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Transporting Live Shrimp


August 10, 2012



David Griffith (drwgriffith@gmail.com): I understand that live shrimp are routinely shipped to markets in Asia and would like to learn more about the practice.


Todd Blacher (toddblacher1@yahoo.com): How long of a trip are you talking about, say from getting the shrimp out of the pond until they were unloaded at the destination?  Will you be using compressed oxygen canisters or traditional aeration?  Do you plan to chill the transport water?


David Griffith (drwgriffith@gmail.com): There are no concrete conditions yet.  I’m just looking for some reasonable ballpark numbers for a cost/benefit analysis.  Chilling the water is unlikely, but certainly some chilling could be achieved and oxygen could be included if warranted.  Total time would be about four hours.


Todd Blacher (toddblacher1@yahoo.com): In China, we harvested for live markets with transport times of four to six hours.  We shipped one kilogram of shrimp per gallon in 55-gallon drums.  You need to use the entire water column.  We also chilled the water/shrimp down to 5ºC, in stages.  At 5ºC, pure oxygen was not necessary, so we used a blower to supply air.  If the water temperature went over 10ºC, we used oxygen.  We were supplying a live market, so the shrimp were not processed at the destination, but we did put them into higher temperature water so that they became active and ready for sale.  Let me know if you need more detail, and we can discuss it off-list.


Karlanea Brown (karlanea29@yahoo.com): We have a small saltwater shrimp farm in Indiana, USA, and are starting to transport live shrimp, so I find this topic fascinating.  How do you chill them down?  What size are the shrimp when you move them?  How many shrimp do you put in a gallon of water for an eleven-hour trip?


Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): David, what species are you working with?  Some shrimp can be shipped without water for short trips, like four hours, but it depends on the species.


David Griffith (drwgriffith@gmail.com): Penaeus vannamei.


Patricio Bucheli (p_bucheli@hotmail.com): Hi David, I’ve shipped live shrimp to market in 1,000-liter containers stocked at 600 pounds each.  With water temperatures of 16ºC, shrimp survived travel times of up to six hours.


Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): David, you should have no problems with vannamei, but of course your results will depend on the quality of the shrimp that you’re shipping.


Shrimp can be shipped with and without water.  When shipped with water, they need to be chilled down with ice or a chiller to reduce their metabolism.  Without water they can be shipped in Styrofoam boxes, but careful attention must be paid to humidity, oxygen and temperature.  We have shipped vannamei and monodon for 18 hours from Thailand to Japan with greater than 80% survival.


Todd, you must not have been shipping vannamei because they would die at 5ºC.


David Griffith (drwgriffith@gmail.com): Daniel, please tell us more about your procedures.


Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): I can tell you that shipping large quantities of live shrimp is challenging and not something that can be easily explained in a few words on a list like this.


Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): David, are you doing live transport so the people at the destination can get better color when they cook the shrimp, or so they can avoid using metabisulfites when they freeze them.  As Daniel says, live shipping is complex and challenging (and not really very successful for vannamei).  I have heard (but not witnessed) that some producers in China use special tablets that make shrimp go to sleep for transport.

Leland Lai (lelandlai@aquafauna.com): Back in the 1990s, we built a tanker truck, using insulated Bonar fish tanks, to haul live vannamei from Mexico
to Asian restaurants in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Leland Lai (lelandlai@aquafauna.com): Back in the 1990s, we built a tanker truck, using insulated Bonar fish tanks, to haul live vannamei from Mexico
to Asian restaurants in Los Angeles, California, USA. The tanks
were all plumbed to a recirculating filter designed for a haul time of about twice the road time, which was around 12-15 hours. The system used oxygen canisters and traditional aeration. Water temperature was set at 10-12ºC; any lower and we would have had mortalities.

The major weakness was at the market end of the trip because most the retailers had live tanks
with water temperatures of around 5-7ºC, set for northern
lobster, Dungeness crab, or various species of marine fish. The restaurants did not like to raise the temperature in their tanks to suit vannamei. As a
consequence, their shrimp always looked a little
comatose. Another weakness at the market end was a table time issue. Customers loved the
medium-sized white shrimp, but since there were so many of them per serving, it took them a long time to finish their meal, tying up the table for a long time and reducing the turn over for the restaurant owner. In Asia and other parts of the world, long meals are part of the
culture, so table time is not a critical issue.

David Griffith (drwgriffith@gmail.com): Leland, many thanks for the information.  That sounds very similar to what I have in mind.  I assume you are referring to the large Bonar bins used for harvesting that hold about a cubic meter.  Do you remember the biomass that each bin held?


Leland Lai (lelandlai@aquafauna.com): Yes, they were Bonar bins with two-inch insulation and about a cubic-meter capacity. The biomass haul was
around 4,000 pounds in 16,000 tons of water, so
our ratio was about 25% biomass to water. Back
then, we were competing with live spot prawns caught off the California coast, and our market price was running around $8.00 a pound, while
spot prawns were around $8.50 a pound. Before cooking, spot prawns are red like langostinos, so they have some visual advantages over vannamei. When we didn't have high mortalities, we were getting around $30,000 for each trip to the Los Angeles market.

We had to baffle the tanks to prevent sloshing, and the water had to be pre-chilled at the farm. The
truck held eight tanks with a chiller, generator, pumps, filters, and oxygen canisters to supplement a blower-based aeration system. All of this was mounted on
a trailer that could be hitched to any tractor cab. We had to comply with
weight and highway codes in Mexico, Arizona and California.
 Once customs issues were worked out, crossing the border was not time consuming. Buy the way, the supplier was Mark Rosenblum's Super Shrimp farm. Longer hauls (e.g. further down in Mexico) resulted in delays that crippled the system. An advantage of this system was that it was dark within the Bonar tanks and the vannamei turned extremely red when cooked.


Currently, wild-caught spot prawns are selling for around $18-20 a pound wholesale and $25 a pound retail. It's all about timing. Maybe we were ahead of our time?


David Griffith (drwgriffith@gmail.com): Patrick, it’s for the live market, which may or may not be cooked; that will depend on a number of secondary issues.  I just wanted to know what a reasonable biomass was for a travel time of between two and four hours.  We trucked four metric tons of tilapia in 30 metric tons of water (more or less) for about four hours without chilling or using air.  Shrimp is obviously a different animal, so I was doing some simple estimates and wondered what other people have done.


David Griffith (drwgriffith@gmail.com): Leland, thanks.  That ratio is fairly close to others I have been hearing; it seems like a good starting point.

Daniel Gruenberg (seagardenfoods@mac.com): David, 
if you are going to transport by insulated container, here are a few issues that you should consider.

• The water should go all the way to the top of the container so there is no splashing.

• Temperature needs to be controlled with a chiller (best) or with ice.

• 16º to 20ºC will keep the shrimp semi-conscious and stress-free.

• Traditional aeration works, but oxygen works better.

• You can easily haul 250 kilograms per cubic meter for four hours.

Boudreau Brian (brianboudreau01@yahoo.com): I have been following the thread and my experience with live
hauling vannamei in commercial quantities harvested from biofloc systems for
the live Asian retail market points principally to care in avoiding molting during
the cooling down and purging period prior to shipping.

The 25% shrimp biomass to water ratio is similar to ½ a
pound of shrimp per gallon that we
managed at 18ºC for
transport during eight hours of transport in Boner bins.

Alkalinity and salinity of the shipping and destination water should
be very close to that of the harvested tank to minimize the risk of mass
molting on the haul or at the retail holding tanks.

The live urban market is composed of a lot of small
retailers used to dealing with mostly fresh water or hardier species of
shrimp than vannamei, so it is best to give them your transport water, therefore, it's important to
ship in clean, clear water.

If you're using Boner bins, it's important
to keep the shrimp suspended so they don't fall to the bottom and interfere with the aeration or the oxygen system.

Leland Lai (lelandlai@aquafauna.com): David, I now recall that the water temperature for our four hour plus transport times was closer to 18ºC (as Brian stated). I know we certainly experimented a lot on the farm before we actually ran the truck haul and that we had major temperature extremes to deal with in Mexico.


Update on Transporting Live Shrimp


As a result of the above summary, I received a couple of emails from Jon Chaiton that describe his experiences transporting live shrimp with and without water:


Jon Chaiton (emeraldpartners@yahoo.com): From 1987 to 1995, I shipped tens of thousands of pounds of live spot prawns—without water—from Seattle, Washington, to New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco in the United States, to Toronto in Canada, and overseas to Taiwan and Hong Kong.  A marine shrimp native to the Pacific coast of North America, the spot prawn (Pandalus platyceros) is fished from Alaska to Southern California.  The shipping times ranged from 10 to 42 hours.  Survival was always between 98% and 100%, even on the long overseas journeys.  The shrimp were packed in one-piece, molded Styrofoam boxes with their lids taped down along the seam.  The air in the box was partially replaced with pure oxygen by punching two holes in the box (one on each end) and pumping in pure oxygen, allowing air to escape out the other hole.  When it was determined the majority of the air had been replaced with oxygen, both holes were taped closed.  The actual oxygen concentration was only about 40-50% and was not combustible or flammable.


Because spot prawns are a deep, cold water species, it was necessary to maintain proper temperatures throughout the journey.  Prior to shipping they were chilled down by 10ºF over a period of a few hours to reduce their metabolism and bring down their core internal temperature.  I still use this technique today when air shipping live Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) from the Caribbean to Hong Kong and China.


Inside the box, I would place a one-inch layer of dry expanded excelsior (wood wool, wood shavings) on the bottom of the Styrofoam box. American Excelsior is the only company that sells this product. Its fiber comes from the aspen tree, is non-toxic and has no chemical residues. The compressed bales come in two sizes, full bales and pony bales, and need to be fully expanded before use.  You just pull them apart by hand.  Next, I would add a layer of chilled shrimp and then cover them with another layer of expanded excelsior that had been dipped in chilled seawater and shaken out to remove any excess water.  I would continue this process for several layers (depending on the size of the box), topping it off with a final layer of wet, chilled excelsior and a one-pound gel pack that had been wrapped in several layers butcher paper.  It is important that the gel pack does not come in contact with the shrimp because it would kill them.  The excelsior provides moisture, cushioning and airspace for the shrimp.


Once all components and shrimp were in the box, the lid was sealed and the oxygen added.  Each Styrofoam box was placed into a cardboard box, labeled and sent to the airport.


The prawns were obtained from local fishermen who worked from the San Juan Islands off the northwest coast of Washington State all the way up to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Canada.  I outfitted a flat-bed trailer full of insulated tanks and a recirculating sea water system that included a portable generator, solids removal, bio-filter, pump, chiller and oxygen bottles.  When the trailer was not in use, the bio-filter was removed and plugged into the recirculating shrimp system in my plant in order to keep the bacteria in the bio-filter alive and active.  Each component of the live-haul trailer had quick-release, type-two, cam-lock latches so that they were easy to remove or exchange for another component if there was ever a problem with their operation.  The life support equipment stayed in my truck with hoses running over the tailgate to the tank system.  I built a distribution manifold between the chiller and the tanks so that each tank received the same water flow.  The important thing to note is that extremely high density loads of shrimp were transported in this system for the over 24-hour drive from northern Vancouver Island to Seattle and that the shrimp were suspended throughout the water column by placing them in highly perforated plastic baskets (18” long x 12” wide x 6” deep, with snap-on lids) so that the entire water column could be utilized.  Once the trailer system arrived at my facility in Seattle, the baskets were removed and placed directly into chilled sea water holding tanks.  Each basket contained the exact amount of shrimp for packing one of the Styrofoam shipping boxes.  To minimize handling and temperature stress, the shrimp were only handled once—during the loading of the baskets and trailer at the very start of the operation.


I realize that working with vannamei is different than working with spot prawns.  I also culture vannamei and am familiar with their delicate nature.  My hope is that some of my experiences with the live transport of spot prawns will provide information that may help you be successful in the live transport of vannamei or whatever species you are working with.


Sources: 1. The Shrimp List.  Subject: Shrimp Transport Biomass.  July 11 to July 13, 2012.  August 10, 2012.  2. Email to Shrimp News International from Jon Chaiton.  Update: Live Transportation of Shrimp by Air.  August 11, 2012.  3. Email to Shrimp News International from Jon Chaiton.  Excelsior.  August 12, 2012 . 4. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, August 10, 2012.

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