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The History of the Taura Outbreak in Texas


The fall 1995 issue of Texas Shores  magazine, a publication of the Sea Grant College Program at Texas A&M University, is devoted to the effects of the Taura virus on Texas’ small shrimp farming industry.  Edited by Jim Hiney, the series of articles covers the history, current status and future of Taura in Texas.  If you’re interested in getting a copy of the articles, call Eric Graham at 409-862-3767.  Here are some excerpts:


The 1995 Harvest: “Gone from the Texas farms is most of this year’s vannamei crop, which was predicted to be about 6 million pounds (heads-on) or about 3.6 million pounds of tails.  Most of the shrimp that weren’t killed by the disease were left to grow in the ponds while farmers restocked with native white shrimp (Penaeus setiferus) to salvage at least some kind of harvest this year.”


“Sitting in the office of his shrimp farm near Palacios, Harold Bowers [20.1.12] talked of what could have been, ‘Even if we had a mediocre crop, we were expecting more than 2 million pounds,’ he said of his predicted shrimp harvest before Taura hit.  ‘Now we’re hoping for 300,000 pounds.  We think we lost $1.7 million if we would have gotten all of the ponds stocked.’”


“The stories are similar at shrimp farms all along the coast.  Most of the vannamei are gone and the number of workers has been cut in half or more.  Farm owners and managers will consider themselves lucky if they make a few dollars on the remaining vannamei and setiferus in the ponds.”


The Texas Shrimp Feed Industry: “Shrimp farmers will buy 5.5 million pounds less feed than expected.  At about 22 cents per pound, the loss to the feed suppliers comes to about $1.2 million.  Part of the cash flow from the shrimp farm goes to the two leading feed providers in the state, Rangen and Nutrena.  Bowers said that after Taura hit his farm he cut back from eight truckloads of feed per week, at about 42,000 pounds per truck, to about one truckload every other week.”


“‘We produce a lot of feed for export,’ said Ed Brauer, manager of Rangen’s Angleton, Texas, feed plant, ‘and there are tremendous quantities of shrimp that are being produced in Mexico and in Central America.  Basically, we’ve just shifted to those markets.  ...We’re operating at full capacity right now.’”


The Environmental Issue: “Shrimpers and landowners have long complained about the discharges that flow from the shrimp farms—which, depending on the size of the farm, can reach 90 million gallons per day.  They claim the effluent contains fecal waste from the shrimp, high levels of ammonia, silt and now dead shrimp infected with the Taura virus.  Some of the landowners, shrimpers and sport fishermen made those claims the basis of a class action lawsuit filed in Cameron County against the three local shrimp farms on September 6, 1995, just five days after the farms ended their voluntary water impoundment and started exchanging water for the first time in four months.  The lawsuit claims that the effluent creates a nutrient-rich environment that is causing a brown tide in the Laguna and that dead shrimp are passing Taura to the native shrimp.”


“The shrimp farms have taken steps to clean up their discharges.  The farms have installed sedimentation ponds to allow suspended solids to settle out of the water before it is discharged.  Harlingen Shrimp Farm is now cooperating in an experiment, funded by the Texas A&M Sea Grant Program, to see if oysters can be used to filter pond water before it is discharged.”


Just Wait Till Next Year: “As far as anyone can determine, Taura hasn’t run anyone out of business yet.”


“Taura isn’t the end of shrimp aquaculture in Texas, according to Sea Grant’s aquaculture specialist Granvil Treece.  ‘The industry is going to survive,’ Treece said.  ‘The industry is going to find a way around it.  If there is money to be made, shrimp farmers are going to find a way to make it.  If the demand is there, which it is, people are going to find a way to produce shrimp.  They are going to find a way around Taura,’ he emphasized.  ‘It is not going to devastate the industry.’”


“We’re all looking forward to 1996 and what we can do to beat Taura...said Fritz Jaenike, production manager at Harlingen Shrimp Farm.  ‘It’s been pretty rough, but I don’t see that we’re going under.  Now, if it happens two years in a row that would be a different circumstance.’”


“Like Jaenike, Harold Bowers said his Palacios shrimp farm won’t go under this year, but the unknowns make next year a bit scary.  ‘The future looks real, real dim because of a couple of things,’ he explained.  ‘One of the things is we don’t know what’s going to happen next year.  We don’t have enough research to tell us if we can come back with the same shrimp variety.  Is Taura going to be here next year?  Is it going to be worse?’”


Source: Texas Shores (Sea Grant College Program, Texas A&M University, 1716 Briarcrest, Suite 603, Bryan, TX 77802 USA). It’s always the little things. Jim Hiney (409-862-3767). V-28, N-3, P-4, Fall 1995.

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