Grupo Granjas Marinas
Shrimp News Interviews Brian Boudreau and Victor Wilson
Although it has had a few name changes over the decades, Grupo Granjas Marinas (GGM) is today the largest and one of the most successful integrated shrimp farming operations (broodstock facilities, hatcheries, farms and processing plants) in the Western Hemisphere. Some of you might even remember it as Sea Farms International, its original name in the late 1960s. Today, it has 6,200 hectares of ponds and management contracts with local shrimp farmers that operate 2,000 hectares of ponds. For those of you unfamiliar with the metric systems and hectares, 8,200 hectares is more than 20,000 acres of ponds.
In the late 2000s, after having dealt with the ravages of the Taura and whitespot viruses and bogged down by top-heavy management, the farm was taken over by its creditors, which, in 2012, brought in Victor Wilson Canessa (interview below) to turn the farm around. Wilson hired Brian M. Boudreau (interview below) to manage farm operations.
Boudreau instituted a new farming system called “Multiphase Inventory Management System”—MIMS for short—which brings a number of known technologies together on a large scale. It’s a three-phase system with the phases adjacent to each other in order to limit the transfer distance of live shrimp inventories. In Phase One of the MIMS growout system, huge (60 by 12 meters) indoor raceways (two to a building) are used raise small juveniles. Each of these biofloc raceway receives 10 horsepower of blown-air aeration and are gravity fed into seven-hectare, outdoor nursery ponds. In Phase Two, the large juveniles are reared and transferred into two seven-hectare ponds that straddle the nurseries, and in Phase Three, the very large juveniles are grown out to harvest.
A patented system is used to quickly transfer the large juveniles from phase two to the phase three growout ponds. Thus far, 400 hectares of GGM’s farm have been converted to MIMS, and an additional 800 hectares are scheduled for conversion in 2015. Compared to GGM’s current growout system, MIMS increases growth by 34 percent and survival by 32%!
In addition to the large scale, one of the most remarkable features of the MIMS system is the way Boudreau produces food for the PLs and juveniles. He uses the same indoor raceways that he uses to raise juvenile shrimp to produce zooplankton—rotifers and copepods—and then gravity feeds them into the seven-hectare, outdoor nursery ponds. The rotifers and copepods feed on the algae in the ponds, reducing the risk of algal bloom crashes due to oxygen depletion and improving water quality, and the shrimp feed on them. It’s a sun-powered system that reduces costs and improves production.
At the Tenth Central American Aquaculture Symposium (Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 27–29, 2014), I interviewed Victor Wilson, general manager, and Brian Boudreau, director of aquaculture operations, and visited their farm in Choluteca, Honduras.
Shrimp News: Victor what is your official title?
Victor Wilson: General Manager/Managing Director, which makes me the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Shrimp News: Tell me a little about your business background.
Victor Wilson: I started my career as an accountant/computer auditor at Arthur Young and company (now Ernest and Young), one of the largest auditing firms in the world. Next, I took a job with KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory services firm, where I did systems consulting. Those two jobs cover the first six years of my career. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh year of my career, one of my clients who was involved in the distribution of defense electronics in Europe for NATO Co-Production hired me to help keep them from going bankrupt. That job lasted five years, and we avoided bankruptcy. Next, I was hired by Cargill (food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services) as a division controller (a management level position responsible for supervising the quality of accounting and financial reporting of an organization) in Honduras. From 1993 to 2002, I had close to a ten-year career at Cargill. I left Cargill to do a stint with BJ Services to help them set up their financial systems in Brazil. BJ Services was an oil field service company, involved in the development of fracking at offshore platforms in Brazil. After that, I returned to Honduras to become the controller for Chiquita Brands (bananas and pineapples) in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. That lasted from 2003 to 2008. I left that project to work on a start up company in the United States with a friend. We raised two million dollars in venture capital for a start up company. That lasted for two years, but never went anywhere. At the same time, however, I started a banana plantation with three friends.
In 2010, I was approached by Banco Atlántida, the oldest bank in Honduras, and asked to take over management of a troubled textile operation in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Once we got that squared away, we sold it to AEC. Then, in July 2012, Banco Atlántida, which owned the largest portion of Granjas Marinas San Bernardo, asked me to become the general manager of Grupo Granjas Marinas. With Cargill, Chiquita and the banana business, I have had a lot of experience in the agro industries, but shrimp farming has been a whole new experience for me.
Shrimp News: Wow, that’s an impressive résumé and just the kind of experience we need in the shrimp farming industry. How did you get selected for the job at GGM?
Victor Wilson: Banco Atlántida at the time was the largest shareholder in GGM. The president of the bank knew that I liked difficult situations, so he offered me the job, and I eagerly took it.
Shrimp News: Knowing a little about the financial situation of the farm when you took over, I think he picked a “very difficult situation” for you. You have been with the company for over two years now. What are your plans?
Victor Wilson: We have a sharply defined plan! Over the next six or seven years, we hope to dramatically increase our production of shrimp. Using MIMS, we’re planning to increase our production from 30 million pounds a year to 70 million pounds a year. That will make us one of the largest vertically integrated shrimp farming operations in the world. The expansion will require raising more capital to strengthen our balance sheet. We estimate that we will need somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty to thirty-five million dollars of investment capital. We are currently talking with investment banks to assist us with the raising the money. I think the total investment will involve one hundred and twelve million dollars over the next seven years.
Shrimp News: How will you finance that investment?
Victor Wilson: Mostly through internal earnings and cash flow. We are a profitable company, which was not the case when I took over, and we generate pre-investment cash flow. We will also use bank debt, and we will be looking at private placements from investors. We are now in conversation with three advisors and are attempting to select the advisor most acceptable to our Board. best private placements, placements that would be acceptable to our board of directors. We’re talking with Neptune Partners out of Norway, which is a recently created advisory firm. It works with a company named Arctic Securities. We like tem very much. We are also talking with another group out of Denver, Colorado, USA, and another group in Ireland. It’s going to be with someone who wants to take us to the next level, possibly a public offering or a merger with a larger corporation.
Shrimp News: Will you go forward with the shrimp farming technology developed by Brian Boudreau (interview below)?
Victor Wilson: Yes, Brian’s technology is the keystone to our current strategy. The conversations we’re having with our investment advisors right now revolve around defining the next step before we go forward. In other words a thirty million dollar investment to double our production, profits and revenues is not enough for them. They say they’re only interested in placing thirty million if we can demonstrate to them that we have the next step in place. Essentially, they view their mission as taking us beyond our current dream.
Shrimp News: So you haven’t given up on the idea of going public at some point.
Victor Wilson: That’s right. Once we complete the first step, the first round of financing, there could be a public offering of our stock—but you must understand that might not be for three or more years.
Shrimp News: When you came to GGM, what were some of the things you had to fix?
Victor Wilson: The very first thing was to improve cash flow! The second thing was to clean up the balance sheet. The company had accumulated a lot of dross over the years. We now have three years of audited financial statements. In addition, there have been significant changes in management. We created a management team that was cohesive and ready to move forward. I’ve been lucky and blessed to be surrounded by some exceptional managers who are worked hard to improve the company
Shrimp News: For example?
Brian Boudreau and Santiago López in production
Dolvin Lagos in sales
Rita Banegas in sales
Martin Lainez in quality control
Gerson Alvarez in engineering
Joaquin Romero in government and environmental relations
And finally and importantly, Juan Carlos Javier in finance
Quite frankly, there are many others, but the important point is that we are forming and bringing together a team that likes to work and win together. When you get good motivated people who like and know what they’re doing, it almost looks easy.
Brian Boudreau and Santiago López have done yeomen’s work as farm managers. They reactivated the nursery system and the juvenile transfer system, allowing us to go from two crops to three crops a year. Previously, the hatchery, the farm and the processing plant operated as separate entities with their own targets. They weren’t operating as a team and pulling in the same direction. In the current set up, no one gets a bonus unless profit projections are exceeded. If the hatchery makes a mistake and screws it up for the farm, they both take the hit, so they have to work together to make the system work. There’s nothing more powerful than making a manager stand before his peers and show them what he promised, what he actually achieved and explain the difference. It’s an extremely powerful tool.
Shrimp News: You took over the management of one of the largest shrimp farms in the world with no experience in shrimp, what has the learning process been like?
Victor Wilson: I had some of the best instructors in the world—Brian Boudreau and Santiago López. How can you not learn shrimp farming when you’re surrounded by people like that?
Shrimp News: How does running a shrimp farm differ from running a banana plantation?
Victor Wilson: Other than the operation of a shrimp hatchery, it’s a lot easier to run a shrimp farm than a banana plantation. But, the amount of land under supervision on a shrimp farm is enormous. We’re managing 9,000 hectares of shrimp ponds plus all the land and mangroves surrounding them. Farm security concerns are daunting. We’ve recently worked with the government to establish a legal framework for regulating the transport of shrimp, so we can trace stolen shrimp back to the packing station. If you’re able to regulate the transport of shrimp, you take some of the incentive out of thefts at the farm and processing plant levels. Thieves that come onto farms to steal shrimp are heavily armed, operating in gangs of six to twelve men.
Shrimp News: Have you implemented any exotic, spy-in-the-sky, electronic surveillance systems?
Victor Wilson: We looked into using drones, but that did not work out very well.
Shrimp News: How much does poaching and other shrimp thievery cost you a year?
Victor Wilson: Three to ten million dollars.
Shrimp News: How do you market your shrimp?
Victor Wilson: We have long-standing customer relationships that account for approximately fifty percent of our sales on an annual contract basis, most of it valued-added product. Cooked shrimp to Europe is one of our biggest products. Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Britain are our biggest customers. We also ship some whole shrimp to Europe. The second largest market for us is Mexico, which takes mostly cooked, brine-frozen tails, packaged for the customer, using a Mexican recipe. The United States is a distant third, taking raw, shell-on, frozen tails. If you look at the break down of all of our sales, fifty percent of them are products we did not sell three years ago.
Shrimp News:Looking at the short term, do you think shrimp prices will go up or down from now to the end of the year?
Victor Wilson: If I were a good guesser on shrimp prices or the prices of any commodity, I would probably desk trade some sort of tradable commodity. Nobody knows the future and it’s difficult to impossible to make accurate guesses, but I think the short-term future of shrimp prices mostly depends on demand. China is purchasing a lot of shrimp, the USA economy is continuing to improve, the European economy can’t go much lower, so demand should continue to go up, which means we could see higher prices through the end of the year. We increased production as prices rose, so our management team has been able to ride the price elevator, but as everyone knows, elevators go up and down.
Shrimp News: Is there anything else you would like to say about your experience in shrimp farming.
Victor Wilson: I found that it’s very easy to get addicted to this industry.
Shrimp News: Aha ha, I know what you mean. I think it’s more like a virus or a bacteria that you just can’t shake off. I’ve already officially retired twice, and here I am working as much as I did when I was in my fifties. I can’t give it up. The story keeps getting better. Also, some of the guys (and one gal, Linda Thornton) that I’ve known for thirty years are beginning to make a real impact on shrimp farming, and I want to be around to tell their success stories. I also want to be around when USA per capita shrimp consumption reaches ten pounds a year—and it will!
Shrimp News: Where did you go to college?
Brian Boudreau: I went to Guelph University in Ontario, Canada.
Shrimp News: How did you get involved in shrimp farming?
Brian Boudreau: In 1982, I went to Ecuador after my sister’s marriage to a young Ecuadorean and learned about the boom in shrimp farming that was just getting started. After raising some capital, my cousin, my brother-in-law and I—three young guys with absolutely no experience in business or shrimp farming—selected a site in northern Ecuador, in Esmeraldas Province. The site had no road access or electricity, but it did have excellent water quality and everything else was fine. We bought a piece of property located between a freshwater river named Najurungu and a saltwater estuary named Najurunguito. It had been a cow farm and a coconut farm and had the salt flats we needed to build our farm. We got our permits, bought an excavator and a bulldozer, and three years later we finished building the farm.
Shrimp News: How do three young guys at an isolated location without professional surveyors get the grading and elevations worked out for a shrimp farm.
Brian Boudreau: We came up with the idea to use the spring tide as our level. We put a bunch of stakes into the salt flats and when the tide came in, we tied strings to the high tide mark and then used the strings as our reference point for all our elevations.
Shrimp News: How did you build your water control structures?
Brian Boudreau: At that time, most of the shrimp farms in Ecuador were farther south in Manabi and Guayas provinces. So we just copied a concrete sluice gate that we had seen down there.
Shrimp News: Were you dependent on wild seedstock coming in with the tide or were you collecting wild seed and stocking it in the ponds?
Brian Boudreau: We were collecting wild postlarvae, and that’s when I learned to identify the various species. I had a microscope and identified stylirostris, occidentalis and vannamei. We had the bad luck that occidentalis was the dominant species in Esmeraldas, not a good species for farming. So I had to fly down to Manabi Province in a charter plane, buy vannamei larvae from collectors on the beach, fly it back up to Esmeraldas and stock it in the ponds. We had to do that for every crop. Our ponds were about four hectares each, and our total area of ponds was about 200 hectares, with coconut trees planted on all the dikes.
Shrimp News: Was the farm profitable?
Brian Boudreau: Yes, and we ran it for eight years. Living close to the shrimp day and night, I learned a lot about hands on shrimp farming during those eight years.
Shrimp News: What was your next adventure in shrimp farming?
Brian Boudreau: It was in 1989 in Choluteca as general manager of Sea Farms of Honduras, which, after a couple of decades became Grupo Granjas Marinas, the farm that I’m currently managing. I left Sea Farms in 2003 because it was crippled by the Taura and whitespot viruses and close to going out of business. After that, I signed on with Jaime Soriano SA who was looking to start up shrimp farms in Brazil at the time. Then, from 2004 to 2010, I worked for intensive shrimp farms in the United States (Magnolia Shrimp Farms in Kentucky and Marvesta Shrimp Farms in Maryland). Magnolia Shrimp Farms was an interesting project. We had a relationship with Kentucky State University to prove that inland, zero-exchange, marine shrimp farming could be done in Kentucky in low light conditions using biofloc, but the USA stock market crashed in 2008 and our investors were no longer interested in putting more money into the farm, so it was shut down in January 2009. Within a month, I got a job with Marvesta Shrimp Farms, but I always wanted to come back to Honduras, to this farm, because I knew that it had great potential. When my kids graduated from high school, we decided to move back to Honduras.
Shrimp News: When you got back to Honduras, how long was it until you found the job with Grupo Granjas Marinas?
Brian Boudreau: I came back to Honduras in early 2011 and got the job in 2012. I got a call from Hector Corrales, who ran the farm before it fell into bankruptcy, and he said they were calling him back into Grupo Granjas Marinas as a consultant. He said, Victor Wilson, the new general manager was interested in interviewing me for a position. I sat down with Victor, and he told me about his plans for the company. He described a plan about buying shrimp from the small producers in Honduras to increase the company’s output. He asked me what I thought about the farms, and that’s when mentioned the concept of multiphase systems for GGM. I expressed to him that I was interested in the job of technical director for all aquaculture operations. He called me back a week later and said, “OK you’re in”.
Shrimp News: Let’s talk about MIMS—Multiphase Inventory Management Systems—your plan for turning Grupo Granjas Marinas around. How did you come up with the idea of MIMS?
Brian Boudreau: After working with large open semi-intensive for so many years, then with small closed hyper-intensive where time and space is so expensive, I started to see how efficient multiphase systems really were. As the principal designer of the Magnolia Shrimp farm facility, I spent months designing it, going through all the many iterations of two-phase, three-phase, and four-phase production systems. Magnolia was a four-phase system. We would receive the postlarvae and hold them in phase-one for seven days, before transferring them into phase-two and then, two weeks later, we would transfer them to larger tanks, and four weeks after that transfer them to even larger tanks. That experience gave me a new perspective on space utilization that I had never seen before. I had been farming shrimp in big ponds and never paid that much attention to the shrimp growth curve from postlarvae to two grams which takes about six weeks. I now realized that a lot of time and space was being underutilized in the early part of the production cycle on a small amount of biomass. When you design a multiphase system you do it from a biomass perspective. You never want the biomass of shrimp to exceed the carrying capacity of the system, but at the same time, you don´t want to waste much production space either. It’s a balance of biomass in time and space. That’s what multiphase systems are all about. You move shrimp to larger and larger production facilities as they grow. I became very familiar with all of that in Kentucky and designed MIMS with that in mind. The biggest hurdle to overcome was how to transfer twenty-thousand pounds of large 8-gram juveniles from phase-two to phase-three without stressing them.
Shrimp News: Did you develop that plan immediately after you were hired?
Brian Boudreau: Yes we presented a proposal a month after being hired and started converting the first 100 hectares of old ponds to MIMS shortly afterwards.
Shrimp News: How many crops per year can you produce per year with the MIMS system?
Brian Boudreau: When I came back to GGM, it was doing partial harvests, growing shrimp up to a certain size, harvesting half of them, and then letting the remaining shrimp grow to larger sizes. We eliminated the partial harvests. I convinced Victor Wilson that it was not in our best interest to continue with that strategy. With the partial harvest, we were getting about two crops a year. After getting rid of the partial harvests, we brought it up to three crops a year. With MIMS, you can get up to five crops a year if you produce 18-gram shrimp and six crops if you produce 14-gram shrimp. We concentrated on smaller shrimp this year because there was an anomaly in shrimp prices. Large shrimp were no longer bringing jumbo prices, so we produced mid-size shrimp that were selling for about the same price as large shrimp. Only now are shrimp prices starting to decompress back to their normal structure. So now we’re producing our normal sizes again; MIMS allows us to switch strategies quickly.
Shrimp News: Tell me about the production of rotifers and copepods to feed the larval shrimp. How is that affecting production, profits and the environment?
Brian Boudreau: We got involved in zooplankton farming because our indoor nursery system allows us to grow more than just juveniles; we can also grow food for the juveniles. I first got interested in biomass production way back in 1990, after seeing a presentation given to the salt farmers of Choluteca about brine shrimp biomass production in India that emphasized the huge amounts of biomass that could be produced in ponds. I was amazed with the ability of these filter feeders to multiply biomass. That presentation always stuck with me because I knew that it could be done here in Honduras. When we got into it here, we knew we had the raw material—lots of sunshine and a surplus of primary productivity in the ponds—to make it work, so we decided to try it out. We went around the Gulf of Fonseca and collected different types of zooplankton to evaluate them for their potential in multiplying biomass. We settled on rotifers and copepods, growing them in our hatchery in forty-ton tanks, and then we moved pond-side with six-hundred-ton raceways. We now grow enough zooplankton that we can inoculate our seven-hectare nursery ponds with rotifers and copepods every four days. The rotifers and copepods feed on the algae in the ponds and the juveniles feed on them. We are working on ways to concentrate the zooplankton, collect them and inoculate them into growout ponds with high turbidities to see if we can convert more of that accumulated primary productivity into zooplankton instead of throwing it away in a water exchange. That’s something we’re still working on. In the indoor nursery raceways, we feed the rotifers yeast, but they switch to algae once inoculated into the pond.
Shrimp News: What effect have the rotifers and copepods had on shrimp production?
Brian Boudreau: We’re still in the process of measuring the effect, but what I can say is that we have some ponds in production that we are feeding with rotifers and copepods. We’re doing a mixed culture of rotifers and copepods that we call “Roticop Polyculture”. Whenever we had a big rotifer population, we always had an expanding copepod population feeding on them. So instead of doing just rotifer or copepod monocultures, we’re going to grow them together in the future. The Roticop culture is multiplied in our 600-ton indoor nursery raceways and drained) directly into the seven-hectare, nursery ponds. What we do is drop the level of the culture in half by draining it into one of the nursery ponds and then bring the water level back up and let the zooplankton cultures return to their original population numbers. In eight days, the populations are back to where they were when we started because we continue to feed yeast to the rotifers. This way we can inoculate the nursery pond every four days by alternating the two raceways. It’s an incredible conversion ratio of point two to one. In addition to the yeast, we add nitrogen and a carbon source, like molasses. We are also looking at feeding the Roticop culture to postlarvae in the nursery raceways before stocking them into the nursery ponds. Small juveniles from the indoor nurseries go by gravity to the outdoor nurseries.
Shrimp News: Where do you get your feeds for the growout ponds?
Brian Boudreau: We get our feeds from Alcon (50%), which is the Cargill branch in Honduras; Nicovita (22%), a Peruvian company; Promix (22%), a branch of Expalsa in Ecuador, which was purchased by Skretting; and ARECA (6%), a Guatemalan company.
Shrimp News: Do you produce all your own broodstock and seedstock?
Brian Boudreau: Yes. We select broodstock from our ponds based on production results and reap the benefit of the natural pond selection pressure. We have about twenty broodstock ponds on the farm, and we always carry about ten times as much as we need, so that we can select the best animals. Before moving them into the hatchery they go through quarantine, where they are held and tested, then they go to pre-maturation tanks and then into maturation tanks. We have most of the major shrimp pathogens present on our farms, but they do not affect production too much because our animals are fairly tolerant to Taura, Whitespot and even vibrio. In selecting for Whitespot resistance over the years, we have also harnessed some vibrio tolerance because both work together in a well-known co-infection scenario. Whitespot weakens and opportunistic vibrio finishes them off.
Information: Victor Wilson Canessa and Brian Boudreau, Grupo Granjas Marinas, Bo. Sampile, Carretera a Guasaule, Choluteca, Honduras (phone +504 2782 0917, email email@example.com, webpage http://www.granjasmarinas.com/site).
Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International. Victor Wilson Canessa (August 28, 2014, Tegucigalpa, Honduras) and Brian Boudreau (August 30, 2014, Choluteca, Honduras). 2. The Tenth Central American Aquaculture Symposium (Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 27–29, 2014). Multiphase Inventory Management System (MIMS), Brian Boudreau. August 29, 2014.Sources: 1. Victor Wilson and Brian Boudreau. Two Interviews by