The History and Current Status of Hawaii’s Shrimp Broodstock Industry
By Jim Wyban
In 2013, Hawaii’s shrimp-breeding companies exported over 425,000 SPF broodstock. With an average market price of about $100 per pair, these exports were worth more than $20 million.
Most of the world’s farmed-shrimp can trace their genes back to Hawaii. Here’s the story about how that came about.
In 1992, with my wife, Carol, I started High Health Aquaculture (HHA), the world’s first SPF shrimp-breeding company. We moved our family to Kona, where we secured a lease at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii and began supplying SPF broodstock in 1993.
Our first commercial effort was a massive failure. A major shrimp farming company in Ecuador, El Rosario, wanted to introduce SPF technology to their farms. It invested in our company and we worked closely with its staff to do a major production trial at El Rosario’s farms. We shipped SPF broodstock from Kona to Ecuador. More than 500 million SPF PL were produced in Ecuador and stocked into five separate El Rosario farms. During the hatchery phase and the first few weeks after stocking, everything went smoothly.
I was attending a conference in Europe when I got a late-night call from Ecuador. I was told I should fly there immediately because many shrimp were dying. By the time I arrived, massive die-offs were happening in all of the SPF ponds. This killed our partner’s interest in SPF technology and deflated our enthusiasm. We eventually learned that our SPF shrimp had been killed by a new virus called Taura Syndrome Virus. Despite the problems in Ecuador, we continued to supply the USA industry, where results remained great.
In 1997, a group from Taiwan imported the first batch of SPF broodstock to Asia. Based on excellent early results, the Taiwan industry rapidly adopted SPF PLs and the demand for Hawaii SPF broodstock boomed. Our fax machine was inundated with requests to buy broodstock and groups of Taiwanese entrepreneurs came to Hawaii to secure their supplies. By 1999, the success story of using Hawaii’s SPF broodstock reached the front page of Taiwan’s national newspaper. Soon, the use of SPF broodstock spread to China, and then to Thailand and Indonesia.
Our SPF shrimp were Pacific white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei), a species native to the Americas. In just a few years, these shrimp had displaced the black tiger shrimp (P. monodon), a species native to Asia, as the mainstay of Asia’s shrimp farms. The economic impact of this change in broodstock was huge. In 1998, when Hawaii SPF began shipping to Asia, annual farmed-shrimp production worldwide was 700,000 metric tons. By 2010, after most of Asia had switched to farming SPF shrimp, worldwide production had grown to 3.5 million metric tons—a five-fold increase in 12 years.
In Hawaii, several companies were formed to supply broodstock to meet Asia’s growing demand. Several groups worked on breeding their shrimp for improved performance, but, at High Health Aquaculture, we focused on breeding shrimp for resistance to Taura virus—though many experts told us it was an impossible goal. Several years after Taura had devastated our commercial trial in Ecuador, it reached the USA and devastated its shrimp farms.
We worked hard at our Kona farm to find a solution. Our method was to create a batch of different families, all of the same age. The families were grown in separate tanks until they grew to one gram in weight. Samples of each family were then given a distinct color or combination of colors with injections of a liquid plastic material. The tagged families were shipped to professor Don Lightner’s pathology laboratory at the University of Arizona’s Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology.
The families were stocked together in large tanks and fed purified virus, while other representatives of the families were raised in separate tanks without virus to act as experimental controls. Over three weeks, mortalities among the different families were recorded and the data sent to Hawaii. From these data, we determined which families were most resistant to the virus and these families were selected to breed following generations.
Over about eight generations, the average survival rate of our shrimp increased like stair steps—from about 20 percent to over 95 percent. We had defied the genetics and disease experts who said it couldn’t be done.
During that process, we had to develop biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction of shrimp diseases to our facility. One important rule was no outside visitors. I remember one day when Senator Daniel Akaka visited the Natural Energy Lab and was brought to my facility. I met him outside our gate but didn’t let him inside. After I explained our facility’s strict quarantine, he was very gracious and understanding.
In addition to breeding for virus resistance, we also selected our shrimp for fast growth. Within the select families that passed our virus challenge, we selected the fastest growing individuals to parent the next generation. This combined selection program was very effective. We started supplying our Taura-resistant broodstock to the USA industry in 1997 and, over the next four years, shrimp production tripled from 2,000 metric tons to 6,000 metric tons using our broodstock.
Hawaii’s SPF shrimp broodstock are analogous to the prize bulls used in cattle breeding—they are the gold standard. None of the breeding activities in Hawaii’s shrimp broodstock industry use any genetic modification. Breeding techniques are all traditional selective breeding and there are no Hawaii GMO shrimp.
In 2012, we sold our company, HHA, to an Asian multinational, Shrimp Improvement Systems (SIS). That company now makes Kona its world production headquarters and hugely expanded on our business with a $10 million investment.
SPF shrimp are the foundation of the global shrimp industry and Hawaii is both the home of SPF breeding technology and its world supply leader. The many benefits to the industry of using SPF shrimp include greatly reduced disease, less use of antibiotics and ending the practice of capturing wild animals for seedstock. SPF Hawaii’s remote location, year-round growing conditions, excellent air transportation, well-established shrimp-breeding and disease expertise, and excellent biosecurity infrastructure all help explain why Hawaii has developed this industry. For all these reasons, Hawaii deserves the title: World’s Shrimp-Breeding Capital.
Side Bars to Wyban’s Article
Two-Year Testing Process: SPF shrimp are certified pathogen free. In Hawaii, the state aquatic veterinarian supervises the certification process. Here’s how it works:
• A company asks the state veterinarian to collect samples of its shrimp, which are submitted to a shrimp-disease diagnostic lab at the University of Arizona.
• The samples are checked with 10 to 12 tests that are specific for individual shrimp pathogens (disease-causing microbes).
• If the routine samples are all negative for disease, then the farm enters the SPF process.
• The farm gets tested every six months and, after two years of tests, if all samples test negative, the farm is elevated to status of certified SPF. With SPF status, the farmer can get a state-issued certificate that is required by foreign governments before they will approve imports.
Exporting to the World: Over the years, Wyban’s company, High Health Aquaculture, exported shrimp broodstock to 26 countries. One key was developing reliable shipping methods. Wyban said, “We packed the shrimp in plastic bags with about nine liters of filtered, chilled seawater and 20 liters of pure oxygen. Our longest shipment was to Recife, Brazil; the shrimp were in their closed bags for 92 hours. We have also shipped to Eritrea in East Africa. Usually our shipments to Southeast Asia spend 40 to 48 hours in transit.”
Some of the Shrimp Broodstock
Kona Bay Marine Resources is an SPF shrimp broodstock supplier that started in Kona, but is now based on Kauai. It’s a subsidiary of Integrated Aquaculture International. Jim Sweeney, president of Kona Bay, recently reported: “Our broodstock are known as Kona Bay in the industry. We are the third-largest shrimp broodstock supplier in Asia, behind CP Thailand and CP Indonesia (owner of Shrimp Improvement Systems, below). Last year, we shipped 209,000 SPF broodstock to Asia. This was a 300 percent increase over our previous year. In breeding, we’re working with shrimp families that grow well on a soy-based diet with zero fishmeal, a ‘veggie diet.’ Currently, 80 percent of our revenue comes from broodstock sales and 20 percent from processed farmed food shrimp. By the end of this year, we expect it to be closer to 50:50, due to expanding shrimp production from our ponds.”
Singapore-based Shrimp Improvement Systems Hawaii is the world’s largest supplier of SPF shrimp broodstock, with breeding operations in Hawaii, Florida, Singapore and India. SIS’s total capacity is around 350,000 pairs of broodstock a year.
In 2012, SIS purchased Jim Wyban’s company, High Health Aquaculture, and consolidated breeding stock, staff and facilities into SIS Hawaii operations. On March 7, 2014, SISH dedicated its new $10 million Hawaii Vannamei Breeding Center at the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii (NELHA).
About 40 percent of shrimp broodstock sold by SIS worldwide comes from the Hawaii breeding center. For the past 15 years, SIS conducted all its Pacific white shrimp selective breeding in Florida, but SISH president Joe Tabrah says all breeding activities now will be consolidated in Hawaii. “The NELHA location has no endemic shrimp viruses and a strictly enforced biosecurity policy,” Tabrah says. “It also offers more stable environmental conditions and avoids the high risk of hurricanes that we faced in the Florida Keys.”
SISH says it continues to invest more than $1.5 million a year into the selective breeding of the giant tiger shrimp (P. monodon), with the expectation that this stock will be ready within the next two to three years. SISH says it has also recently developed an SPF stock of Pacific blue shrimp (P. stylirostris), which are also being selectively bred.
Molokai Sea Farms (MSF) is an SPF broodstock supplier owned by Steve Chaikin that has operated at its current site on Molokai Ranch lands near Kaunakakai since 1984. MSF is the longest running aquaculture operation in Hawaii. In 1999, it sold more than 10,000 pairs of broodstock to China, but then lost the market to broodstock companies closer to China, such as SIS and CP Foods. But the company has come back and expects to sell 6,000 to 7,000 pairs of broodstock to China in 2014, priced at $80 a pair with a 10 percent discount. “Our knowledgeable staff has been serving customers in over 20 countries for the past 10 years,” Chaikin says. One advantage that his company has is its location on the southwest shore of Molokai, far from development and the population centers.