean it's been mentally draining for so many businesses. For us to make it through and then at the end of this tunnel, be able to make this achievement, I think is fantastic for the farm. We had auditors on site that came from the control union organization of ASC and they did a full audit of all the farm's processes, procedures and all of our social components as well because what ASC does is they look at, are you a steward for the industry? Are you an economic steward, are you a social steward? And when they talk about social they're like, how do you work within your community, and how do you work with your employees, how are you a safe working environment, a fair working environment, so it looks at things like fair working wage, it looks at things like health and safety, they reviewed our entire payroll for two years to make sure that everything we did here was equitable, they reviewed what injuries we had on site, what accidents, thankfully they rarely ever happen here because we're such a small little business but it was a really arduous process."

And for those who aren't a part of the aquaculture world, McIntosh explained that this certification allows them to print the ASC logo on their product - which will go a long way when it's time to export their organically raised shrimp.

Heather McIntosh Rivera, General Manager/Co-Owner, Caribbean Shrimp Farm
"ASC is an internationally recognized certification and there's quite a few different companies, organizations, what they call value added processors who would take shrimp and turn them into other products that will only purchase shrimp purchased by an ASC certified. we also are processing, is also ASC certified, meaning that the standards that we use to track our products from when they're packaged to when they're sold meet with that criteria as well so you can trace the product, say we ship something to Trinidad and Tobago or we ship something to Jamaica, if there's an issue, it can be tracked right back to us. One of the things we did during COVID, unfortunately we didn't have the ability to produce shrimp during that time because the industry was pretty much shut down, we focused on building our business stability and one of the things that we did was that we rebranded our packaging, we reproduced our packaging, we looked at different way to profile the beautiful shrimp that we make here in Belize because, again, it's organically raised, it's the most premium product you're going to find in this country, in my opinion. So what we've done now is that we have custom branded and logo'd, made in Belize packaging for our product for grocery supermarket ready lines, now that we have the certification, I can take that, put the two together, and really push into foreign markets."

And though they're a small business compared to the other shrimp farms in Belize, McIntosh says they're prepared for a higher demand they hope will accompany this certification.

Heather McIntosh Rivera, General Manager/Co-Owner, Caribbean Shrimp Farm
"With this shrimp season, we purchased our post larvae, which are our baby shrimp, from Bel-Euro and they had recently invested significantly in their hatchery technology so the ponds that you see behind me, we stock about half a million to three quarters of a million baby shrimp at a time. Before this, we weren't getting very good survivals, and we weren't getting a lot of shrimp. This season, I'm finding we're getting up to 90% survival rate on our shrimp, which is amazing for the industry. It's practically unheard of. So, with a higher survival rate, means I can produce higher quantities and then that means I can have more to supply to the market."

McIntosh said that the farm supplies 20-25% of the shrimp market.

Channel 7