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Why Is Global Production of Farmed Shrimp Falling?

 

Bob Rosenberry (bob@shrimpnews.com): On May 18, 2017, I posted an item titled “China—Shrimp Output May Be Gone Forever?” to the News Report section of my webpage.  That item sparked the following discussion on The Shrimp List about the recent decline in the global production of farmed shrimp (except for Ecuador):

 

Doan Phuc (dvpmpc@yahoo.com.vn): In your recent item on Chinese farmed shrimp production, the date in your source is wrong.  It should be May 18, 2017, not May 18, 2018.  Please correct it.

 

Bob Rosenberry (bob@shrimpnews.com): Hi Doan Phuc, thanks for the date correction on the China news item.  I just made the change in all my files, including the online file, which may take a couple of hours to update.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): So apparently specific-pathogen-free (SPF) broodstock isn’t working as well as expected in China.  Imported SPF broodstock sales to China skyrocketed in recent years while production has plummeted so much that gloom and doom projections are now coming to the surface.

 

I predicted this many years ago.  I think that China will eventually come back, but the less-skilled farmers will disappear.

 

China will need to reevaluate its system and throw old paradigms out and undertake a serious reset.

 

Robin Pearl  (roshaiga@gmail.com): It is not fair to single out China.  Except for Ecuador, I am not hearing about any countries that are increasing shrimp production.  Please correct me if I am wrong.  There is something very wrong in our shrimp farming industry.  Systems that worked before are no longer working.  Very experienced farmers are questioning themselves and their methods.

 

Whether it’s climate change, as recently posited by Robbins McIntosh, or other causes, the shrimp farming industry simply cannot continue without finding a way to increase survivals.

 

If you look at other agriculture crops—poultry, beef, grains—they all have stable year-after-year output.  Shrimp farming is not as old as them, but we have been at it for over 50 years, and production should have stabilized by now.  Most consultants place the blame on the farmers or bad business practices, but I put most of the blame on genetics.  The shrimp genetics companies have failed our industry.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): Global statistics show that production is dropping.  It looks like some countries are making adjustments, but in other countries greed, white gold and cowboys win the day.  We need to get back to the basics.

 

Blaming genetics companies for the failures of the industry is just plain wrong.  Genetic companies are not farmers.  They provide a service.  Shrimp farmers should not rely on them because their interests are not aligned with the farmers.  Why blame genetic companies?

 

Ecuador kept it simple.

 

Climate change—bah!  Bring it on.  Nothing wrong with tropicalizing shrimp farming.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Patrick, I don’t know the depth of your knowledge about Ecuador’s shrimp farming industry or where you got your information, but I must say nothing could be further than the truth.

 

In Ecuador, guys like Franklin Perez, Luiz Fariya and Neil Gervais were great pioneers in the development of sophisticated genetic breeding programs for Penaeus vannamei.  John Burkett, a regular contributor to this list, continues to implement those programs.  To say that Ecuadorians simply stuck to the basics is a false statement.

 

Do I blame all the current problems on genetics?  No, because geneticists have made great improvements in the last five years.  It’s a key issue, and we need to keep striving for new improved strains of shrimp.

 

The 500-pound gorilla in the room is feeds!  Feeds have changed dramatically in the last decade, and during that period shrimp farming has developed more and more problems.  We have very good evidence for this.

 

I encourage others on this list to chime in on this subject.

 

Robin Pearl (roshaiga@gmail.com): Daniel, are you saying that today’s feed is substantially different from the feeds of ten years ago?  Are you saying they’re worse?  Did the feed companies introduce new ingredients?  Are feed substitutions hurting shrimp production?

 

I know many farmers who were able to grow shrimp in the past, but who are now one failed crop away from losing their farms.  Diseases are not their problem.  They have the same systems, people, protocols, feed and seedstock supply.  That’s why I blame genetics.  Something has happened that has made the current batch of seedstock no longer suitable under the same conditions.  I always assumed that feed was a static component.  Maybe not?

 

Patrick, you say that “cowboys” may be the reason for the swings in production, but maybe they are a result of the swings.  An industry with a high-value crop and unstable production encourages “cowboys” to solve its problems.  Had our industry been stable, many of the cowboys would have found no reason to get involved.  Why would shrimp genetics companies interests not be aligned with farmers?  Other than Ecuador, which countries are currently getting good production and are not “adjusting” like China, Vietnam, Mexico, Brazil, Belize, United States and the European Union?

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Robin, I don’t understand your logic.  You claim that seedstock and feeds have not changed and that the genetics have changed.  You may be using the same brand of feed, but I can guarantee you it’s not the same feed formula, compared to what you were using 10-15 years ago.  There was a 400% increase in fishmeal prices during this period, and feed companies replaced some of the fishmeal with plant proteins.  We have moved further and further away from the diet that shrimp evolved to eat.

 

There is a myriad of anti-nutritional factors in soy meal, and not all of them are removed with hexane.  This is just one example—from millions—on the complexity of formulating diets for shrimp.

 

Even if a feed mill uses the same ingredient from the same supplier, that ingredient will change subtly over time.  Unless you continuously analyze all your ingredients, the performance of your feed can change quickly, even if you don’t change your formula or your raw material suppliers.

 

I was at a farm yesterday that farms Penaeus monodon and P. vannamei, and the farmer was busy mixing no less than six kinds of effective microorganisms, probiotics and magic potions to make his shrimp grow.  He was a 25-year-veteran farmer who used to have over 100 ponds.  I asked him if shrimp farming was difficult ten years ago when he had a bigger farm.  He said it was “too easy” back then.

 

This month’s Aquafeed Asia has an article about the huge amount of toxins detected in over 30 samples of commercial feeds, so this is not just crazy Daniel making these claims.

 

Furthermore, a series of tests we ran at various farms showed noticeable improvement when using our carefully formulated “PureFeed”, along with a noticeable improvement in the health of the hepatopancreas, compared to commercial feeds from other mills.  We are expanding these trials.

 

If you recall I was the one screaming “genetics” and shrimp “aids” when early mortality syndrome (EMS) first hit.  Many others and I were talking about the problems with toxins.

 

My take is that genetics have improved dramatically since EMS arrived in Thailand, but there continue to be toxic factors stressing our shrimp and making them susceptible to a variety of opportunistic diseases, which vary by region.

 

Robert Bauman (hankbauman@gmail.com): Robin, have you heard that farm shrimp production in Ecuador is good right now?  I heard reports earlier in the year that they couldn’t produce postlarvae because of Vibrio problems in the hatcheries.  Not to spread rumors, but I can’t find any updates on Ecuador’s production thus far in 2017.

 

Robin Pearl (roshaiga@gmail.com): Hank, I have heard that also, but I also heard very recently that Ecuador is back on track, although its earlier problems will probably have an effect on this year’s output.

 

Daniel, I am a USA-based shrimp farmer with admittedly little technical knowledge and will also readily admit that I am a cowboy and in it for the money.  We have also experimented with all kinds of feeds and essential oils and various probiotics, with absolutely no positive results.  It was only when we started using a different source of seedstock, along with our regular feed, that we were able to obtain normal production (75%+survival)—without the need for any potions, elixirs or probiotics.  So my comments on genetics are based on my direct and very recent experience.  Now that you have educated me about the feed issues, I will renew my focus on them as well.

 

Daniel Gruenberg (daniel@acquestra.com): Robin, I’m in it for the money, too.  There are a lot of variables at play here, and of course not all feeds are toxic all the time.

 

Patrick Wood (patrickjwood@yahoo.com): Tee hee hee—European Union and United States production of farmed shrimp are so small that they should not even be considered when discussing the factors affecting international shrimp farming.

 

Early in the game, Ecuadorian shrimp farmers learned how to work sustainably and successfully with their limitations.  Farmers stuck to the basics of shrimp farming.  Genetics is just a wee part of all that.

 

Sources: 1. The Shrimp List (a mailing list for shrimp farmers).  Subject: China—Shrimp Output May Be Gone Forever.  May 18 to 20, 2017.  2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, May 22, 2017.

 

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