By Brock Ormond 
BELLEVILLE – It was an award-winning day on Wednesday for a local business, the first shrimp farm in Ontario.
First Ontario Shrimp Ltd. , based out of Campbellford, was one of the top five recipients of the Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence . The business clinched the Minister’s Award for having successfully converted one of its hog barns into the shrimp farm.
Brad Cocchio runs the operation along with his parents, Paul and Tracy. He admits that he and his family weren’t totally surprised about winning their award.
“We knew that we were special. We probably weren’t as surprised as maybe some of the other winners would have been. This is something really special and we knew we had a good shot at it for sure.”
“It’s nice to be recognized for the amount of work and of course the financial side of things that we put into this business as well.”
The family has been working on getting the farm fully equipped for shrimp for the past five years. Cocchio says they had to get permits from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency  and other agencies to bring the shrimp in and make sure they could survive in a closed environment.
The biggest reason for the conversion to shrimp, he said, was the decline of hog farming in the area as a result of low pork prices.
“We had the barn that was sitting there empty that used to have hogs in it,” he said. “Dad was on the Internet looking at alternative uses and came up with shrimp farming. So he got ahold of some of the guys in the States in Indiana  and Maryland  and went down to see a few (farms) and saw what he liked, what he didn’t like, and we made it work in our facility.”
Market demand played a big role in the decision.,
“If you go to any restaurant, nine times out of 10 they’ve got shrimp on their menu. Before us, all the shrimp in Ontario was imported. So, we thought, ‘Why can’t we make this here?’ That was where that idea came from.”
The workload to keep the operation running smoothly is heavy, according to Tracy. “It’s fairly intense most days. We do feeding three times a day, eight in the morning, three in the afternoon and eight at night. We also have to test all of the water and see how the shrimp are doing.”
First Ontario has sent shrimp off to higher-end restaurants in Toronto and Montreal, as well as to smaller areas like Prince Edward County. Tracy Cocchio said she hopes to spread it out across North America.
“We have three barns, and one is converted into the shrimp farm. If things go well and we get this all figured out, we will have the potential to expand,” she said.
“We hope to get our numbers up. Our supply doesn’t meet our demand. We get calls and emails pretty well daily from people wanting shrimp and we have to turn them away, which we don’t like to do.”
For more information on the farm, visit its website .