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The World

What is the Shrimp Processing Industry Doing with
Its Surplus of Heads and Shells?


Shrimp News: Hi, on June 26, 2014, I sent the following note to the 6,826 registered readers of Shrimp News:


Over the years, I’ve posted a couple dozen reports to my webpage about the marvels of chitosan, which is made from chitin, one of the major constituents of shrimp shells.  My reports made it sound like there was going to be a huge market for discarded shrimp heads and shells, but I never hear anything from farmers or processors who are actually selling shrimp wastes as a by-product.


Are any of you actually selling shrimp heads and shells for the production of chitosan?

How big is the market for your discarded heads and shells?

How much do you get for them?

Is it a profitable sideline?


If you have any information on the market for discarded shrimp heads and shells, please email it to me, and I’ll bring it all together and post a report about it to my webpage.  I’ll give you credit for your contribution, but if you prefer not to be cited, just say, “Bob, don’t use my name or email address.”





I received about thirty responses to the above request.  For the respondents that requested not to be identified, I considered their information while I was editing the responses that appear below, but I did not add them to the body of this report.  In fact, when I do this sort of thing in the future, I’m going to ask readers to respond only if I can use their names and email addresses.


Khanh Le ( In Vietnam, shrimp processing plants package the heads and shells in 50-kilo bags and then sell them to other processing plants that specialize in shrimp wastes.  At those plants, the shells and heads are put into a press that squeezes out the juices, which are then dried and turned into a powder and used as an attractant in shrimp feeds.  The shells are then dried and sold to a Japanese company that turns them into chitosan and glucosamine.


Alex Malaguti ( Our office is in the USA, however, we have processing plants in north and south China.  We also have contracts with co-packing plants in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, India and the Philippines.  We sell our shells for $0.05 to $0.06 cents per pound.  It helps to keep the cost down a bit, but I wouldn’t call it profitable.  It is not a profit center at all.  A few years ago, the shells were mostly used for the production of chitosan, but I was told they use them for something else now; I don’t know what.


Some shell processors in China and Indonesia pick out the whole crab shells, clean them up, and sell them for $0.04 to $0.05 cents each to marketers who stuff them with a mixture of crab meat for retail or restaurant outlets.  They really look good on the table.


Al Nasti ( We used to have shrimp processing plants in Southeast Asia and Mexico.  I would sell the shells to a manufacturer in China who processes them for the medical industry.  Keep in mind you need to dry and ship the product.  A friend of mine in Thailand processes shrimp shells.  I tried to get him to up set business in Argentina, which has a large shrimp fishing industry, but as soon as the Argentines discovered that there might be some money in it, they made it impossible to get the business started.  As a seller, the margins are very thin, unless you’re set up to dry and ship the shells yourself.


Guillermo Pott ( In Argentina, not much is done with the shells and heads.  We are very interested in finding a market for our discarded shells and heads.  We could pack them in frozen, two-kilo blocks or in ten-kilo blocks.


Daniel Cabrera ( In Mexico, as far as I know shrimp shells are not being sold.


Juan Pablo Hinrichsen ( In Chile and Ecuador, our company produces three to four thousand metric tons of crab and shrimp meal a year from ten to twelve thousand metric tons of discarded shells, and sells it to feed mills that use it to enhance the protein and flavor of their feeds.  We also have a hydrolyzed product that’s used in shrimp feeds.  So, for dry and liquid products, we have a good market.  Last year we worked with a chitosan producer in Mexico, but he is still developing a market for his products.


Miller Engelhardt ( In the United States, chitin has attracted a lot of attention, but as far as I know, no one has made it work as a profitable business.  You have to truck the shells to a processing plant, and that kills the economics.  On the West Coast of the United States, shrimp processing plants sell the heads and shells to local farmers as a fertilizer.  Pacific Choice sells (or gives) its shells to a local company that markets a liquid fertilizer.  Kristen Baumer of Piazza in Los Angeles gives his shells to local farmers to spread on their fields.  I think they haul them to the dump in Mississippi.  There is also a Dutch company making pet food out of them.  I don’t think shells and heads are big money makers.  I think some processors give the shells away just so they don’t have to pay to haul them away.


There is a company from either Virginia or North Carolina that is in talks with the State of Louisiana to open a chitin processing plant in or near Lafayette, Louisiana.


Eddie Cochran ( In the United States, no one is farming enough shrimp to do anything with the shells and heads, although several universities have talked about it.


Pablo Cámara ( I’m a purchasing manager for a shrimp processing plant in Spain.  I just got back from Thailand, where I visited a shrimp processing plant.  We talked about processing shrimp heads.  The problem with the heads is that they’re full of bacteria and high concentrations of metabisulfite, which makes it difficult to export them into the European Union.  They could be used to flavor cooked rice, but that’s not possible right now.  Most of the processing plants in Thailand sell the heads and shells to animal food producers.


Leo A. Velazquez Villa Suszek ( Google Translate: In northwest Mexico, I looked into making chitosan and found that it would be very difficult to make a profit from it because the drying equipment is so expensive.


You need to process the heads and shells soon after they are removed from the shrimp; otherwise the microbial load increases and the percentage of protein drops.


Douglas Campos ( In Nicaragua, there’s no market for shells.  We take them to the dump.  The largest shrimp processors are not making chitosan.


Harry Ako ( Shrimp or crab shells are ground up and made into a powder, called “chitosan”.  People take chitosan to lower their blood cholesterol.


Todd Wendt ( Up until about six years ago we canned shrimp in Dalian, China.  At times the plant would sell its shrimp shells for chitin production, but all it really did was offset the cost of having to dispose of the shells.  We looked at shipping rock crab shells to China for chitin production; however, the freight costs and the price offered for the product made it impractical.


Hector Rincon ( Here in Venezuela, we export around 90% of our production to Europe as whole animals, so we don’t have a lot of shells and heads.  China is our second largest customer, and it also takes whole shrimp.


TJ ( In China, shrimp heads and shells are used in animal feeds, but not very frequently.  The main concern is that they may contain pathogens that could contaminate the feed.


Edison Hanwa ( In Indonesia, we have some shrimp processing wastes available for export.  How much do you want?  What are your specifications?  Where are you located?


Billy Setio ( My father had a company in Indonesia that processed shrimp shells into chitosan.  He got his shells from a shrimp processing plant.  Today, some shrimp processing plants also have plants that process shrimp shells into chitosan.  It’s a good business, but seasonal, making it difficult to get shells during some parts of the year.  China is the primary customer, but it’s difficult to find a reliable partner there.


Hassan Maqua ( In Saudi Arabia, The National Aquaculture Group (NAQUA), formerly the National Prawn Company, has it own plant for producing chitosan.


Shafandi Bin Abdul Rahman ( Here in Malaysia, we sell our shells to a company that makes shrimp feeds.


Apirak Masa ( In the past, in Thailand, shrimp heads and shells were fed to chickens and ducks.  The shrimp waste products promoted better egg color, which allowed farmers to sell their eggs for a higher price.  However, heads and shells sold for such a low price that the practice was terminated.


After that, some feed mills began incorporating shrimp wastes in their shrimp feeds and farmers got better shrimp growth, compared to traditional feeds, so many feed mills began offering shrimp feeds that contained heads and shells and got higher prices for their feeds.  Some feed mills, however, did not follow this practice because they worried that diseases might be transmitted in the feeds that contain shrimp wastes.  Now they boil the heads and shells and dry them into a powder before incorporating them into shrimp feeds.


Almost all Asian countries use shrimp processing wastes in animal feeds, and some processing companies have established plants for producing chitosan.


Waleed Hajeer ( In Thailand, we are selling whole, fresh shrimp from our farm, so we don’t have any heads or shells to sell.  Only large farms with processing plants can think about producing chitosan.


Andrés Martínez F. ( I represent the Chinese company Dong San Fan (DSF) in Latin America (except for Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, which are handled by the DSF office in Buenos Aires, Argentina).  We purchase cleaned and dried Penaeus vannamei shells, usuallyin 40-foot containers weighing 21 metric tons.  The product should be in bags or compressed into bales.  It is imperative that the moisture level is no greater than 8% and that the sand and fat levels are not above 3%.  We’ll take heads separately, but the price for heads is lower.  We require photos of the packaged product (to see how well they are compressed) and very clear, close up photos of the loose shell.  We also need to know what species of shrimp the heads and shells are from.  Let us know what you have, and we’ll give you a price quote on your product.


Annie Edwards ( There is a chitosan plant in Alabama that was started by some shrimp processors, but I don’t think that it is making any money.


Noraini Anggas ( In Brunei, I don’t think anyone is selling shrimp heads and shells.  I think they either throw them away or use them as fertilizers.


Cheng Huai Ming ( In Texas, USA, my estimated production is 500,000 to 600,000 pounds of shrimp.  Deheaded, that’s about 192,000 pounds of heads; I’ve never been able to find a buyer for them.


Mohamed Adel Mansour ( Our factory in Egypt produces 35 metric tons of fish and shrimp feed a year.  We import shrimp shells from Morocco and add them to our feeds.


Scott Walter ( In Australia, the vast majority of shrimp are marketed as whole animals, so there are not many heads and tails available for further processing.


Sjoert Moors ( There are Chinese agents in Vietnam that collect shrimp processing wastes and ship them to China, or other countries, for chitosan production.


Mills Rooks ( I am currently in the middle of the formation and capitalization of KYTOSAN USA, LLC, ( which will be the only commercial-scale producer of chitosan in the United States.  The plant is being built in Louisiana and will process shrimp, crab and crawfish wastes.  Louisiana disposes approximately 100 million pounds of crustacean waste annually.





Comments and Updates


Roberto Chamorro ( Back in 2008, Camaronera de Coclé, SA (CAMACO), one of the largest shrimp farming companies in Panama, made an investment in a small-scale chitosan plant at our shrimp processing facility.  It was partially financed by the Panamanian National Secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation.  We extracted chitosan from shrimp wastes and produced a high-quality product that was certified by the Mexican National University.  The project objective was to resolve the problems we had with the disposal of shrimp wastes from our processing plant.  Chitosan was proposed as antiseptic and antibacterial for agriculture and aquaculture purposes within our group, Grupo Calesa, which is composed of six agribusinesses (sugar, rice, feeds, shrimp, cattle and agro-veterinary products).


After one year of operation, we concluded that we did not have enough heads and shells to make it cost effective.  That’s because we were selling mostly head-on product.  We did find, however, very good prices for our chitosan in the agriculture industries.  Currently, we’re looking at ways chitosan can be used in shrimp larvae culture and in shrimp growout.




Background Information on Chitosan

(Mostly from Wikipedia)


Chitosan is a linear polysaccharide, made by treating shrimp and other crustacean shells with the alkali sodium hydroxide.


Chitosan has a number of commercial and possible biomedical uses.  It can be used in agriculture as a seed treatment and bio-pesticide, helping plants fight off fungal infections.  In winemaking, it can be used as a fining agent and it helps prevent spoilage.


Other uses of chitosan that have been researched include use as a soluble dietary fiber.


In the United States, chitosan for plants and crops is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while the Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program regulates its use on organic farms and crops.  EPA-approved, biodegradable chitosan products are allowed for use outdoors and indoors on plants and crops grown commercially and by consumers.


Chitosan active bio-pesticides are cost-effective pest controls for farm and horticulture crops.  The bio-control mode of action of chitosan elicits natural innate defense responses within plants to resist insects, pathogens, and soil-borne diseases when applied to foliage or the soil.  Chitosan increases photosynthesis, promotes and enhances plant growth, stimulates nutrient uptake, increases germination and sprouting, and boosts plant vigor.  When used as a seed treatment or seed coating on cotton, corn, seed potatoes, soybeans, sugar beets, tomatoes, wheat and many other seeds, it elicits an innate immunity response in developing roots which destroys parasitic nematodes without harming beneficial nematodes and organisms.


Agricultural applications of chitosan can reduce environmental stress due to drought and soil deficiencies, strengthen seed vitality, improve stand quality, increase yields and reduce fruit decay of vegetables, fruits and citrus crops.  Horticultural applications of chitosan increase blooms and extend the life of cut flowers and Christmas trees.  The USA Forest Service has conducted research on chitosan to control pathogens in pine trees and increase resin pitch outflow, which reduces pine beetle infestation.


Chitosan can also be used in water filtration.  It causes fine sediment particles to bind together, so they can be removed during sand filtration.  It also removes phosphorus, heavy minerals, and oils from the water.  Sand filtration can remove up to 50% of the turbidity in water, while chitosan combined with sand filtration removes up to 99% turbidity.


In combination with bentonite, gelatin, silica gel, isinglass, or other fining agents, chitosan is used to clarify wine, mead and beer.  Added late in the brewing process, chitosan improves flocculation and removes yeast cells, fruit particles and other detritus that cause hazy wine.


Large-scale consumer objects can be made from chitosan using injection molding or mold casting.  Once discarded, chitosan-constructed objects are biodegradable and non-toxic.


Scientists have developed a chitosan-based polyurethane coating that heals its own scratches when exposed to sunlight, offering the promise of scratch-free cars, furniture and packaging.  When a scratch damages the chemical structure, the chitosan responds to sunshine by forming chemical chains that bond with other materials in the substance, eventually smoothing the scratch.  The process can take less than an hour.  The polymer can only repair itself in the same spot once and does not work after repeated scratches.


Chitosan’s properties allow it to rapidly clot blood, and this process has recently gained approval in the United States and Europe for use in bandages and other hemostatic agents.  Chitosan hemostatic products have been shown in testing by the USA Marine Corps to quickly stop bleeding and to reduce blood loss.  Chitosan hemostatic products reduce blood loss in comparison to gauze dressings and increase patient survival.  Chitosan hemostatic products have been sold to the USA Army and are currently used by the United Kingdom’s military.  Both the USA and UK have already used the bandages on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Chitosan is hypoallergenic and has natural antibacterial properties, which further support its use in field bandages.


Chitosan is being studied for several potential dietary or clinical applications.  As a soluble dietary fiber, it may increase gastrointestinal lumen viscosity and retard emptying of the stomach, creating a sense of satiety.  It alters bile acid composition, increases the excretion of sterols and reduces the digestibility of fats.


Sources: 1. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News InternationalWhat is the Shrimp Processing Industry Doing with Its Surplus of Heads and Shells?  July 2, 2014.  2. Wikipedia.  Chitosan.  July 2, 2014.

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