Grupo Acuícola Mexicano (GAM)
The Largest Integrated Shrimp Farm in Mexico
Shrimp News: On January 29 and 30, 2015, I attended the First Reunión Científica y Tecnológica sobre el Cultivo de Camarón (First Scientific and Technical Meeting on Shrimp Farming) in Obregón, Sonora, Mexico, a conference sponsored by Mexico’s Trusts Funds to Agriculture (FIRA) and organized by Salvador Meza, editor of Panorama Acuicola, Mexico’s leading aquaculture magazine.
After the conference, I visited the facilities of Grupo Acuícola Mexicano (GAM), the largest integrated shrimp farm in Mexico. GAM has two big shrimp farms and a hatchery in Baja California Sur, farms in Sinaloa and Sonora, a huge feed mill and processing plant in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, a trucking company to tie its operations together, and two exciting super-intensive farms under development in the state of Colima. In addition, GAM processes shrimp for third parties and supplies them with hatchery and growout feeds. GAM is the aquaculture division of Grupo Business Projects and Opportunities (GBPO), which has interests in businesses other than aquaculture.
During a four-day tour of GAM’s facilities, Scott Horton, Technical Manager at Nutrición Marina, S.A. de C.V. (the feed mill) and Production Manager for farms in Sinaloa and Sonora, served as my tour guide, interpreter, driver and raconteur. A good fellow, with 33 years of experience in Latin American shrimp farming, he started out in Ecuador in the early 1980s, and then managed large farms in Venezuela and Guatemala before taking his current job at GAM five years ago. I plan to publish his personal history in shrimp farming in the near future.
Grupo Acuícola Mexicano
Israel López is the Commercial Director of the Grupo Acuícola Mexicano (Mexican Acuaculture Group), which sells shrimp feeds and postlarvae. GAM’s finished products are frozen shrimp in several presentations (value added, brine frozen and cooked and peeled undeveined). While still at the conference in Obregón, I interviewed Israel to get a general overview of GAM’s operations.
We own two farms in Baja California Sur: Granjas Marinas and Sureño. We also own a broodstock/maturation/hatchery facility near the Sureño farm. In Sinaloa we have one farm, and in Sonora, we have four farms
In Los Mochis, Sinaloa, we have a large (100 metric tons a day) processing plant and a shrimp feed mill called "Nutrición Marina". Our headquarters, where I have my office, is in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Our core business is the production and marketing of shrimp. We have our own fleet of 20 big trucks to deliver feeds and postlarvae to our farms and harvested product to our processing plants.
Our farms produced 4,000 metric tons of shrimp in 2012, 5,500 tons in 2013 and 8,000 tons 2014, our best year ever. We hope to produce 12,000 tons in 2015 and 16,000 tons in 2016. Our customers in USA are large wholesalers who buy at least 600 tons a year.
Right now 70% of our sales are shell-on tails for the Mexican market—mostly 61/70s 51/60s and 41/50s—and 30% shell-on tails for the United States market, mostly U-15s, 16/20s, 21/26s and 26/30s. We also do value-added processing for the USA market with peeled tail-on, peeled tail-off, butterflied and easy peel products. Our customers in USA are large wholesalers who buy at least 600 tons a year
This year we will begin retail sales in big supermarkets like Walmart, and we are going to open an office with a sales team in Los Angeles, California. We’re going to get started there in September 2015. It’s a big project. We expect to sell 1,500 tons of shrimp from our California office in the last part of this year; however, in 2016, we think that figure will jump to 4,000 tons. We’re getting ready to produce more shrimp in Colima, from two new farms that will be producing mostly for the USA market. The USA is the biggest shrimp market in the world, and we are going to attack it very aggressively in the next five years.
At the end of 2014, we started selling cooked shrimp to Costco in Mexico. Costco is really happy with our quality. Consumers say that our shrimp is the best they have ever had. In the Mexican market, we are positioned with the INTROMAR brand of shrimp, which is widely recognized for its high quality.
We’re the biggest producer in Mexico and compete with other big farms and wild-caught shrimp, but our biggest competition is imports from other shrimp farming countries in Latin America.
We plan to market over 10,800 tons in 2015. With these advances in production and quality processing we will become one of the largest integrated shrimp companies in the Americas.
We are a franchise of Zeigler Bros., Inc., which provides all our feed formulas, and we follow all of Zeigler’s quality control standards. Our quality control lab is the finest and does over 11,000 tests a year on incoming feed ingredients and outgoing products. We test for nutrient levels, toxins and physical parameters. Every load of raw materials gets tested several times. All lab processes are supervised by biochemist, Ing. Biologist Adriana Moreno.
We also buy other products from Zeigler, like vitamin packs and micronutrients. Our feeds are marketed as Nutrimar/Zeigler. We use the feeds and also sell them to other farmers. We also sell Zeigler’s hatchery feeds, which are manufactured in the USA.
The Feed Mill
The feed mill, Nutrition Marina S.A. de C.V., began producing feed in 2008. We’re a franchise of Zeigler Bros., Inc., headquartered in Gardners, Pennsylvania, USA. Zeigler designed the plant and helped with the construction. Zeigler supervises all our operating procedures, according to their protocols and quality standards. Zeigler provides us with R&D that keeps us on top of the technology curve. It provides us with new feed innovations and formulations and information on how to use the feeds. All ingredients are purchased according to predetermined quality standards that are verified upon receipt. After the feeds are manufactured, our quality control lab checks for hardness, moisture content and does a chemical analysis for protein, fat, ash, mycotoxins and other key nutritional quality parameters.
All of the diets that we manufacture have between 25% and 40% protein. We have extensive, semi-intensive intensive and hyper-intensive diets, along with some low salinity formulations. The starter, crumble and micro-pellet diets include Zeigler’s V-Pak, a natural complex of nutrients and additives shown to improve survival under disease and other stressful conditions.. Mini-pellet and other pelleted diets include V-pak at the buyer’s request. The customer can choose 25, 30, 35, 40 percent protein and an extensive, semi-intensive or intensive diet. We also add a stable vitamin C product, based on a technoloyg originally developed by Zeigler. It maintains its potency through the manufacturing process and in feed storage much better than traditional vitamin C.
We have good relationships and long-term contracts with local suppliers of fishmeal. Our fishmeal is internationally certified from sustainable fisheries.
The mill is equipped with two production lines so that we can create similar diets side-by-side. We can put micronutrients or an additive that might protect against whitespot or EMS in one and leave it out of the other. Then we can run trials with them. If oil is required in a diet, we don’t just spray it on after the pellet is manufactured. We have a special machine that will topcoat the pellet with an exact amount of oil to achieve the optimum balance of energy to other nutritional components. This is part of the Zeigler technology. We use its recognizable name on all our products, which is a great marketing tool because of Zeigler’s superb reputation. Customers know and respect the fact that we comply with Zeigler’s high standards. Their formulas never stay the same from year to year; they are always improving, and, of course, they pass all the new formulas on to us.
We manufacture four types of shrimp feed. We make a crumble (800 to 1,200 hundred microns), a micro pellet (1.6 millimeters in diameter), a mini-pellet (2 millimeters in diameter) and a growout pellet (2.5 millimeters in diameter). Our plant can produce 50,000 metric tons a year, and we have around 85 employees. We have a lab to handle all aspects of quality control. Every lot of raw materials coming into the plant is checked. We certify our suppliers by inspecting their facilities and production methods. At least once a year, we visit our suppliers to certify their production protocols, especially our suppliers of fishmeal. We have been operating ten months a year, but when the new farms in Colima come on line, we will be operating twelve months a year.
To lower our utility bill by 4% to 5%, we use solar panels to generate power. Steam is used in the production of shrimp feeds, so we use solar heaters in the production of the steam. Previously, we were heating the water from 17ºC as it came out of the well to 100°C. Now, the solar heaters take the water from 17ºC to 80ºC, so we only need to use energy to take it from 80º to 100ºC to produce the steam.
We get all of our hatchery diets from Zeigler, but we manufacture all of our own nursery diets, starting at 600 to 850 microns in diameter. We have a special grinding and screening process to make sure all the ingredients are the proper size. They are pelleted and then crushed into a powder and then carefully screened and filtered to make sure the final products are the right size. We also produce a micro-pellet for nurseries that is 1.6 millimeters, a pellet that is 2.0 millimeters and a normal pellet that is 2.5 millimeters in diameter. Anything smaller than that is manufactured in the USA by Zeigler. About half of our growout and nursery feeds are sold to other shrimp farms and hatcheries.
We don’t dump anything into the environment, and we’ve lowered our CO2 profile by using solar collectors. We offer educational and training programs for employees on how to lead more efficient lives. We have an in-house medical doctor that attends to our employees. Other than that, our employees get medical insurance through the government’s social security program.
Our new processing plant went into operation in 2012. It can handle all kinds of products, peeled, easy-peel, butterflied, IQF and head-on or head-off. Right now our primary market is shell-on brine-frozen tails, which make up 95% of our sales. For Mexico, we pack them in a twenty-kilo box. For the United States, we have several presentations—ten-kilo, five-kilo boxes—it depends on the clients. We also pack a lot of block frozen shrimp in 2.7-kilo (5-pound) boxes.
The processing plant employs 400 people and can handle 100,000 kilos of raw shrimp daily. In 2014, it processed about 8,000 metric tons of shrimp, all of it de-headed, shell-on tails for Mexico and the USA. The plant can hold 1,200 metric tons of shrimp in cold storage. Major distributors purchase and distribute the product under their own brand names. Our shrimp mainly goes to the restaurant trade through distributors. All the shrimp heads are processed into shrimp meal, which is used by other industries to make feeds for pigs and poultry. There is no waste.
All the processed shrimp is certified by Food Safety System Certification 22000, commonly referred to as “FSSC-22000 Certification”, a product of The Foundation for Food Safety Certification, a non-profit organization that is recognized by the European Co-operation for Accreditation and supported by the Global Food Safety Initiative.
Our trucking company, Logistics Services BPO, has approximately twenty refrigerated trucks that tie our widespread facilities together. They deliver PLs and feeds to the farms and third-party customers and pick up the harvests from the farms and deliver them to the processing plant. There’s a daily ferry between Los Mochis and La Paz that carries the trucks across the water. We also offer trucking services to third-party farms and hatcheries.
Interview with José Jimenez, who manages GAM’s hatchery and two big farms in Baja California.
We have two farms in Baja, California. Granjas Sureño is on the Sea of Cortez and Granjas Gran Mar is on the Pacific Coast of Baja California. Granjas Sureño is a 146-hectare, intensive farm with 124 ponds. In 2014, its average production was 35 tons per hectare per year from two cycles, stocked at 140 to 150 postlarvae per square meter. The harvest size from the first cycle was 15 grams, and from the second cycle it was 25 grams. The food conversion ratio in the first cycle was 1.3, and it was 1.5 for the second cycle. Most of our shrimp are sold into the Mexican market. Average aeration is 75 horsepower per hectare in lined ponds and 35 to 40 horsepower per hectare in earthen ponds. We also stocked 4 hectares of super-intensive ponds in 2014 at 300 PLs per square meter.
In 2014, the farm produced 4,800 metric tons. We had problems with whitespot, Vibrios and NHP at Granjas Gran Mar, and it only produced 1,800 tons. The rain and wind from Hurricane Odile (more below) caused problems by stirring up the sediment on the bottom of the ponds at Granjas Gran Mar. At Granjas Sureño, we have 23 nursery raceways, mainly to warehouse PLs from the hatchery while we are waiting to stock the ponds. To stock the Sureño and Granmar farms, we need 400 million PLs and our hatchery only produces 180 million per month, so we use the nurseries to store PLs, which are stocked in March and April. In 2015, we would like to produce bigger, 35-to-38-gram shrimp, so we’ll probably produce fewer metric tons in 2015 than we did in 2014, but we’ll make more money on the larger sizes. Hurricane Odile only cut our production by about 10%; it was the hatchery that got hit hard. It lost 50% of its production. We only lost about 300 tons of shrimp due to the hurricane.
Currently, most of GAM’s production comes from its farms in Baja California Sur, the Granjas Sureño farm on the east coast of the peninsula and the Granjas Gran Mar on the west coast of the peninsula. In the future, the super-intensive farms in Colima, one of which will come on line this year, are expected to greatly increase GAM’s production.
The Broodstock, Maturation and Hatchery Facilities
Interview with biologist, Ing. Noel Camacho, who manages the broodstock, maturation and hatchery facility, located about 40 kilometers north of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, on a two-hectare site.
In 2014, our hatchery, officially “Larvas Gran Mar”, produced 800 million postlarvae, but in 2015, we will produce about a billion because of the new farms in Colima. We need about 20,000 to 25,000 broodstock to produce a billion PLs a year.
Five years ago, we switched to a hatchery and maturation system that uses zero water exchange. We build the system up with biofloc and then stock the animals. We don’t use any antibiotics, just probiotics. The system requires 5,000 liters of probiotics daily. We have a group of consultants that work constantly on the probiotics. We feed our broodstock polychaetes, Artemia biomass, squid and mussels. The larvae feed on diets produced by Zeigler. Blowers are used for aeration. The water filtration system works like this. From a site 300 meters offshore, we pump raw seawater from the Sea of Cortez. It goes into a reservoir, then through a sand filter, and then into a second reservoir, where it is treated with ozone. Next it goes through another sand filter and into a third reservoir where the ozone is blown off. Six hours later, it passes through another sand filter, activated charcoal and cartridge filters, a heat exchanger and UV—and then into the system. We have a pathology/microbiology department that does weekly checks on the entire system. Government labs certify our larvae and broodstock, and the University of Arizona checks our animals for EMS. They have always been negative. Thirty percent of our PL production goes to third parties, at about $5 per thousand, pretty much the standard price for PLs in Mexico. We do not sell broodstock. Between 70 and 125 employees are required to run the hatchery, depending on the season and stocking requirement on the farms.
On Sunday, September 14, 2014, Hurricane Odile with winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) reached category-4 intensity on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale off the south coast of Baja California. On Monday, September 15, 2014, it roared into southern Baja California, near Cabo San Lucas, as a category-3 hurricane with winds of 125 mph (205 km/h) causing more than a billion dollars worth of damage across the peninsula.
As Odile moved up the peninsula, it passed almost directly over our shrimp hatchery. Even though employees had removed all the plastic from the nurseries to prevent the wind from tearing everything apart, Odile destroyed fifty percent of the hatchery’s facilities. Fortunately, there were no postlarvae in the system. Through the use of emergency generators and provisional electrical systems we were able to save the animals in our maturation and genetic system.
The Colima Project
Interview with biologist, Biologist Pesq. Ramon Cota , who designed and is supervising the construction of the new super-intensive shrimp ponds in the state of Colima. He will be in-charge of operations when it comes on-line.
GAM wanted to expand to a region where it would be able to control disease and produce shrimp year round. We settled on the southern state of Colima for its warm, year-round temperatures and its isolation from the northwest Mexican states that have been plagued by disease. For a year, we investigated what would be the best technology for Colima, and eventually settled on a super-intensive, recirculating system, a two-phase system with nurseries and growout. The project is under construction and will be ready for stocking in May 2015. The earthwork is done, and currently we are covering everything with plastic. The farm will be sited on 42 hectares, with thirty hectares of ponds. It’s a modular system with six independent modules. Each module has a reservoir, two treatment ponds, two sediment ponds, eight nursery ponds and eight growout ponds (occupying 24,000 square meters in each module). All the ponds are either square or rectangular. The growout ponds are 1.8 meters deep. Every growout pond is 3,000 square meters, or 5,400 cubic meters.
We’re going to use water from well points; no water from open estuaries or the ocean will be used. The seedstock will be shipped from our hatchery in Baja California across the Sea of Cortez and trucked down to Colima. The nursery ponds, 1.2 meters deep and holding 500 cubic meters of water, will be stocked at two animals per liter, or two thousand per cubic meter. In the nurseries, aeration will be ninety percent blowers and ten percent paddlewheels. After 28 days in the nursery, the PLs will be transferred by gravity to the growout ponds at between 1 and 1.5 grams. The nurseries are covered with a shade cloth to limit the growth of algae; the growout ponds are open to the air.
It’s important to mention ambient temperatures in Colima. The lowest temperatures of the year occur in February, as low as 22ºC, usually for no more than a week, and the highest temperatures occur in the middle of the summer, as high as 33ºC. Six months of the year temperatures range between 27ºC and 29ºC, great temperatures for producing shrimp. In the middle of the summer, it’s a little hot for shrimp farming, but those temperatures only occur for a short period in the mid-afternoon, and we could increase the level of the ponds to 2.5 meters to prevent them from getting too hot, or use aerators to lower temperatures. On the super hot days, we’ll stop feeding until the temperatures drop.
Thirty percent of the water is recirculated through the reservoirs, treatment and sedimentation ponds every day. Thirty percent of that thirty percent, or 9% percent, is ejected from the system. Eighty percent of the aeration is with paddlewheels, and twenty percent with blowers.
There will be a partial harvest of 10-gram animals and a final harvest of 19/20-gram animals. The ponds will be gravity drained through a harvest gate, and then we’ll use a harvest pump to lift them into containers. We’ll truck them to our processing plant in Los Mochis. The farm will produce 3,500 metric tons per year with five cycles per year. That’s five partial harvests and five final harvests a year. Also, there’s a possibility that some of the shrimp from Colima will be sold to the fresh markets in Guadalajara.
We plan to start construction of a hatchery at our site in Colima sometime in 2015. The first farm is right on the beach. Later we are going to build a similar farm that will be a half-mile inland.
Shrimp News: On this trip, I got to see a lot of northwest Mexico. Set against mountainous backdrops, the entire region looked prosperous, especially Baja California, where the dessert landscapes and jagged mountains were breath taking. I left Mexico knowing that I had been in the company of extraordinary people. Tightly integrated, GAM really has its act together.
Information: Israel López, Grupo Acuícola Mexicano, Guadalajara, Jalisco, México (phone 01-33-3122-8698, email Israel.email@example.com).
Information: For a video (en Español) of GAM’s facilities, click here.