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Update on Dr. Samocha’s New Book
on Biofloc Shrimp Farming

Bob Rosenberry (bob@shrimpnews.com): Hi Listers, the official title of Dr. Tzachi Samocha’s new manual on biofloc shrimp farming is Design and Operation of Super-Intensive Biofloc-Dominated Systems for Indoor Production of the Pacific White Shrimp, Litopenaeus Vannamei—the Texas A&M Agrilife Research Experience, and the authors are Tzachi M. Samocha, David I. Prangnell, Terrill R. Hanson, Granvil D. Treece, Timothy C. Morris, Leandro F. Castro and Nick Staresinic.  I called Dr. Samocha for an update on the publication status of his book:

Shrimp News (bob@shrimpnews.com): When do you expect your new biofloc manual to be available?  Who will publish it?  And how much will it cost?

Tzachi Samocha (tzachi.samocha@gmail.com): Right now, the manual is with the page-layout people.  We hope they will finish their work within a week or two.  Once we get it back from them, we will review it again, and then send it back to them for the finishing touches, a process that will probably take four to six weeks.  After that, we will give it to the World Aquaculture Society, which will put it on its webpage for people to download, probably sometime in January 2017.  We estimate that it will be about 350-pages long and cost from $40 to $50.  The download will contain a link to a video that will help readers better understand the principles and concepts describe in the manual.  It will also contain lots of links to additional information and other parts of the manual.

Bob Rosenberry (bob@shrimpnews.com): What follows is a summary of a discussion on The Shrimp List about Dr. Samocha’s new book.  It was a long discussion that jumped from topic to topic.  Here I’ve selected comments that were about the book and the economics of biofloc shrimp farming and skipped some of the topics that I did not understand, especially those concerning genetics.  I have put some newsworthy comments in bold so you can find them quickly.  To read the full discussion, go to The Shrimp List’s webpage.

Nelson Gerundo (nelsongerundo@yahoo.com): I’m going to order three copies of the new biofloc shrimp farming book from the World Aquaculture Society when it’s released: one for me, one for the main library of Central Luzon State University in the Philippines and one for the students at Central Luzon State University’s College of Fisheries.

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): All well and good promotionally, but is biofloc shrimp farming a commercial reality?

With all the engineering and scientific technology available, it appears from discussions on this mailing list, that there are no successful, sustainable biofloc shrimp farms.
 
Therefore this is just more grist for R&D and university funding mills.  If this is a solution, then we need to see it in commercial practice.  I’m a skeptic.

Alain Michel (alainhenri@aol.com): Patrick, as you probably know there is a biofloc project in the mountains near Madrid, Spain, that produces 50 metric tons of shrimp a year, and it has been doing it for more than six years.

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): Alain, I’m not sure that farm is a 100% biofloc farm.  I think it’s a modified biofloc system with recirculation and a biofilter.

Jorge L Cordova (seabizec@yahoo.com): Patrick, biofloc shrimp farming is no longer just for scientists and universities.  Commercial shrimp farmers have already adopted biofloc and recirculation concepts.  They are used for the production of juveniles to stock shrimp ponds, which improves growout survivals and farm profits.

Back in 1999, when the whitespot virus hit Ecuador, we started to use raceways to grow juveniles for our farms and discovered that shrimp growout survivals improved with juveniles produced in raceways.  This was reported (in 2000) by Samocha et al. in the Global Aquaculture Alliances’ magazine, The Advocate [now becoming an online publication], which showed that by growing postlarvae in recirculating systems and using biofloc concepts, we were able to improve production.  The additional cost of growing juveniles in these systems is paid for by better production during growout.

Dr. Samocha’s book on biofloc shrimp farming will surely help shrimp farmers all over the globe better understand and use biofloc technology to produce high-performance juveniles for stocking.

Fernando Huerta Dorman (fernandohuerta_dorman@hotmail.com): I agree with Jorge Cordova.

Durwood M. Dugger (ddugger@biocepts.com): Patrick, Nelson, Alain and everyone else who’s tuned into this discussion: Not to take anything away from the ground-breaking technical and economic work accomplished by Dr. Samocha et al., I have to agree with Patrick—at least in general.  Most of the information that’s coming in the new book has already been published in public-domain technical papers.  I don’t expect any new information beyond what has already been published.  I, too, look forward to having the convenience of having the previous papers contained in one place, perhaps with some insights from Dr. Samocha’s co-authors.  I don’t expect the book to stimulate an immediate commercialization of biofloc shrimp farming in the United States.

At my company, BioCepts International, Inc., we have carefully reviewed the previous economic reports published by Drs. Samocha and Hanson.  We concluded that using the systems and economics presented by Drs. Samocha and Hanson would not result in viable biofloc shrimp farms in the USA.

If you want to compete with the open-pond systems in the tropics, you have two choices:

1. Compete in niche markets that do not have reliable access to commodity shrimp.  If you choose this option, however, you must be aware of the scalability limitations of niche markets and their history of failure.  Retail markets that provide premiums for quality and freshness have exceptionally difficult service factors, like high and often unpredictable cost-of-sales that can be much greater than the premiums received for the product.  And niche markets are ephemeral and historically have proven very unreliable.

2. Or, compete head-on with the open-pond producers by producing shrimp at a lower deliverable cost than the farmers in the tropics.  Economically, USA biofloc shrimp farmers have some cumulative advantages over the open-pond farmers in the tropics, including proximity to the market, risk reduction, automation, technical management—and potentially and most significantly—lower feed costs, but these savings without adequate design and operation controls, scale and the necessary economic understanding and foresight can easily be lost to increased management, labor, energy and maintenance costs, along with the higher costs of doing business in the USA.  Additionally, the necessary scales create a much higher capital threshold for investors and management to overcome.

In the USA, we have had more than a hundred small-scale attempts to produce shrimp for niche markets.  None of them have ever scaled-up to full-fledged production businesses with national distribution and audited, sustainable profits.  A few have survived for a number of years on regular injections of operating capital—rather than from real profits.

Drs. Samocha’s and Hanson’s work is extremely important and provides needed technical and economic information regarding biofloc and recirculating systems.  Their work is necessary for understanding the economic requirements of producing scalable and economically viable biofloc shrimp farms.  To my knowledge, there are few if any other public studies that come close to describing the scientific, technical and economic aspects of biofloc shrimp farming as well as they do.  However, to interpret their work as a blue print for economic success in biofloc shrimp farming in the USA would be a total misinterpretation of their work.

Robin Pearl (roshaiga@gmail.com): We operate one of the largest biofloc shrimp farms in North America.  When done correctly, there is no question that bioflocs work.  We have commercialized Dr. Samocha’s research, and we are proof that this is the way of the future.  Without his research we would not exist.  While it is true that there are only a few successful operations in North America, the technology is not at issue.  Marketing, prices, feeds and other costs are not the issues either.  The problem is the quality of suitable seedstock for biofloc shrimp farming.

The lack of high-quality seed supplies that are specifically selected for high-density, high-stress biofloc shrimp farming is by far the leading reason why North American (and I suspect other regions) biofloc shrimp farms struggle.  While Dr. Samocha may not agree, in my opinion, he would be hard pressed to duplicate the record-setting, 7-to-9-kilogram-per-cubic-meter biofloc production levels he got in 2011-2013 using the currently available seedstock in the USA  The seedstock is just not as good as it used to be.

After a couple of years of increasingly dismal results using bioflocs at our farm and after trying all kinds of fixes, we came to the realization that our problems were not related to biofloc technology, but that we had a seedstock issue.  In 2015, we started using a new source of Ecuadorian SPF APE (All Pathogen Exposed) seedstock, and our survival rates almost quadrupled from the low 20% to near 80%.  Frankly, using the APE seedstock is the only reason we are still in business.

When you combine Dr. Samocha’s biofloc contributions with the genetic improvements in our seedstock, our industry should be able to make some very substantial leaps forward.  I suspect that Dr. Samocha’s upcoming biofloc manual will become an industry bible that many successful farmers will use.  I know we will.

Jim Wyban (jim.wyban@gmail.com): Dear Durwood and everyone else on The Shrimp List: The single biggest item missing from this discussion is the need/potential for a well-designed breeding program to support biofloc shrimp farming.  Back in the day, when I was involved in shrimp production and economic modeling, we found the two largest factors in profit sensitivity were growth rate and survival, which motivated me to work on shrimp breeding because it had the greatest affect on profits.  Current USA breeding companies (Shrimp Improvement Systems and Kona Bay Marine Resources, for example) direct their efforts to supplying the enormous demand for SPF broodstock worldwide.  Supplying postlarvae to USA biofloc shrimp farmers is an afterthought that nets them small returns and a lot of hassles.  Imported stocks carry the risk of disease introductions and, like the domestic postlarvae, are not developed specifically for biofloc shrimp farms.  If a biofloc shrimp farm adopted an aggressive breeding program, it could improve growth and survival rates about 10% (combined) per generation.  If such production improvements were built into the economic model of a large-scale biofloc shrimp farm, its long-term profitability could be viable in the USA.
 
Eric Muylder (eric@crevetec.be): Robin, I cannot agree more with your conclusion about seedstock quality.  I also did pilot-scale research about eight years ago and achieved nine kilograms per cubic meter with high survivals.  When I built my commercial-scale farm, I got low survivals that I could not explain.  Like everybody else, I thought my system was the source of my problems.  But finally, I came to the conclusion that the postlarvae were the main cause of the problem.  Here in Europe, we have the additional problem of the imported postlarvae being exposed to 24-hour shipments that cause a lot of stress in the PLs.  So basically, I believe indoor farming with bioflocs works, but we need good quality PLs.  I am genuinely surprised that none of the bankrupt farms in the USA have not instituted court cases against their PL supplier.

Durwood M. Dugger (ddugger@biocepts.com): Jim, Robin, Eric, Patrick and everyone else tuned into this discussion: I would respectfully disagree regarding genetics being the key or the most essential key to profitability.  Not that growth and survival aren’t important in contributing significantly to the bottom line, but genetics alone won’t produce economic viability for biofloc shrimp farms.

First, consider that we have already had significant genetic progress from say a decade or two ago regarding improving growth rates.  Current Penaeus vannamei intensive-system growth rates are more than double their wild counterparts.  We can’t assume we can get 10% growth increase from one generation to the next.  There are chemical and metabolic limits to growth that genetics can’t alter.  So, at some point genetics will reach a point of diminishing survival and growth returns.  Comparatively, we are already at the same comparative growth and feed conversion ratios (FCRs) achieved by a much older poultry industry.

Second, and most important economically, those same genetic achievements and their economic benefits will become equally available to tropical pond systems.  Look no further than existing agricultural genetics to see how fast genetic improvements are distributed (legally and illegally) and adopted.  While early genetic strain adopters may realize temporary competitive economic advantages, they don’t endure because others rapidly adopt them.

Eric Muylder (eric@crevetec.be): Durwood, I never said genetics was the problem; I said poor quality PLs were the problem.  If you receive a batch containing PL-11 that range from 6 to 9 mm, knowledgeable hatcherymen know something went wrong during larval rearing.  I have tripled my production using a new source of postlarvae.

Robin, I hope you can find a way to export to Europe.  It would be interesting to compare your postlarvae with those that I’m using.

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Robin, we are currently developing a hyper-performance feed for super-intensive systems that gives you the equivalent of five generations of growth improvement and healthier animals with higher survival and lower feed conversion ratios.  These feeds are expensive to make, but we have shown a huge increase in profitability in capital-intensive systems, despite the feed’s higher cost.

We should be ready for the commercial release of these feeds in January 2017.  Anyone who is interested in these feeds should contact me at the above email address.

Robin Pearl (roshaiga@gmail.com): Durwood, one of the most surprising and disappointing findings for me is how consultants and most industry veterans as a whole seem to discount the idea that there has been a serious deterioration with the seedstock performance from the main USA PL supplier over the last three years.

You mention how shrimp genetics have made gains.  I am here to tell you that the seedstock available today is not as good for biofloc shrimp farming as it was three to five years ago.  If we could have had that older seedstock for the past three years, you would have seen some major commercial USA and EU biofloc-shrimp-farm breakthroughs and commercial successes.

In my previous email, I mentioned how hard it would be for Dr. Samocha to replicate his success using today's seedstock.  He probably would not agree with that comment, but the technician who worked side-by-side with him during his record-setting years is now working for me, and he experienced first hand how dismal the USA seedstock performs compared to our new APE lines.

There are a couple of theories why the quality of the seedstock has declined.  First is the genetic selection to meet demand in Asia for faster-growing shrimp as a strategy to combat disease.  Asian shrimp farms stock massive amounts of fast-growing animals, and at the first sign of mortality, they harvest ponds and tanks immediately.  If the shrimp are only five or seven grams, so be it.  In Asia there is a large market for small whole shrimp.  That does not work for USA and EU biofloc shrimp farms.  The second theory is a little darker in that the USA PL supplier is owned by an Asian conglomerate that does not have an interest in the success of USA or EU farms that could compete and eventually displace Asian shrimp farms.

Whatever the reason, the USA and EU farms know this is a major issue and we are addressing it.

As far as the business side is concerned, I wholeheartedly agree that USA shrimp farming can only be done by large fully vertically companies.  Time will tell if the current crop of USA shrimp farms will grow into this role, but when they or their successors do, my belief is that they will eventually dominate the tropical-pond industry when it comes to supplying the US and EU.  Every major seafood buyer for the large food distribution companies would prefer to source USA and EU product if it were available in large commercial quantities.  I know this is hard to imagine, but American Mariculture is much closer than most to realizing this dream.  Time will prove if I am right, but you better believe I am doing everything I can to make it happen.

Eric, I do not have the time or patience to commence a legal action against our former seedstock supplier.  However, once I found out that the PLs we received had a 15% inbreeding coefficient, which is way outside our expected standards, I did ask for a full refund, but the supplier has not responded.

It is not unusual for a large company or organization that finds itself in a monopolistic position to stop caring about the quality/performance of its products, or about its customers.  Even though they have tried to stop any competition from getting started, they have given their customers no choice but to create new sources.

Competition makes everyone better; hopefully they will realize this and adjust their attitude, improve their product and care about their customers.  Once unleashed, market forces will require them to adapt or disappear.

Dallas Weaver (deweaver@me.com): Jim, I agree that specific pathogen free and genetics are relevant to recirculating-aquaculture-system (RAS) economics for shrimp, but growth rate is not the most relevant parameter.  In designing RAS facilities, feed input is the driving parameter that determines the total amount of pollutants you must handle (suspended solids, ammonia, carbon dioxide and biological oxygen demand), along with total O2 demand.  Better FCR (survival) has a big payoff.

Almost all the water treatment costs are independent of the growth rate.  However, the culture system costs are a strong function of the social behavior of the animal being cultured, and that has a big economic payoff with genetics.  Providing an animal that can be cultured consistently at 50 kg/M3 in deeper tanks at FCRs in the 0.8 to 1.0 range (with no cannibalism) would make the economics look a lot better.

John Birkett (jbirkett42@yahoo.com): Robin, inbreeding is a problem, but when we did the huge selection project in Ecuador with Neil Gervais and Matt Briggs to produce whitespot tolerant shrimp, our lines ended up having more than 40% inbreeding.  After three generations, they were performing well, probably better than the pre-whitespot animals.  Back then our biggest problem was growth, but that's the easiest genetically achievable goal.  I think that resistance or tolerance diminishes with generations if the animals are not challenged continuously.

Durwood M. Dugger (ddugger@biocepts.com): John, can you provide or do you know of a reference on how an “all pathogen challenge” protocol should be administered?

John Birkett (jbirkett42@yahoo.com): Durwood, there are a number of non-published protocols on microsatellite assisted genetic selection.  In Ecuador, there is a genetic testing firm that has developed a few, and private firms and individuals have done the same for quite some time now.  We started our own in 2001.  It’s important that the breeding center doesn't let go of their starting genetic diversity, that it has a broad spectrum of genetic groups (not individual families) at its disposal and that they are all separated by microsatellite work.  We tend to think that we have developed a certain resistance to EMS just by using those protocols, and we have created lines that are resistant to other pathogens like WSSV and IHHNV by the same method.  Every year something new could appear or mutate, which would require a new selection process.  It takes time, and it’s not pain-free, but it appears we’ve developed a whitespot tolerant shrimp and that eventually, we will have an EMS tolerant shrimp.  I'm not sure it will be the same for microsporidians; they could end up being our biggest challenge.

Information: Carol Mendoza, Home Office Director, World Aquaculture Society, 143 J.M. Parker Coliseum, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA (Phone 1-225-578-3137, Fax 1-225-578-3493, Email carolm@was.org, Webpage http://www.was.org/Shopping/was-books).  Note: Dr. Samocha’s book will not be available from WAS until sometime in early 2017.

Information: Tzachi Samocha, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Marine Solutions and Feed Technology, LLC, 4110 East Colt Shadow Lane, Texas 77386, USA (Phone 1-832-823-4223, Fax 1-253-390-6081, Skype tzachitx, Email tzachi.samocha@gmail.com and t-samocha@tamu.edu).

Sources: 1. Dr. Tzachi Samocha.  A telephone interview by Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, on November 17, 2016.  2. The Shrimp List (a mailing list for shrimp farmers).  Subjects: (a) Update—Dr. Samocha's Manual on Biofloc Shrimp Farming, and (b) Dr. Samocha et al. Good Works and Commercial Reality.  November 18–22, 2016.  3. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, November 24, 2016.

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