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Epicore BioNetworks, Inc.
Shrimp News Interviews Fernando Garcia Abad
At the Tenth Central American Aquaculture Symposium (Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 27–29, 2014), I interviewed Fernando Garcia Abad, Aquaculture Business Development Director at Epicore BioNetworks, which designs, develops and manufactures innovative and environmentally responsible biotechnology products and animal feeds for shrimp farmers. It has broodstock feeds, algae growth promoters, a complete range of liquid feeds, dry feeds and a full line of highly specialized probiotics for hatcheries and farms
Shrimp News: Where did you grow up and where did you go to college?
Fernando Garcia: I was born in Azogues, a small city up in the mountains of Ecuador, and got my Bachelor’s Degree in aquaculture at ESPOL (Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral) in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Then I went to Vancouver, Canada, where I studied biotechnology, focusing on genetics and bacteria, in conjunction with Malaspina College, the Pacific Biological Station and West Vancouver Laboratory. When I returned to Ecuador in 1992, I got a job teaching at ESPOL, where I taught for three years, and then I became a private consultant, working at all levels in the shrimp farming industry: broodstock facilities, hatcheries and growout. In those days we used to buy wild postlarvae on the beach and take it to the farms for stocking the ponds. In November 1995, Epicore contacted me through the shrimp farmers association, better known as the National Aquaculture Chamber, because it wanted to run trials on its products in Ecuador, and I’ve been working for Epicore every since, almost twenty years now.
Shrimp News: What are Epicore’s primary products for shrimp farmers?
Fernando Garcia: Although we’re beginning to expand our market to fish farmers, 95% of our business is with shrimp farmers. We started in Ecuador, but today, Epicore exports products to 28 countries. We have distributors all over Latin America and Asia. Our newest distributors are in China and Australia.
For shrimp hatcheries, we have a complete product line, starting with two grades of our Algae Growth Promoters: “Epizym® AGPC” and “Epizym® AGP”, which has two grades, one for indoor and one for outdoor algae culture. Algae are essential in larviculture, and our products are design to improve their nutrition and simplify management. Algae are used throughout the larval stages, but especially during the zoea and mysis stages. Most of our customers in Latin America use them, and they’re widely used in Southeast Asia, as Asian shrimp farmers make the switch from Penaeus monodon to P. vannamei farming, a species that is more dependent on high-quality algae during its larval stages.
There have been several stages in the development of shrimp larval feeds. In the beginning, hatcheries used egg yolks and a lot of fresh feeds to feed larvae. Those feeds had negative effects on water quality, forcing hatchery managers to kept stocking densities low. Then the industry developed microparticulate feeds, which were an improvement, but they also presented problems. Their nutrients leached away quickly, and they were not very stable in the water. Next came microencapsulated feeds, which were a major improvement because they helped maintain better water quality than previous feeds. Now we have liquid feeds, and they’re the core of Epicore’s hatchery feeds today. We have two products in this area: “Epifeed® LHF” (liquid hatchery feeds) and “Epilite®”. Both have the same formulation, but the concentration level of the nutrients in “Epilite®” is lower. They both reduce the need for Artemia, but they don’t completely replace Artemia. Hatchery managers can use 50 to 60% less Artemia when they use our liquid feeds.
By Latin America standards, they’re still using a lot of Artemia in Asia, probably because they started with tiger shrimp (P. monodon), which are more carnivorous than P. vannamei. In Indonesia, however, hatcheries are more like those in Latin America and use less Artemia, about half of what the rest of Southeast Asia uses. I believe that if we could get hatcheries in Southeast Asia to use more of our liquid feeds, Artemia prices would drop. We also have some dry feeds for the large larval stages.
We began to develop broodstock feeds twelve years ago, with the idea of reducing the use of fresh feeds at broodstock facilities. Back then, most broodstock facilities were feeding marine worms (polychaetes). In Latin America, unlike Asia, we don’t get live polychaetes; we get frozen polychaetes. Depending on where you get them, they vary in quality, and they’re potential carriers of disease. The first shrimp farming group that started using our broodstock feeds was SeaJoy (the Deli Group. In 2006, we were able to completely eliminate the use of polychaetes at their broodstock facilities. When you switch to dry broodstock feeds, however, you do lose some productivity, but that lose of productivity is more than compensated for by reduced production costs and increased biosecurity. The quality of live feeds is all over the place. You get good squid; you get bad squid. You get good polychaetes; you get bad polychaetes. Dry feeds are a more reliable and constant source of feed. Dr. Timothy Flegel at the recent TARS 2014 conference in Thailand said that PCR results support the hypothesis that polychaetes spread AHPND from China to broodstock in Southeast Asia. Now the AHPND bacteria are widely distributed in the infected environments and live there freely. Our maturation feed is called “Epifeed® MBF” (maturation broodstock feed).
Shrimp News: Can probiotics reduce the use of antibiotics in shrimp hatcheries?
Fernando Garcia: Yes. If you use probiotics in your hatchery, you can completely—100%—eliminate the use of antibiotics! Twenty years ago hatcheries often lost an entire crop of shrimp larvae to bacterial disease. Every hatchery had a wide range of antibiotics to fight bacterial diseases, and it was difficult to get hatchery managers to switch to probiotics because they knew probiotics contained bacteria and, after all, that’s what they were fighting in their hatcheries. They had trouble accepting the concept of good and bad bacteria. In the Eastern Hemisphere, many hatcheries still use antibiotics, and that has to change. Indonesia and Thailand are already using fewer antibiotics, but other countries still use a lot of antibiotics. Epicore has been the leader in Latin America in eliminating the use of antibiotics at shrimp hatcheries. “Epicin® Hatcheries, Epicin® 3W and Epicin® G2 or D” are our primary products in this area.
Shrimp News: Do you have products that work against Vibrios?
Fernando Garcia: Yes, all our hatchery probiotics help to control Vibrios. For example, we started developing “Epicin® 3W” to treat Zoea-II Syndrome, which is still a big problem at shrimp hatcheries worldwide. “Eipcin® 3W” targets Vibrio harveyi. It controls it. After the shrimp larvae survive the zoea-II stage, we switch them over to “Epicin® Hatcheries”, which is more of a water quality product. It reduces organics, ammonium and nitrates. The first two products require activation—brewing—which can lead to mistakes and contamination, so we also developed a similar product that does not require brewing. It’s called “Epicin® G2” (generation two) in the Western Hemisphere, but in the Eastern Hemisphere, we call it “Epicin® D” (direct). It’s the same product. There were other products in Asia that used the letter “G”, so we just gave the product a different name in Asia. “Epicin® D” simplifies management and reduces human error. It also attacks Vibrio harveyi and has the advantage of improving water quality. In the Americas, hatcheries use all three products—“Epicin® Hatcheries”, “Epicin® 3W” and “Epicin® G2”. In Asia, for the most part, they only use “Epicin® D” because it’s easier to use, easier to handle and because they don’t want to get into brewing in hatcheries.
Shrimp News: How exactly do the above products reduce disease?
Fernando Garcia: They have three modes of action. First, they compete with the Vibrios for space and excluding the bad bacteria from the environment. For example, if you have a restaurant that seats fifty people and you fill it up with fifty good people, there are no seats for the bad guys. Second, they produce antimicrobial peptides, which actually inhibits the growth of Vibrios. And third, there are other bacteria in our products that actually lower the pH in the water. Vibrios like high pHs and don’t grow well at low pHs.
A single-strain probiotic has much less of a chance of working against Vibrios than our multi-strain probiotic. Hatcheries have to be careful when they mix together bacterial probiotics that they know nothing about because they can compete with each other and give the bad guys a seat in the restaurant. We test all of our bacteria to make sure they’re not antagonistic to one another. Other probiotic companies don’t always do that; they mix together a bunch of bacteria that individually have good traits, but when they’re put together they annihilate each other. Some providers of probiotics copy products designed for sewage treatment that are not designed to attack Vibrios. With sewage treatment, plant managers can use very nasty bacteria because they’re not attempting to grow living creatures. They want to digest the waste as quickly as possible and don’t need to worry about killing any animals that might be in the water. In Thailand today, experts and consultants are recommending that hatcheries and farms to not use local probiotics. When scientists checked local probiotics, most of them did not have the bacteria strains that were on their labels and several of them contained contaminants that could be dangerous to shrimp larvae and human health.
Shrimp News: We’ve talked a lot about hatchery products. Do you have any products for growout ponds?
Fernando Garcia: Yes, we have “Epicin® Ponds” for water quality control and “Epicin® PST” for removing organics and improving bottom conditions. Organics and pond bottoms are a breeding ground for Vibrios. We also have “Epicin® G2 or D” for gut protection, and just recently, we developed “Epicin® Pills” for the new intensive nurseries. The pills are used in tanks that transport postlarvae, in raceways and in trouble spots in ponds that have areas were organics have accumulated. In nurseries, our products prevent the accumulation of organics. They mineralize them, convert them back to their basic elements.
Shrimp News: What advise to you have for the shrimp farming industry?
Fernando Garcia: The industry needs to reduce growout risks, especially for farmers with fewer skills and small ponds. At Epicore, we provide a lot of technical support. If we discover something that works, we let all our customers know about it. Intensive nurseries are a good example of that. We really believe in the use of intensive nurseries and tell all our customers about them. We have developed feeds specifically designed for intensive nursery systems. They’re dry feeds—hatchery quality dry feeds—with high-quality proteins and high-quality lipids. In fact, all the ingredients are high quality. If you try to use growout feeds in nursery systems, you get into trouble with water quality.
If you produce robust animals in your nurseries, it dramatically reduces the length of the growout cycle. Instead of having a 120 day growout cycle, you may have an 80-day cycle. If you had an 80-day cycle, you’ll now have a 45 to 50-day cycle. Our advise: don’t push stocking intensities in growout ponds. That’s a formula for disaster, proven over and over again for the last twenty years. If you get greedy and push stocking densities because shrimp prices are high, you will go backwards. Most shrimp farmers know how much shrimp their ponds will produce, and they should not push production beyond that level. If you follow this strategy, you will find that you reduce your feed conversion ratio and that your animals will grow a lot faster, especially if they were raised in a nursery. You’ll use less feed because your growout period will be shorter. If you reduce your costs per hectare per day, you are reducing all of your costs, not only your feed costs, but other costs like labor and energy. If you are cutting 20 days out of a 100-day cycle, you’re reducing 20% of your costs. Our nursery feeds are called “Epibal®”, and they come in different sizes. We don’t sell growout feeds.
Shrimp News: How do you provide technical support for your products?
Fernando Garcia: We have technicians in all our major markets. All of them have aquaculture backgrounds, many of them with fifteen years plus of experience in broodstock facilities, hatcheries or farms. Most of our technicians used our products in hatcheries and on farms before they came to work for us. If there is ever a problem, customers can call one of our technicians and get free advise on how to deal with the problem. We also supply our customers with information on how to better manage their farms and hatcheries. If we discover something that is working on one farm or hatchery, we let our other customers know about it.
Information: Fernando Garcia Abad, Epicore BioNeworks, Inc., 4 Lina Lane, Eastampton, New Jersey 08060, USA (phone 1-609-251-1425, fax 1-609-267-9336, email email@example.com, webpage http://epicorebionetworks.com).
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