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For the two days preceding the recent shrimp farming conference in Panama, I was the guest of CAMACO (Camaronera de Cocle, S.A.), the largest shrimp farm in the country. Owned by GRUPO CALESA (Compañía Azucarera La Estrella, S.A.), the largest agroindustrial conglomerate (rice, sugar, cattle, feed and shrimp) in Panama, CAMACO has a molecular biology lab, two maturation facilities (with genetic programs), two hatcheries, 1,200 hectares of ponds and a processing plant. Altogether, with its customers, partners and contracts, CAMACO manages 2,500 hectares of shrimp ponds, representing 40 to 45 percent of the shrimp farming industry in Panama.
Roberto Chamorro (below), general manager and old friend, was my host and guide.
Shrimp News: How did you get started in shrimp farming?
Roberto Chamorro: My history in shrimp farming started in 1980, after completing university studies in Fisheries Engineering at the Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco, Brazil, with a degree in aquaculture. I came back to my native Panama, where I met Bill More, general manager of Agromarina de Panama, one of the first shrimp farms in the Western Hemisphere, at the time owned by the Ralston Purina Company. He offered me a job at the Veracruz hatchery, where I met and worked with Ron Staha, David Drennan, Joe Mountain, Roland Laramore, Glen Bieber, Franklin Kwai Ben and Luis Arguedas. I worked at Agromarina for over nine years—in the hatchery, in R&D, in the processing plant and on the farm.
In 1981, with no regrets, I gave up the opportunity to go to Japan for a Ph.D. because of the great hands-on experience that I was getting at Agromarina. In 1985, I became vice president of production during the period when Granada Corporation of Texas owned Agromarina. In 1988, during a restructuring, I decided to leave, started my own consulting company and did shrimp consulting in Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Panama.
In 1989, I joined a consulting group working with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as an aquaculture development specialist. I was assigned to work under the Shrimp Export Promotion Program at FPX (a nontraditional producers and exporters federation) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with frequent travel to Choluteca, where all the shrimp farms locate. My duties included assisting the Central Bank of Honduras manage an export promotion fund for shrimp farming, training bankers on the details of the program and working closely with the Honduras Aquaculture Association to develop the aquaculture sector, not only shrimp, but tilapia also. I am proud to say that the first exports of Honduran tilapia to the USA market were achieved during my years as aquaculture specialist for USAID in Honduras.
In 1994, when that project finished, I joined another well-known private group in Honduras: The Deli Group, owned by my friend Peder Jacobson, who hired me to set up a shrimp processing plant. I worked with Peder until 1996, when my kids were grown, and then I decided to go back to Panama and start my own business. With the help of some friends in the industry, I founded a shrimp maturation company called A.R. Aquacultura, S.A., and exported nauplii to Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico and the USA. That was a great business until 1999, when whitespot hit Panama. Although we never had an outbreak of whitespot at our hatchery, our clients’ farms were hit hard and that caused big financial problems for us.
At that time, I had just started a shrimp farm project with my good friend Alex Cohen, whose son Jason was studying aquaculture at Texas A&M. It’s a small 55-hectare farm called White Shrimp Farms. We have been able to produce reasonable and stable crops in the presence of whitespot.
Then, in 2000, another good friend, Mr. Alberto Villageliú, hired me to consult for the biggest shrimp farm in Panama: Camaronera de Cocle, S.A. (CAMACO), owned by the Chiari Family. At present, I am the General Manager of CAMACO. Over 300 people work with me to achieve our production goals. My duties include shrimp production (maturation, hatchery and growout), the genetic program, processing and selling the shrimp. In February 2006, I will have 27 years of experience in shrimp farming—and wouldn’t change a thing if I had to do it all over again. Well, maybe I’d skip whitespot the second time around.