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Is Penaeus indicus a Good Species for Farming?

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): I don’t recommend Penaeus indicus for any commercial farm.  Period.  P. vannamei can handle high salinities as well as indicus, and it’s a better species for farming.  I’ve seen vannamei farms at 60-65 PPT.  Vannamei farms in Sonora, Mexico, and Iran also get very high salinities.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): Daniel, please tell us why you don’t recommend indicus.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Patrick, can you point out a commercially successful indicus farm anywhere in the world?

 

Every indicus farm that I know of has failed.  The National Prawn Company’s (NPC, now named National Aquaculture Group) big farm in Saudi Arabia was a big failure that didn’t succeed until it brought in vannamei from Latin America.  Even with Dr. Roger Doyle as their geneticist and years of selective breeding, they couldn’t achieve any sustainable genetic gains with indicus.

 

There is no commercial SPF or SPR genetic program anywhere on Earth for indicus.  So why on Earth would anyone choose indicus?

 

Marcel Selfer (marcel.selfer@gmail.com): Didn’t these indicus comments start in the “Salinity” discussion on The List?

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Yes Marcel you are correct.  They appeared in another discussion on The List.

 

At one time in the shrimp industry it was thought that areas with high salinity like Iran and Saudi Arabia had to use indicus for salinity tolerance, but later it was shown that vannamei is quite tolerant of high salinities, and genetically improved, resistant stocks of it are available.  Salinity levels of 40 to 45 PPT are not all that high; I have clients whose ponds commonly reach 60-65 PPT.

 

Indicus, for some strange reason, failed to achieve sustainable genetic gains despite the huge effort of Saudi Arabia’s National Prawn Company and geneticist Roger Doyle.

 

As far as I know, there is not one commercially successful indicus farm on the planet, other than some small farms in India and the Middle East.

 

I make this point because some countries have policies that insist on indicus farming, and because of that, they have no shrimp farming industry.

 

Haydar Alsahtout (alsahtout@yahoo.com): Hi all, I don’t think Daniel’s comments reflect the true status of indicus and the National Prawn Company.

 

I’ve spent more than 25 years in shrimp farming and have cultivated the three most common commercial species.  Starting with monodon in 1990, I established one of the largest operations in Southeast Asia.  In 2000, I managed Saudi Arabia’s National Prawn Company, the world’s largest indicus farm.  In 2012, I participated in the introduction of vannamei to that farm.

 

I would like to put things into perspective.  The strength and the widespread use of vannamei around the world is a testament to the superiority of this species.  It resulted from the great efforts and the enormous research programs by the best research institutions in the world, mainly in the USA, which focused on the domestication of this species and the production of specific pathogen free (SPF) strains.

 

As for indicus, comparisons with other species will certainly put it near the top of the tastiest list, along with monodon and japonicus.  On that list vannamei belongs at the bottom.  Vannamei is the Tilapia of Shrimp, while indicus is certainly the Grouper.

 

As for the claim that indicus failed to achieve sustainable genetic gains despite the huge effort of National Prawn and Dr. Doyle, that statement is baseless because the gains exceeded our projections.  Also, we should not forget that these efforts were managed and financed by one company, while vannamei’s ascendency was sponsored by a group of nations and a huge number of institutions.  At the time, indicus production was limited geographically—but favored by quality-oriented markets, like Japan.  Indicus was on the top of the quality list for years before production stopped in 2012.  We had years of great success.  SPF indicus, developed at National Prawn in the 2000s, was in its 25th generation, the oldest domesticated shrimp strain in the world.

 

In my opinion, indicus will remain one of the best species for shrimp farming.  We need to create a rating scale so we can differentiate between what is good, very good and excellent.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Haydar, I don’t dispute what you say.  If you read my statement, it says there are no commercially successful indicus operations today.

 

The genetic gains made at National Prawn may have exceeded expectations at one point in time, but over the long term, they were not sustainable because they were eventually lost due to unknown reasons.  This information comes directly from those responsible for the project at National Prawn.

 

If indicus is so great, why did National Prawn have to change to vannamei to achieve success?

 

I’m talking from a commercial point of view not a product-quality point of view.

 

Haydar Alsahtout (alsahtout@yahoo.com): Hi All and Daniel, National Prawn changed to vannamei despite the great potential of indicus—for the same reasons that drove the Southeast Asia shrimp farmers to shift to vannamei, despite the super potential of monodon.

 

Daniel, you said, National Prawns “gains were eventually lost due to unknown reasons.”  That’s not correct.  The company knew very well what was happening.  I am not in a position to discuss this now, but the fact is that there were various reasons that prevented indicus from continuing its success, and I am sure that the industry learned a lot from these painful lessons.

 

Anil Ghanekar (anilghanekar@yahoo.com): What needs to be done to bring indicus up to vannamei’s level?

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Anil, what needs to be done to bring indicus up to speed with vannamei?  Twenty years of breeding and millions of dollars of investment.  Simple.

 

Oh, but wait, one of the best shrimp geneticists in the world ran the last indicus program, and it finally ended in failure, so it may be a bit difficult to get investors to come up with the millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars of investment needed to get indicus to the similar status as vannamei.

 

Good luck with that.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Okay Haydar, again, on most issues I agree with you.  I am just saying if I were to start a shrimp farming operation today, indicus would be my last choice of species.

 

National Prawn made the move to vannamei due to commercial realities.  I don’t think any farm in its right mind would consider using indicus today.

 

It’s a bit futile to argue otherwise because there are no commercially successful indicus farms.

 

You may well be right that someday there will be a SPR/SPF indicus program, but today no such thing exists, and no large-scale, farm is growing indicus.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Now I would like to respectfully disagree with Haydar on several points:

 

The change from monodon to vannamei at National Prawn was due to the commercial failure of monodon after the whitespot breakout.  At the time, there was no successful breeding program for monodon because, as a closed thylecum species, it was much more difficult to breed, compared to vannamei.  In addition, vannamei was SPF, and wild-caught, monodon breeders were not.  Vannamei also allowed much higher stocking densities and hence produced a lot more profit per square meter, with shorter cash flow cycles and reduced risk.  In short, vannamei beat out monodon because it was much more commercially viable.

 

In contrast, National Prawn had a long-term breeding program that attempted to achieve genetic gains.  Despite all this effort, vannamei won out commercially simply because it had greater commercial viability.

 

I have been in direct contact with the scientists running National Prawn.  My information comes directly from them, and they tell a different story than yours.

 

The commercial reality is that vannamei won and indicus lost and today no commercially viable indicus farm exists, and I predict one will never exist at any time in the future.

 

I completely understand your pride in the indicus species.  This mirrors my experience with japonicus, a delicacy superior to any vannamei.  But vannamei has taken over the world for one reason and one reason only.  It’s more profitable.  Period.

 

Hawaii’s SPF vannamei have some problems, but other SPR/SPF programs in different parts of the world are showing tremendous successes, and I don’t think any funding body is going to risk starting over again with indicus.

 

There are some nice breeding programs for producing SPF, genetically improved monodon.  I just can’t see any private or government entity funding indicus breeding anywhere in the world for the foreseeable future.  Consequently, no shrimp farm will even consider growing indicus.

 

Indicus is at the bottom of the commercial reality list.

 

Haydar, please tell me, notwithstanding your great pride in the local indicus species, would you advise a shrimp farmer to grow indicus?

 

Haydar Alsahtout (alsahtout@yahoo.com): For a new shrimp farmer, I would advise him to start with the best available species for his area and markets.  Today, my answer would be vannamei because it would not be wise for a new farmer to start with a new species that’s not supported by advance production technology.  At the same time, I would advise that farmer to start a breeding program with others in the industry with the objectives of developing an alternative to vannamei, so his investment would be protected over the long term.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): Where vannamei is endemic, there have only been minimal outlays for breeding programs.  My advice would be not to depend on genetic experts at all in breeding shrimp for success.  Use them by all means if you feel they give you an advantage, but don’t think they have anything more special in application or tools than a farmer selectively breeding from his ponds.  There is no magic involved, and if there is something that geneticist can do, surely it would already have been done.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Modern SPF/SPR strains of vannamei bred in Thailand are getting more and more resistant to WSSV, EMS and EHP, three of the most important diseases in Southeast Asia.  Along with increases in resistance, shrimp are growing faster—over two grams a week—and feed conversion ratios (FCRs) have dropped to 0.9 to 1.0.  And guess what Indonesia is achieving: stocking densities of 200 to 300 postlarvae per square meter, up to 500 PLs/m2.

 

What were National Prawn’s numbers when indicus was doing well?  Anywhere near the above numbers?  I think not, and this is my point.  Commercial reality and genetic gains drove the displacement of indicus.  Those countries in the Middle East that are forcing farmers to use native species will simply not become shrimp farming countries.  That is my prediction, and I will stand by it.  I was consulting for a Middle Eastern country that wanted to force its farmers to do indicus.  I did my due diligence and spoke with the highest-ranking person in the National Prawn’s genetics program.  My unequivocal conclusion was that it’s not commercially viable to farm indicus.  Even after all this debate and nice information sharing I still stand by my conclusion.

 

I won’t argue with you about indicus being a tastier species than vannamei, and Japonicus is also fantastic when eaten raw in sushi.  That’s why the Japanese pay upwards of $100 a kilogram for it.  However, they only produce 2,000 metric tons of it a year, less than 0.1% of total farmed shrimp production.  Indicus is a niche product with poor growout performance.

 

K.K. Vijayan (vijayankk@gmail.com): We at the Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture (CIBA-Chennai) under the Indian council of agricultural research (ICAR-Govt of India) have initiated a program on farming indicus—as a first step in the development of a selective breeding program.  Our Initial results are very impressive.  In a growth test with vannamei as a control, native indicus had the same growth rate as vannamei up to 20 grams, and then the vannamei grew faster.  Click here to see the results of those trials.

 

We will advance this breeding program, and we sincerely feel that countries with any interest in indicus need to join a partnership to promote a selective breeding program for it.  We need a backup for vannamei.  Yes, we need vannamei—and monodon and indicus!

 

John Birkett (jbirkett42@yahoo.com): Haydar, as you pointed out, vannamei is the species of choice right now.  No other species has had as much invested in its genetic development.  We used to work with stylirostris as our second choice in the Americas, and we found out that it was more susceptible to whitespot than vannamei.  The spread of pandemics is really difficult to stop even with the best of aquaculture practices and biosecurity.  We do need alternative species in case vannamei gets whipped out.  It would be nice if someone funded a project for improving the genetics of indicus and stylirostris.

 

Haydar Alsahtout (alsahtout@yahoo.com): John, I totally agree with you.  If we don’t start thinking out of the box, the shrimp industry won’t go forward.

 

As far as government funding to support R&D programs for indicus, I don’t think it’s possible on a regional basis, but it might be possible at the state level.

 

In my opinion, to bring indicus back to the farm will require close collaboration between industry (all stakeholders) and research institutions, which will only be possible if the market expresses a demand for indicus.

 

Sources: 1. The Shrimp List (a mailing list for shrimp farmers).  Subjects: Indicus and Salinity.  March 22 to April 4, 2017.  2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, April 5, 2017.

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