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June 24, 2015


The History and Current Status of Shrimp Farming


The June 2015 issue of World Aquaculture (the quarterly magazine of the World Aquaculture Society) contains an eight-page article authored by Alberto J.P. Nunes and Itamar De Paiva Rocha on shrimp and tilapia farming in northeast Brazil.  The information on tilapia farming has been excluded from the following report, but if you’re a WAS member, you can download a PDF of the full article, along with its 29 color pictures.  Go to World Aquaculture Society, click on the Log In link in the top right hand corner of the WAS’s home Page, then click on the Publications Tab in the blue bar, then click on Magazine Search in the window that opens, then click on the June 2015 issue.


History: In 1973, Shrimp farming got started in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, and over the next two decades, farmers experimented with several species, including the Kuruma shrimp (Penaeus japonicus) and the native southern brown shrimp (P. subtilis).  Consolidation of commercial culture came in the mid-1990s when commercial feeds and hatchery-produced P. vannamei postlarvae became available.


Between 1998 and 2003, shrimp farmers in northeast Brazil increased annual yields from an average of 1,678 kilograms per hectare per year to 6,084 kg/ha/yr.  This was achieved through successive incremental increases in shrimp stocking density, the use of paddlewheel aeration and the delivery of all feed in feeding trays for strict control over feed inputs.  In 2003, intensification was disrupted by outbreaks of the infectious myonecrosis virus (IMNV).  Today shrimp stocking densities range from 30 to 70 postlarvae (PLs) per square meter, but in ponds without aeration, they may be as low as 15 PLs/m2 or less.


Yields have continued to increase because of faster production cycles and shorter intervals between crops.  The average crop duration is 70 days, with yields of 800 to 4,000 kg/ha/crop and three or more crops per year.  Annual yields depend on shrimp survival, growth rates and the size of the harvested shrimp.  Aeration and bioremediation played keys roles in the growth of the industry.  In 2014, Brazil produced approximately 90,000 metric tons of farmed shrimp.


Nursery Systems: Shrimp farming in Brazil has traditionally been carried out in a two-stage cycle: nursery and growout.  The approach usually involves acclimating postlarvae (PL-10) for 5 to 15 days in nursery tanks before transferring them to growout ponds.  Nursery tanks are usually round and constructed of concrete, fiberglass or flexible PVC laminate.  These tanks are usually 1.2 meters deep with volumes of 50-80 m3.  They are configured with a central drain and continuously aerated with diffusers served by air blowers.


To produce larger and more resistant PLs, farmers:

• Install skimmers in nursery tanks to remove excess nitrogen and suspended organic matter

• Size-grade postlarvae prior to stocking

• Use postlarval diets that are more nutrient dense and digestible than starter feeds

• Add an additional culture phase after the nursery phase by adding lined ponds near the growout ponds


So far, this has allowed farmers to shorten the growout cycles by 15 days or more and improve final survival by 20 percent.


Postlarvae and Genetics: In recent years, hatcheries have significantly increased production to keep pace with demand, the result of a greater number of crops per year at the farm level.  Today, there are about 18 operational shrimp hatcheries in northeast Brazil, with aggregate production that exceeds 1.5 billion PLs a month.  More than half of PL production in northeast Brazil originates from hatcheries that produce more than 150 million PLs a month.  At this scale, hatcheries are part of or have direct business involvement with growout farms.  As a result, they are more capable of making investments in genetic improvement programs.


Because P. vannamei are not native to Brazil, there has been speculation that inbreeding problems could occur if new stocks were not introduced.  The last official introduction of P. vannamei in Brazil occurred in 2006 by a privately owned hatchery to develop a new line of SPF (Specific Pathogen Free) shrimp.  Using a different approach, in 2004, another commercial hatchery started to develop IMNV-resistant and stress-tolerant (salinity, stocking density and hypoxia) shrimp.  The survival of these shrimp in commercial operations has been enhanced, even during challenging periods.  This has resulted in new investments in similar breeding programs by other hatcheries, with a focus on tolerant shrimp to improve survival.


Inland Culture: P. vannamei is a euryhaline species, able to tolerate a wide range of salinities.  Low-salinity culture in abandoned tilapia ponds or in saline soils has become a viable and profitable alternative in some parts of northeast Brazil.  The water at these sites is almost fresh (0.5-0.6 parts per thousand salinity), but it’s unsuitable for use in agriculture or other purposes.  Inland shrimp farming has experienced rapid expansion because the land is less expensive than coastal land and environmental license permits are easier to obtain.  To achieve adequate shrimp survival and growth under these conditions, shrimp must undergo an acclimation process before pond stocking.  In the past, this process was carried out by farmers, and frequently resulted in high mortalities.  Today, qualified hatcheries and acclimation centers near production sites deliver acclimated PLs to meet the salinity requirements of individual farms.


Feeds and Feeding: Brazil is a key global producer of grains and livestock.  This has given the shrimp feed industry a competitive advantage.  It can rely on local commodities—soybean meal, corn and rendered animal by-products—to supply the necessary protein sources the shrimp require.


With a strong presence as a global animal feed producer, Brazil has strict technical standards and guidelines involving sanitary and operational manufacturing procedures.  As such, most feed plants have obtained GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certification with an accredited independent entity.  This has ensured quality, compliance and safety of aquatic feeds.


All the shrimp farms in northeast Brazil use locally produced commercial feeds from seven feed companies.  Due to the large geographical distances in the country and high freight costs, most feed companies have made investments in manufacturing facilities in northeast Brazil to offer more affordable prices and timely deliveries.


At the shrimp farm level, feed continues to be delivered exclusively in feeding trays or by manual broadcasting.  Although some farms have invested in mechanical blowers and automatic feeders, feeding exclusively in feeding trays remains the most common feeding method.


Production Scale and Markets: Several shrimp operations in northeast Brazil were designed to produce large quantities of shrimp to meet long-term sales contracts in the international market, mainly the USA and Europe.  These farms have processing facilities to deliver frozen or value-added products (cooked, peeled and deveined, butterfly and breaded).  To support a continuous flow of shrimp to the processing facilities, which might be running two or more shifts a day, farms have multiple ponds and harvest daily.  In 2004, however, when antidumping tariffs were imposed against Brazilian shrimp by the USA, many of the processing facilities became idle and farmers started to shift their attention to the domestic market.


Today, the main destination for cultured marine shrimp is the domestic market.  With increasing purchasing power and income, the Brazilian consumer, who has traditionally consumed fresh shrimp in restaurants, is now demanding frozen or value-added products at major retail chains.  This has prompted investments by major farms in state-of-the-art processing equipment and facilities.


Small farms rely on sales of fresh product to middlemen or to consumers at local fish markets, stores and restaurants.  Medium-scale farms usually rely on intermediaries or retailers, but they may also pay third parties to process their product or sell directly to processing plants owned by large-scale operations.


Freight is a major cost and only valued-added products are transported long distances in search of large buyers or markets.  Transported in insulated or refrigerated trucks, distances can exceed more than 2,000 kilometers. 


Conclusions: Shrimp farming will continue to expand in northeast Brazil.  Brazil has a long history of importing fisheries products, resulting in a trade deficit that has grown from $ 76.7 million in 2006 to $ 1.3 billion in 2014.  This deficit is expected to increase in the coming years due to stagnant fisheries stocks in the country and the increasing intake of aquatic animal protein by the population, especially by the growing middle class.


Information: Alberto J.P. Nunes, LABOMAR, Instituto de Ciencias do Mar, Universidade Federal do Ceará, Avenida da Abolicao, 3207 Meireles, Fortaleza, Ceará 60-165-081, Brazil (email


Information: Itamar de Paiva Rocha, Associacáo Brasileira de Criadores de Camaráo, Rúa Valdir Targino, 3625, Candelaria, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte 59-064-670, Brazil (email


Sources: 1. World Aquaculture (the quarterly magazine of the World Aquaculture Society).  Editor-in-Chief, John Hargreaves.  Overview and Latest Developments in Shrimp and Tilapia Aquaculture In Northeast Brazil.  Alberto J.P. Nunes and Itamar De Paiva Rocha.  Volume 46, Number 2, Page 10, June 2015. 2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, June 24, 2015.

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