Company to convert seafood waste into products

OPELOUSAS — A company that plans to convert seafood waste into a range of commercial products will move into an empty bottling plant in Opelousas, creating 50 new jobs over five years.

AgraTech International said Wednesday it will spend $10 million to renovate the old Yoo-Hoo plant. The company will process shrimp, crawfish and crab shells to get chitosan, which is used in everything from water-repellant glass coatings to sunscreen lotion and from dental membranes to nasal sprays to treat nosebleeds.

The new jobs will pay an average annual salary of $50,000, plus benefits.

Louisiana’s economic development department estimates 51 new indirect jobs will also be created.

AgraTech said it will also establish a research partnership with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Engineering to develop more chitosan-based products and find additional uses for existing products.

“Chitosan production is a totally green endeavor: It is a natural, renewable, nontoxic and nonhazardous, biodegradable product,” said Richard DeMarco, president, chairman and CEO of AgraTech. “AgraTech will be the sole domestic commercial supplier of high-quality chitosan.”

By selecting the Opelousas location, AgraTech will have easy access to an annual supply of 100 million pounds of crustacean shells, the company said.

“The seafood industry has long been an important part of Acadiana’s economy, providing a source of income for the fishermen and the seafood processors and served up as a main ingredient in our top-quality restaurants,” said Mike Tarantino, chairman of Acadiana Economic Development.

“By utilizing a costly industry waste product, AgraTech brings a unique feature that makes sense both economically and environmentally,” Tarantino said.

Renovation of the bottling plant will start in early 2013, and AgraTech said commercial operations should start around June.

The company plans to hire 10 people in the first year and increase its staff to 50 within five years.

AgraTech will use a number of state incentives, including the Louisiana R&D Tax Credit, Enterprise Zone and Industrial Tax Exemption.