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El Niño and Shrimp Farming

Measuring El Niños
The Monster El Niño of 1997-1998
10,000 Years of El Nino

Reports from Shrimp Farmers after the 1991-1993 El Niño
Reports from Shrimp Farmers after the 1997-1998 El Niño
El Niño, The Book
The New El Niño Intensity Scale
I Am Not Making This Stuff Up
El Niño, The Movie

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Every three to five years, driven by a reversal in the trade winds, an El Niño, a huge bulge of warm water under a blanket of tropical storms, hits the western most extension of South America, burying the cool Humboldt Current and dropping heavy rains on Peru and Ecuador, often around Christmas--hence the name El Niño (the boy), in honor of the Christ Child. Over the past three decades, shrimp farms around the Gulf of Guayaquil (just a few degrees south of the equator, on the Peru/Ecuador border), have learned to deal with El Niño's various moods--and relatives, like his cool weather cousin, La Niña.

After seasonal changes, El Niño is the planet's most important source of climatic change, causing devastating droughts and storms around the world. In 1982-83, a huge El Niño caused droughts and storms blamed for 1,500 deaths and up to $8 billion in damage worldwide. Scientists at Mississippi's Stennis Space Center think big El Niños like that one influence world weather patterns for over a decade, as they bounce from continent to continent, slowly dissipating their energy.

The 1991-1993 El Niño (of average intensity, but unusually long) triggered major weather changes and disrupted shrimp farming on a global basis. It caused drier than normal conditions in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, northern Australia, northeastern Brazil and Central America. It brought record drought to southeastern Africa and dropped heavier than normal raiAns on southern Brazil, Uruguay, central Argentina, California, Texas, Ecuador and Peru. Coastal China experienced unusually heavy rains in 1993.

The granddaddy of all El Niños hit Peru, Colombia and Ecuador in April 1997 and lasted until May 1998. Skip ahead to "The Monster El Niño of 1997-98" for all the details. Stay right here for a little background information.

Production of farm-raised shrimp usually increases along the Pacific coast of South America during El Niño years. Shrimp like the warm El Niño waters and grow rapidly in the brackish-water environment created by the heavy rains, which also flush out the ponds and estuaries. Wild shrimp reproduce in great numbers during El Niños, supplying farmers with endless quantities of the highly prized wild postlarvae. Shrimp hatcheries have a tough time competing with the abundant wild seedstock and most temporarily close their doors.

Although Ecuador's production of farm-raised shrimp increases during El Niños, big El Niños, like the ones in 1981-82 and 1997-98, result in a net loss to the industry. Roads and bridges get washed out so harvests have to be barged or flown to processing plants. Low-lying ponds get flooded. Big hatcheries, which are usually closed during El Niños, suffer damage that may not be revealed until the middle of the next production run. Some of Ecuador's current political/economical problems can be blamed on the monster El Niño of 1997-98.

In Central America and Mexico, El Niño spawns tropical storms and hurricanes during its early phases, followed by hot, dry weather during its later phases. Shrimp like the warm temperatures, but the absence of rain eventually leads to lower water quality and slower growth, so El Niño is a mixed blessing in this part of the world.

El Niños suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic Ocean and encourage it along the Pacific Coast of Central America and Mexico. In September 1997 Hurricane Nora, spawned by the 1997-98 El Niño, spun through the Mexican shrimp farming industry and reached as far north as Dr. Donald Lightner's Shrimp Disease Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

In the eastern hemisphere, El Niño usually has a negative effect on shrimp production. During the 1991-93 El Niño, major droughts in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia took a heavy toll on shrimp farming. Wild broodstock and seedstock were in short supply and disease and water quality problems popped up all over Southeast Asia.

Measuring El Niño

In Currents of Change: El Niño's Impact on Climate and Society, an 180-page book that was published before the 1997-98 El Niño, author Michael Glantz discussed various techniques for describing the intensity of El Niños:

One of the most obvious and important indicators is the increase in sea surface temperatures in either the central or eastern equatorial Pacific. The larger the increase in temperature above normal, the larger the event. Scientists often refer to the size of El Niño as very weak, weak, moderate, strong or very strong:

Very Strong Events: Coastal sea surface temperatures usually rise more than 7 degrees Celsius above normal and there are extreme amounts of rainfall, flood waters and destruction in Peru.

Strong Events: Coastal sea surface temperatures rise from 3-5 degrees Celsius above normal for several months, with large amounts of rain and coastal flooding (Peru and Ecuador) and significant reports of destruction.

Moderate Events: Coastal sea surface temperatures rise from 2-3 degrees Celsius above normal, with above normal rainfall and coastal flooding, but less destruction.

Another way to measure the size of an El Niño is by how long it lasts. Scientists say El Niño has a life span of 12 to 18 months, but in the 20th Century, several events have lasted much longer. In 1991, for example, an El Niño began that some researchers say spanned at least three calendar years, 1991-93. Others say it did not end in 1993, but continued into early 1995. Was it one long event, or a few smaller ones? While the 1982-83 event was considered by many to have been the most devastating in a century, the 1991 event may eventually be shown to have been one of the longest.

10,000 Years of El Niño

The planet’s largest and most powerful driver of climate changes from one year to the next, the El Niño Southern Oscillation in the tropical Pacific Ocean, was widely thought to have been weaker in ancient times because of a different configuration of the Earth’s orbit.  But scientists analyzing 25-foot piles of ancient shells have found that the El Niños 10,000 years ago were as strong and frequent as the ones we experience today.


The results, from the University of Washington (UW, USA) and University of Montpellier (France), question how well computer models can reproduce historical El Niño cycles, or predict how they could change under future climates.  The paper is now online and will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Science.


“We thought we understood what influences the El Niño mode of climate variation, and we’ve been able to show that we actually don’t understand it very well,” said Julian Sachs, a UW professor of oceanography.


The ancient shellfish feasts also topple a widely held interpretation of past climate.


“Our data contradicts the hypothesis that El Niño activity was very reduced 10,000 years ago, and then slowly increased since then,” said first author Matthieu Carré, who did the research as a UW postdoctoral researcher and now holds a faculty position at the University of Montpellier in France.


In 2007, while at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Carré accompanied archaeologists to seven sites in coastal Peru.  Together they sampled 25-foot-tall piles of shells from Mesodesma donacium, a surf clam peculiar to Chile, eaten and then discarded over centuries into piles that archaeologists call middens.


While in graduate school, Mr. Carré had developed a technique to analyze shell layers to get ocean temperatures, using carbon dating of charcoal from fires to get the year, and the ratio of oxygen isotopes in the growth layers to get the water temperatures as the shell was forming.


The shells provide one to three yearlong records of monthly temperature of the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Peru.  Combining layers of shells from each site gives water temperatures for intervals spanning 100 to 1,000 years during the past 10,000 years.


The new record shows that 10,000 years ago the El Niño cycles were strong, contradicting the current leading interpretations.  Roughly 7,000 years ago the shells show a shift to the central Pacific of the most severe El Niño impacts, followed by a lull in the strength and occurrence of El Niño from about 6,000 to 4,000 years ago.


One possible explanation for the surprising finding of a strong El Niño 10,000 years ago was that some other factor was compensating for the dampening effect expected from cyclical changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun during that period.


“The best candidate is the polar ice sheet, which was melting very fast in this period and may have increased El Niño activity by changing ocean currents,” Mr. Carré said.


Around 6,000 years ago most of the ice age floes would have finished melting, so the effect of Earth’s orbital geometry might have taken over then to cause the period of weak El Niños.


In previous studies, warm-water shells and evidence of flooding in Andean lakes had been interpreted as signs of a much weaker El Niño around 10,000 years ago.


The new data is more reliable, Mr. Carré said, for three reasons: the Peruvian coast is strongly affected by El Niño; the shells record ocean temperature, which is the most important parameter for the El Niño cycles; and the ability to record seasonal changes, the time scale at which El Niño can be observed.


“Climate models and a variety of datasets had concluded that El Niños were essentially nonexistent, did not occur, before 6,000 to 8,000 years ago,” Mr. Sachs said.  “Our results very clearly show that this is not the case, and suggest that current understanding of the El Niño system is incomplete.”


The research was funded by the USA National Science Foundation, the USA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the French National Research Agency.


Other co-authors are Sara Purca at the Marine Institute of Peru; Andrew Schauer, a UW research scientist in Earth and space sciences; Pascale Braconnot at France’s Climate and Environment Sciences Laboratory; Rommel Angeles Falcón at Peru’s Minister of Culture; and Michèle Julien and Danièle Lavallée at France’s René Ginouvès Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology.


Source: The FishSite.  Ancient Shellfish Tell 10,000 Year History of El Niño Cycles.  August 12, 2014.



The Monster El Niño of 1997-1998

Weatherwise: The March/April 1999 issue of Weatherwise magazine reported: The 1997-98 El Niño killed over 450 people and caused over $3 billion in damage to buildings, roads and crops in Ecuador and Peru. In northwest Peru and coastal Ecuador, cumulative rainfall totaled as much as 10 times normal. Tumbes, in northwest Peru, where normal December-May rainfall is around 200 mm (8 inches), recorded over 2,100 mm (82.7 inches) for the season, including 730 mm (28.7 inches) in February alone. In the coastal areas of Peru, flash floods, mudslides and sea surges damaged or destroyed at least 50,000 dwellings and affected between 300,000 and 500,000 people. Nationally, flooding and mudslides took at least 200 lives. In Ecuador, floods and landslides killed at least 251 people. The Peruvian government announced that rebuilding roads and bridges and recovering land lost in the devastation would cost $2 billion.

National Geographic: If you like to keep up with the latest information on El Niño, you'll want to get a copy of the March 1999 issue of National Geographic. It contains a long article on the 1997-1998 El Niño, with all the great graphics and photographs that National Geographic is known for. Here are some excerpts:

It rose out of the tropical Pacific in late 1997, bearing more energy than a million Hiroshima bombs. By the time it had run its course eight months later, the giant El Niño of 1997-98 had deranged weather patterns around the world, killed an estimated 2,100 people and caused at least 33 billion dollars in property damage.

A huge mass of warm water sloshes back and forth between Indonesia and Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. During the past 50 years, it has created El Niño conditions 31 percent of the time and La Niña conditions 23 percent of the time.

There is a consensus among climate scientists that El Niños have become more frequent and progressively warmer over the past century. Beyond that, there is little agreement, particularly about whether human activity might be exacerbating their effects.

In the past 98 years, there have been 23 El Niños. Four of the strongest have occurred since 1980. But no one knows whether this indicates a trend or is simply a meaningless random clustering.

Popular Science: The August 1998 issue of Popular Science magazine reported: "Two new tools have made this El Niño the best-monitored ever. One is the Topex/Poseidon satellite, a joint USA-French venture launched in 1992. From its orbit 830 miles above Earth, Topex (a half-acronym for Ocean Topography Experiment) measures the Pacific's surface level along the same route every 10 days, with a margin of error of only 5 inches. That information is a key marker for El Niño, as tropical waters pile up when they are pushed by the rogue trade winds responsible for jump-starting the event."

"A second tool views the aquatic action firsthand. This is an array of buoys straddling the equator from New Guinea to near the coast of Peru. Called the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array and maintained by the USA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these buoys transmit data on air and water temperature, wind and humidity back to shore-based researchers, giving them detailed and immediate information on what's transpiring on the Pacific."

"This year, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, plans to have operating an upgraded Cray supercomputer. The Cray will crunch El Niño related satellite and buoy data with the goal of refining prediction models by allowing the use of more and more detailed data. A newer, even more powerful machine is set for installation in the year 2000. In May of that year, NASA and the French space agency CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales) plan to launch Jason-1, a follow-up to the ocean-measuring satellites currently used. Jason-1 will have twice the measuring accuracy of the current satellite network."

"For the near future, the behavior of wind and water in the tropical Pacific seem to indicate that the next year or two, at least, will be El Niño-free."

New Book on the 1997-1998 El Niño: A flood of new books on El Niño will hit the streets in the near future because the 1997-98 El Niño was one of the best studied climatic events ever.

One of the first books over the dam is Floods, Famines and Emperors: El Niño and the Fate of Civilizations (January 1999, hardcover, $25, address below). Part One of this book describes how El Niño was first identified and the progress scientists have made in defining its role in the global weather machine. Part Two investigates the relationship between climatic events and the course of history. Part Three looks at the relationships between carrying capacity, population and government. In Chapter Twelve (Part Three), "El Niños That Shook the World", author Brian Fagan brings us up-to-date on the 1997-1998 El Niño. Here are some excerpts:

In early 1997 the oceanographers' computers picked up a mass of unusually warm water in the southwestern Pacific. The new International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (formed jointly by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) launched a coordinated effort to monitor the phenomenon and to predict the effects of a rapidly forming El Niño on widely separated parts of the world.

Researchers watched as the warm water mass grew and spread rapidly through the equatorial Pacific. The warm ocean pumped heat and moisture into the atmosphere. By August sea temperatures off South America were already as warm as they had been during the great El Niño fifteen years earlier. For the first time, forecasters could use their models and the experience of the 1982-1983 El Niño to issue an accurate long-term forecast. Over the summer months of 1997, the fledgling El Niño developed just as the forecasters predicted, with severe drought descending on Australia and Indonesia.

On November 8, 1997, a night of heavy rain over the banana-producing town of Santa Rosa in southern Ecuador caused rivers to burst their banks. Within minutes, over three thousand people were homeless. Banana and cocoa plantations were inundated and shrimp farms decimated. The inhabitants of Santa Rosa were furious. They pointed out that the surprise 1982 El Niño had cost Ecuador $165 million in damage to farms, housing, industry, the country's infrastructure and fisheries. Why, then, was the government unprepared for disaster when it had had months of warning of a strong El Niño event?

The authorities responded that since Santa Rosa had been spared damage in 1982, preventive measures were directed elsewhere. They also pointed out that times had changed. For example, Ecuador had only 35,000 hectares of shrimp farms in 1982. In 1997 there were 180,000 hectares, many of them in coastal mangrove swamps that once formed a natural barrier to flooding.

On the other side of the Pacific, Philippine rice paddies, usually under nearly two meters of water by mid-June, were a vast expanse of red cracked earth covered with tufts of dying rice. The farmers' irrigation canals were dry and clogged with weeds. Temperatures soared to above thirty-seven degrees Celsius for weeks on end. Many farmers turned their rice plots into fishponds, but the water was too hot and the fish died.

The same drought brought uncontrollable forest fires to Indonesia.

Between March and August 1998, the pool of abnormally warm water in the Pacific shrank steadily. Large areas of the eastern Pacific enjoyed near-normal temperatures as the greatest El Niño of the twentieth century came to a close. The pendulum began a swing toward a predicted La Niña in 1999. Information: Basic Books, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022 USA (phone 212-207-7600,

Science News: The July 4, 1998, edition of Science News reported: "Water temperatures in parts of the equatorial Pacific Ocean have dropped precipitously in the last two months, chilling El Niño's fever and setting the stage for the arrival of another climatic hooligan: La Niña. Meteorologists were divided earlier this year on whether an episode of La Niña cooling would follow El Niño's demise, but the recent Pacific shift has brought consensus. 'All of the forecasts are consistently indicating that we will have a La Niña shortly and it will continue over the next winter,' says Vernon E. Kousky of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Camp Springs, Maryland, USA."

"La Niña and its sibling, El Niño, are opposite extremes of a Pacific pendulum that causes the equatorial waters to swing from warm to cold and back again. During El Niño, warmth normally centered over Indonesia spreads eastward across the entire Pacific, dragging with it towering thunderheads that pump heat into the atmosphere. The storms redirect jet streams and turn typical weather patterns upside down around much of the globe."

"Measurements of water temperature, taken by buoys and satellites, show that a full-fledged La Niña has not yet developed. Between early May and early June, the equatorial temperatures fell markedly from three degrees Celsius above normal to three degrees Celsius below normal around 130 degrees west latitude, but the cooling stayed confined and has not spread westward."

Urner Barry: On Monday July 6, 1998, Urner Barry Publications reported: "After a spring influenced by El Niño, forecasters at the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting that La Niña conditions are developing and are likely to influence fall and winter weather patterns. ...'There was a rapid cooling of sea surface temperatures in sections of the equatorial Pacific during May 1998 as El Niño conditions rapidly dissipated', said Vern Kousky, research meteorologist with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland, USA. 'The cooling trend is likely to continue with the development of La Niña conditions during the next three to six months. We expect that La Niña will be impacting weather patterns around the globe this fall and into next winter'."


The New York Times: The May 8, 1999, issue of The New York Times reported: Historically, El Niños appear every two to seven years; La Niña shows up less often. But over the last two decades, El Niño has appeared more frequently, and during the 1990s, Niños ruled for four out of ten years. Could this be related to global warming?

Los Angeles Times: On August 28, 1999, The Los Angeles Times (quoting Reuters News Service) reported: Meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said they did not foresee a return of El Niño in the next year. They said La Niña is still alive and well. "We can only reliably predict nine months to a year from now," and there is "definitely not" going to be another El Niño during this time, said Vernon Kousky, chief of the analysis branch at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in Washington. Kousky thinks La Niña will last until the spring of 2000. She has been linked to abnormal hurricane activity in the Atlantic, the drought in the eastern United States and torrential rains in Australia and Indonesia.

Delacorte Press, Random House, Inc. (address below): A new book (December 1999), A Primer on Weather and Climate (People, Weather and the Science of Climate), by William K. Stevens, a science reporter for The New York Times, is loaded with interesting comments on El Niño. Here are some of them:

In May 1997, The United States National Weather Service predicted a huge—maybe the biggest ever—El Niño for the winter of 1997/1998. The forecast was impressively accurate. Before 1997 was over, El Niño had quieted the Atlantic hurricane season and produced killing drought in Indonesia, which fed forest fires whose smoke choked the cites of that region for weeks.

In the waters off of Peru and Ecuador, the boundary between warm surface water and colder, deeper water is normally at a relatively shallow depth. This fosters high pressure, which sustains the east-to-west trade winds. The winds in turn push warm water westward, where it piles up against Australia and Indonesia, igniting the convection that provides rain for India and the southwest Pacific. But sometimes this elegant arrangement breaks down; the trade winds weaken, allowing warm surface water to move back to South America. The zone of most powerful convection comes with it, taking water vapor and rain away from the western Pacific and Indian Ocean and moving it east, toward Peru and Ecuador, where it picks up the name El Niño.

Lots of factors affect the growth and development of hurricanes once they form in the Atlantic, and one of the most important is El Niño. The changes in atmospheric circulation caused by El Niño strengthen westerly winds blowing across the region where hurricanes grow, and these winds tend to shear the tops of hurricanes apart before they can become truly dangerous. By suppressing hurricane development in this way, El Niño essentially aborted the 1997 hurricane season. Information: Delacorte Press, Random House, Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036 USA.

Reports from Farmers after the 1991-1993 El Niño

El Salvador: On July 29, 1992, Tom Desmond with Hawaii Aquaculture Company's shrimp farming project in El Salvador faxed: "El Salvador is well to the north of those countries that are most impacted by El Niño, and so is not directly affected by these phenomena. It is true, however, that exceptionally little rain fell in El Salvador during the 1991 rainy season, which usually runs from May to November. This caused a severe drought which limited the production of hydroelectric power, and resulted in the rationing of electrical energy during the first half of this year. Those Salvadoran shrimp farms which relied on electricity for water pumping during this time were indeed affected. I don't know if the drought here was caused by the El Niño, or if its timing was just a coincidence."

Costa Rica: August 20, 1992, Eduardo Velarde, general manager of the Criadero De Camarones De Chomes, S.A., a shrimp farm in Costa Rica faxed: "El Niño did a lot of harm to our shrimp business this year. From November 1991 through April/May 1992, temperatures were an average of 3 degrees Celsius higher than normal. We have had an excessively long summer and not enough rain. Our water fertility was so low that pond filters that usually need cleaning every 4-5 days because of algae growth and other organisms did not need cleaning at all. We just had to remove the normal sticks and leaves. During the summer, our shrimp usually grow an average of a gram per week. This summer, they grew 0.5-0.6 gram per week. This meant that we harvested 13-gram shrimp in 120 days, instead of the usual 19-20 grammers, resulting in higher costs and lower prices! We barely made ends meet! I've talked to shrimp farmers in Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua, and they all tell the same story."

Panama: On September 3, 1992, Jaime Tribaldos with Nutrición Animal, S.A., a shrimp feed company in Panama, wrote: "El Niño caused the rainy season to start late. Also, it has caused some irregularities in the continuity of the rain. This is bad at the beginning of the season, but it might lower salinities to desirable levels later in the season."

Peru: On April 2, 1992, a newsletter on Latin American affairs reported: "The shrimp farms along the Tumbes River have been all but wiped out."

Peru: On August 7, 1992, Christian Berger, technical consultant for Nicolini Hermanos, S.A., a producer of shrimp feeds in Peru, wrote: "The 1992 El Niño hit from March to May. It was short--but destructive. Over 60% of shrimp farms were flooded, resulting in the loss of hundreds of tons of shrimp. The Peruvian Shrimp Farming Association estimated the loss at $21 million. On the positive side, El Niño flushed out the esteros (reducing problems with pollution), lowered salinity levels (reducing the threat of vibriosis, but causing other water quality problems) and raised water temperatures (increasing growth rates). In addition, there were good supplies of high-quality seedstock selling for around $2.50/1,000 postlarvae. Of course, with such good supplies of wild seed, all the hatcheries shut down."

Ecuador: On August 25, 1992, Padge Beasley, who works on a shrimp farm in Ecuador, reported: "Disease continues to be a problem in ponds, but principally with hatchery seed at densities above 10 juveniles per square meter. Because of disease problems, many large farms are producing 12 to 14-gram shrimp in 100 to 120 days. These are processed with metabisulfite for the head-on, European market. Some even harvest 10-12 grammers. With the current disease problems, the faster (and smaller) you harvest, the lower your mortality level. Until the disease problems are solved, the days of rearing 25-gram shrimp are over, at least from hatchery produced seed. Maybe someone will produce big shrimp in low density culture with wild larvae, but hatchery larvae just aren't performing."

Ecuador: On August 19, 1992, Yosuke Hirono, executive president of Penaeid Tecnologia Internacional, a shrimp farming consulting firm in Ecuador, reported: "We were hit hard by El Niño. Reports indicate that production of farm-raised shrimp in Ecuador during the first half of 1992 were about the same as in the first half of 1991, with diminishing volume in May and June. Exceptional heavy and sustained rainfall caused less material damages to the infrastructure than the El Niño of 1982-83. Nevertheless, as predicted, the abundance of wild postlarvae forced the majority of shrimp hatcheries to close down. The hatcheries have started to reopen in recent weeks, as the wild postlarvae supply dwindles. As for farms, there are many problems: lots of deformed shrimp, stunted growth, poor survivals and runt deformity syndrome. In addition, high costs of materials and operating expenses forced many shrimp farmers to reduce their operating costs by switching from semi-intensive techniques to semi-extensive ones. Farmers attempted to lower costs by feeding less and reducing personnel. It seems that there is little relationship between growout problems (slow growth, lower survival and high feed conversion) and El Niño. In my opinion, the poor results in growout ponds are more closely related to the quality of the wild postlarvae than El Niño."

Ecuador: On August 3, 1992, Chris Denmark, a partner in Fieso, S.A., a hatchery consulting firm in Ecuador, faxed: "Heavy rainfall began in January and continued until the end of May, washing out roads and disrupting communications and transport. Sea temperatures during this period were from 1-3 degrees Celsius higher than normal, resulting in an abundance of ocean caught shrimp and other warm water species and an absence of the normal (for this time of year) cool water species."

"Generally, hatcheries sold all their January production. Despite the availability of wild seed, some hatcheries continued operations in February. Most of them were unable to sell their production, or had to sell it at a loss. At this time, the market was flooded with postlarvae (PLs), and the price dropped to $0.75 per 1,000. Many hatcheries were stuck with PL20s (and larger), which had to be sold at a loss. The number of operating hatcheries plummeted from 200 to 9 by the end of May. The hatcheries which remained opened were generally part of integrated companies which could support temporary losses."

"Wild postlarvae were available in large amounts from February onwards, selling for around $2.00/1,000 in April/May. Farms generally experienced a tremendous flushing effect from the flow of large quantities rainwater. Although not completely eliminated, disease was greatly reduced by this flushing action. The availability of cheap postlarvae obviously benefited the farmer. Growth rates were also good from the warmer than normal temperatures. The impact of El Niño was not 100% beneficial. The intense rainfall on some farms caused increased logistical problems and on others actual structural damage. Some farms that were built in natural drainage channels experienced severe silting problems. There have been some reports of the wild seed not performing as expected on farms, but this may be due to inexperience in handling wild postlarvae, the poor conditions in which it is transported (hatchery seed is generally better taken care of) as well as the lower salinity in which it was acclimated and grown."

"Currently, there are about 30 hatcheries operating, and their seed is selling for $2.25/1,000. Small amounts of wild seed are sporadically available at $3.25/1,000. Seedstock prices are rising as wild seed becomes increasingly scarce."

"Farms are operating pretty much as normal for this time of the year with temperatures at their monthly norm. They are still benefiting from low-priced seed and the cleansing effect of the rains."

"There is general optimism on the part of the hatcheries, and the industry is 'picking up' at the moment. Most of the hatcheries will recuperate over the next few months, but it will take time, and some hatcheries will change hands. At the moment, many hatcheries are on the market at very low prices. The hatchery business has lost its 'Gold Rush' appeal. It has matured and learned to deal with wildly fluctuating market conditions. It is unlikely that we will again have the excessive production capacity that we had in November 1991."

Chris Denmark had these comments on Peru: "The El Niño phenomenon, political and economic pressures have proved disastrous for the Peruvian hatchery industry. All four functioning hatcheries are closed. One produced larvae in March/April before closing, and the others have been closed all year. Of last year's 3,000 hectares of working farms, less than 1,000 hectares are currently operational, and they are all in poor financial shape."

Ecuador: On September 9, 1992, Jose Villalon, vice president and technical director of Empacadora Nacional, an integrated shrimp farm in Ecuador, reported: "The 1992 El Niño in Ecuador was medium in intensity. The rains began in January and stopped in late June. During this semester, according to data from the Instituto Oceanografico del Ecuador, we experienced only 32% of the rainfall which occurred during the same time frame in the infamous El Niño event of 1983.

Although the '92 El Niño was of medium intensity, rainfall was 53% more than in a normal rainy season and encouraged the production of lots of wild seedstock. Although demand during the first two months of the year was high, postlarvae prices soon plummeted to a mid-March low of $2.10 per thousand, delivered. Producers were able to stock all their hectarage and, consequently, July '92 exports closed 11% higher than the export volume for the same period in 1991."

"Wild seedstock became scarce during July and hatcheries resumed production as prices began to escalate."

"Pond growth performance was under expectations. Pond water temperatures (bottom samples) were recorded as high as 32 degrees Celsius, but growth did not exceed 0.8 grams per week at semi-intensive densities. No definitive conclusions have been expressed, although there exists several observations of a more than normal incidence of bent rostrums and other deformities characteristic of runt deformity syndrome. Much of the first semester harvests consisted of smaller sizes, for example, 16 grammers."

"In July and August, Ecuador experienced difficult economical conditions and high inflation, forcing the average producer to react conservatively by lowering operating costs (lower stocking densities, less feed, less labor). Some of the well financed vertically integrated operations, such as ours, took advantage of the low cost of seedstock. We are expecting a record year for exports, though total exports for Ecuador for the last five months of '92 are expected to decline marginally. The calendar year '92 should close at approximately 98,500 gross metric tons exported which is equivalent, or slightly less, than the 1991 export volume."

Reports from Farmers after the 1997-1998 El Niño

Thailand: On June 30, 1998, the Bangkok Post reported: El Niño, which brought drought to many of Thailand's neighbors, had a relatively small impact on Thailand. Exports of shrimp reached new highs.

Ecuador: The final issue of Seafood Leader magazine (November/December 1998) contains an article by Kristine Beran, once an Ecuadorian shrimp farmer/processor, on the problems of moving shrimp along Ecuador's low-lying coast during El Niños. Beran wrote:

And the rains came. We received several unexpected shrimp deliveries from farmers whose dikes had burst. Now we had to get them to Guayaquil. There were two roads to the Port of Guayaquil. Both were terrible, so it was just a matter of which one was open. Torrential rains and mudslides made travel very slow. I estimated it would take 12 hours to travel the 150 miles to Guayaquil. I sent along some backhoes, which cleared the way.

Good thing, too. Our lead driver managed to get his truck completely stuck during a particularly nasty river crossing. Luckily, we had the equipment to pull him out. Breathing a sigh of relief, I figured things could only get better.

The next harvest coincided with a campesino strike, which paralyzed the entire country for several days. Not only that, we secured so much shrimp that it quickly exceeded our processing capabilities. Drivers from Guayaquil would not come all the way to the processing plant for fear of getting stuck. We had to deliver it to them at an inland site. With tons of product ready to go, things were getting desperate.

Scrambling, I managed to locate the only container and trucker in town. I didn't have time to think. I grabbed the first cab I could find, loaded it up with five bodyguards and led the truck out of town. Unfortunately, we were quickly stopped because the river had flooded the road. The last thing I wanted to do was risk our shrimp on a dangerous crossing, especially after watching a Dole truck make an unsuccessful attempt and lost its container to the river.

Later, we made it across and met the drivers from Guayaquil, who were understandably nervous about driving at night, especially while hauling containers worth several hundred thousand dollars. They wanted to wait until morning, but I knew that wasn't an option. We had to get the shrimp to Guayaquil ASAP.

"You will travel tonight," I told them, "escorted by three taxis with armed men and enough coffee to keep you awake until you reach Guayaquil, where you will call me and inform me of your safe arrival." Normally, I would never send a container of shrimp at night because of the risk of robbery and poor driving visibility, but our ship was leaving at three o'clock the next day. I was already cutting it close. The shrimp made it on time.

Ecuador: The April 1998 issue of Acuacultura del Ecuador, this issue in English and Spanish, contained an update on the 1997-98 El Niño. As of April 4th, 1998, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, El Niño had done $850 million in damage. It caused more death and destruction than the 1982-83 El Niño, which was the biggest El Niño in decades.

On November 9, 1997, Santa Rosa, in El Oro Province, was hit with a huge El Niño storm, causing the worst floods that anyone had ever seen. They did severe damage to agricultural land and shrimp ponds.

Storms continued to batter Ecuador's coast until April 1998. Coastal roads and bridges are still out, so it has been difficult getting shrimp from the farm to the processing plant.

In the five coastal provinces, 25,000 kilometers of roads need repair. Collapsing bridges have turned towns into islands. It will probably take five years of intense labor to fix things.

The shrimp farming industry has been hit hard by El Niño, especially low-lying farms along tidal rivers. Based on data from the National Aquaculture Chamber, around 4,500 hectares of ponds were severely damaged—and lost their crops. All transportation costs have increased because of the unrepaired roads. The growth in shrimp exports is beginning to slow.

Ecuador: In an article titled Enormes Perdidas Deja el Fenomeno De El Niño [El Niño Causes Enormous Loss], the July 1998 issue of Acuacultura del Ecuador reports:

Ecuador lost 2,500 kilometers of main highways during the 1997/98 El Niño. Esmeraldas, Manabi, Guayas, Los Rios and El Oro provinces were the hardest hit. Except for Los Rios, these are all coastal, shrimp farming provinces. The shrimp farming industry suffered $60 million in damage.

Manabi and El Oro provinces lost the most. In El Oro, near the town of Santa Rosa, approximately 1,000 hectares of ponds were flooded and $8 million worth of shrimp escaped. In Manabi Province, around the Bahia de Caraquez, many small farms were flooded and then buried in muck.

Elsewhere, heavy rains lowered salinities, creating a perfect environment for blue-green algae, which, when ingested by the shrimp, produce an off-flavor called "choclo" [described as smelling like corn-on-the-cob]. Off-flavored shrimp could not be used in the whole animal market, but their tails were okay.

During El Niño years, hatcheries can't compete with the abundant supplies of wild seedstock, so, between February 1997 and May 1998, 90% of Ecuador's shrimp hatcheries closed down. This cost the industry an additional $40 million.

Mexico: On August 21, 1998, Roberto Arosemena, general manager of Acuicola Bachoo, S.A., a shrimp farm in northwest Mexico, reported: "El Niño forecasts called for a 400% increase in rainfall and hot weather. Well, we got just the opposite of that. It did not rain at all and temperatures hit record lows. As a consequence, widespread mortalities were reported, especially among newly stocked postlarvae and juveniles. Some reports indicate that more than 600 million PLs were lost, mostly Penaeus stylirostris. Many farms had to restock."

"Migrating birds were also a bigger problem than usual, especially migrating ducks, some of them species we had never seen before. We think that the change in numbers and variety was related to El Niño. The stomach contents of some ducks were examined and found to contain up to 200 juvenile shrimp per duck."

Colombia: On September 16, 1998, Fernando Rey, a shrimp culture specialist with Acuasesorias, Ltd., in Colombia, reported: On Colombia's Caribbean coast, during the 1997 El Niño, we experienced an increase in sunny days and water temperatures increased 3 degrees Celsius to 5 degrees Celsius. This increase is believed to be the cause of a significant increase in the growth rate of P. vannamei (20% to 30% over previous years). Meanwhile, the weather on the Pacific coast was cloudy and rainy, so the effect on water temperature was not the same, and there was no jump in growth rates.

Canada: On September 21, 1998, Chris Campbell, president of the Cultured Crustacean Company, which is attempting to establish spot prawn (Pandalus platyceros, a coldwater marine species) culture in Canada, reported: El Niño means that we had surface temperatures of 22 degrees Celsius, and even at depths of 60 feet, the water was still 18 degrees Celsius! Spot prawn would normally live in deeper, colder waters, but we had vigorous and ravenous juveniles at these higher temperatures.

Peru: On September 28, 1998, Christian Berger, a shrimp farming consultant, reported: The 1997/98 El Niño was a disaster for shrimp farming in Peru. Unusually heavy rains began in January 1998 and lasted until May 1998. Flooding destroyed almost all the roads in the shrimp farming areas. Of the 3,000 hectares of shrimp ponds in northern Peru, 1,500 hectares were destroyed and the rest became inaccessible. For a while, the only way to get shrimp to the processor was by air, sometimes on chartered flights. Water quality changes brought additional problems, like slow growth and disease. In addition to a big drop in production, the damage to farms has been estimated at $6 million. Processors and hatcheries suffered wind and water damage.

Nonetheless, the shrimp farming industry in Peru is in pretty good shape. Most of the damaged ponds have been repaired, and 1999 could be our best year ever. Because of El Niño and its affects on the fisheries, the government has become more aware of aquaculture and shrimp farming and recently formed a task force to promote aquaculture in Peru.

EL Nino, the Book



By the time you finish reading El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker, you'll know why the book jacket describes El Niño as an "interplay of wind and water with the power to unhinge the world." Author J. Madeleine Nash, for fifteen years senior science correspondent for TIME magazine, likens El Niño to the great white whale in Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick. She portrays El Niño as an awesome force of nature, uncontrollablable, but predictable [????]. Chapter Five (which, incidentally, contains new information on the monstrous 1997-1998 El Niño, as does the entire book) begins with this quote from Melville:

"Ah, ye admonitions and warnings!
Why stay ye not when ye come!
But rather are ye predictions than warnings ye shadows?"

Nash writes for the general reader, but that reader must have a keen interest in science, the weather and El Niño to fully appreciate her book. She writes about Kelvin and Rossby waves, the relationship between the monsoon and El Niño, ice cores, slices of coral, and teleconnections—and makes it easy to understand! She visits meteorologists, glaciologists, biologists and archaeologists around the world, weaves their lives into the story, and in the process reveals the history and current status of El Niño.


"Over the course of a year, two years, often more, the western basin of the tropical Pacific slowly collects much of the excess heat that the sun so lavishly bestows along the earth's midline bulge. Then, almost like a lake overtopping an invisible dam, this huge reservoir of warm water releases its pent-up energy in one long, sustained burst. That burst is El Niño."

"El Niño's most celebrated signature takes the form of a gigantic pool of warm water that extends from the International Date Line to the South American coast. La Niña, by contrast, brings an influx of unusually cool water into the same region. The difference is that the water to the east of the date line is customarily cool, so that El Niño represents an exceptional state of the ocean; La Niña, an exaggeration of its normal condition."

"Neither El Niño nor La Niña is a purely an oceanic phenomenon. Each can equally well be characterized by striking changes that occur in the atmosphere. El Niños, for example, involve a large-scale weakening of the trade winds that blow from east to west across the equatorial Pacific. In La Niña years, the trade winds do not wane, but wax even stronger. ...Indeed, the trades are highly dependable except when El Niño comes to call."

"Climatologists have a term for the meteorological sleights of hand by which El Niño turns dry places wet, wet places dry, cold place warm, and warm places cold. They call them teleconnections, literally long-distance links, and by the end of the twentieth century these links had begun to seem so strong, so obvious, that it was hard to remember that people everywhere had not always known about El Niño, that only toward the end of the twentieth century had they keyed into his power to reconfigure the world."

What About Ecuador?

According to folklore, sailors from Paita, Peru, named El Niño (La Corriente de Niño, the Christ Child's Current). And it was the collapse of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery during El Niño years that became one of the corner pieces in the El Niño puzzle. Consequently, El Niño has been forever associated with Peru, but it's Ecuador, Peru's neighbor to the north, that gets swamped by El Niño. From north to south, from high in the Andes to the steamy Gulf of Guayaquil, which harbors a huge shrimp farming industry, Ecuador is the epicenter of El Niño's landfall in South America! In Peru, El Niño hits a sparsely populated area; in Ecuador, it hits the biggest city and the most productive agricultural areas. Some of Ecuador's current economic and political problems stem from the big 1997-1998 El Niño.

Nash visits many spots around the world to document El Niño's global reach and to talk with the researchers who helped piece the El Niño puzzle together. Unfortunately, most of her stops—central California, Peru, New Mexico, northern India, Bolivia, eastern Africa, eastern Kalimatan, Indonesia, and northern Australia—are not in shrimp farming areas, so we learn little new information about El Niño's affect on shrimp farming from this book.

Published in March 2002, El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker (158 x 235mm, 567 grams) sells for $25.95 and contains 340 pages, a bibliography and index. I give it two thumbs up. Information: Warner Books, Inc. (an AOL Time Warner Company), 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020 USA (webpage

The New El Niño Intensity Scale

The Associated Press reports: Hurricanes and tornadoes have popular rating scales that help people understand their power.  Now, weather experts at the USA Climate Prediction Center are planning a way to measure the El Niño phenomena, known as “ENSO”, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.


The ratings are tentatively expected to begin in fall 2007, according to Wayne Higgins, director of the federal Climate Prediction Center.  He said forecasters are also planning “watches” and “advisories”.  A watch would be issued when conditions are right for potential development of an El Niño or La Niña within three to six months.  An advisory would mean the condition was under way.  “We realized that there was a need for something where we could provide users a heads-up on watches for El Niño and La Niña,” said Higgins.  The strength of an El Niño or La Niña varies with the warmth or coolness of the tropical Pacific sea surface.  The new ENSO Intensity Scale will be based on a three-month temperature index that varies from W1 to W5 for warm episodes and from C1 to C5 for cool episodes.  It will allow climate researchers to develop comparisons with past ENSOs.


El Niño conditions during the 2006 summer are believed to have moderated what many expected to be a severe hurricane season in the Atlantic.  In general, El Niño contributes to more eastern Pacific hurricanes and fewer Atlantic hurricanes while La Niña contributes to fewer eastern Pacific hurricanes and more Atlantic hurricanes.


The ENSO status report issued by the Climate Prediction Center on July 9, 2007, says conditions are currently neutral, but there is a possibility of a change to La Niña within one to three months.

What to Expect from La Niña

• Wetter than normal conditions over southeastern Africa and northern Brazil during the northern hemisphere winter season.


• During the northern summer season, the Indian monsoon rainfall tends to be greater than normal, especially in northwest India.


• Drier than normal conditions along the west coast of tropical South America, and at subtropical latitudes of North America such as the Gulf Coast, and South America from southern Brazil to central Argentina.


• Colder than normal air over Alaska and western Canada, which often penetrates into the northern Great Plains and the western United States.  The southeastern United States, on the other hand, becomes warmer and drier than normal.


• Decreased rainfall in the tropical Pacific in winter and spring, while rain increases over Indonesia, Malaysia and northern Australia and over the Philippines in summer.


What to Expect from El Niño

• Added rainfall in the normally arid coastal regions of Ecuador and Peru.


• Increased winter cloudiness and rainfall in the tropical Pacific but reduced rain in Indonesia, Malaysia and northern Australia.


• Drier than normal conditions over southeastern Africa and northern Brazil during the northern winter season.


• During the northern summer season, Indian monsoon rainfall below normal, especially in northwest India where crops are adversely affected.


• Wetter than normal conditions along the west coast of tropical South America and at subtropical latitudes of North America, like the Gulf Coast, and South America from southern Brazil to central Argentina.  Storms also tend to be more vigorous in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southeast coast of the United States resulting in wetter than normal conditions in that region.


Source:  Ratings Proposed for El Niño (cgi?f=/n/a/2007/07/12/national/w110703D36.DTL#sections).  From the Associated Press, science writer Randolph E. Schmid.  July 12, 2007.

I'm Not Making This Stuff Up

In a recent book, Dave Barry, author and columnist for The Miami Herald, demystifies the El Niño phenomena [I, Bob Rosenberry, swear that these are direct quotes from the book and that I did not make any of them up!]:

"So where does El Niño come into this picture? We cannot answer that question with total certainty until we have had a couple more beers. But we do know that El Niño is a Spanish name, meaning, literally, 'The Little Neen'. It refers to a seasonal warming of the Pacific Ocean, which is critical to the Earth's fragile ecosystem because it contains more than 80 percent of our dwindling supply of anchovies."

"To understand the significance of this warming effect, take a few moments now to conduct the following scientific experiment in your bathroom. First, fill your bathtub with water and note the temperature. Now mix in these ingredients: 25 pounds of salt, to simulate the ocean's salinity; one 12-ounce can of Bumble Bee brand chunk light tuna, to simulate the ocean's marine life; and one plastic Ken doll wearing a dark suit, to simulate Vice President Gore."

"Now, using a standard household blowtorch, gradually heat the
water while swishing it around the tub in a counterclockwise direction. Do you see what's happening? That's correct: A big old ugly greasy wad of hair has broken loose from the drain and is bobbing toward you like a hostile mutant marine tarantula. This is exactly what is happening in the Pacific Ocean, except that the hair wad is more than one million times larger. The only thing comparable to it on land is Donald Trump."

"So we can see why El Niño has the scientific community so alarmed. The question is, what is causing it? What widespread phenomenon has occurred lately that would make a major ocean suddenly start warming up? The answer, according to a recent scientific study by the Institute of Scientists Who Have Done Studies Recently, is: espresso machines. A few years ago, you hardly ever saw these machines; now they're showing up in Dairy Queens. These are not energy-efficient devices. For every ounce of actual espresso they produce, they release enough steam into the atmosphere to meet the energy needs of Finland for a year."

"This is not to say that espresso is the sole cause of El Niño. Other recent trends that probably play a part are cigar smoking, line dancing, nostril rings, and those incomprehensible commercials for something called 'Lucent'. We need to ban all of these things immediately, and as a precautionary measure we should also evacuate the West Coast as far inland as Nebraska. If you care at all about the environment, you will write to your congresshuman and demand that something be done immediately. And then you will clean your bathtub. But first, check the water temperature, you might be able to grow shrimp in there."

Okay, okay, I made up the previous sentence, but that's the only one, seriously.

Information: Crown Publishers (, Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down, Dave Barry, The Sky Is Falling, Page 142.

El Niño, The Movie

Editorial Note: "" filed for bankruptcy on March 31, 2001. It was a great site where down-on-their-luck screenwriters sold rejected script proposals for almost nothing, hoping to salvage a few hundred bucks from busted projects. Some of the story line for the hit film Titanic (1999) was purchased at this site for $650. I purchased the following script proposal for $215. Beware, it contains some rough language.

El Niño

The death struggle between La Niña and El Niño began at the beginning--millions and millions of years ago--when a desolate Earth served as a penal colony for Lost Spirits and Wayward Gods. The Wayward Gods claimed the drifting land masses and the surface of the sea. They gathered up the heat, the light and the energy, and banished Lost Spirits, like La Niña and El Niño, to the bottom of the sea, where they competed with other Lost Spirits in a cold, dark, murky world. Of the thousands of Lost Spirits cast into the sea, only a few have survived into modern times.

After drifting with the plankton for millions of years, El Niño detected a tiny warm spot on the floor of what was to become the South Pacific Ocean. He liked the free heat and made the spot his home. Then, about 50 million years ago, the spot began to grow, the seafloor cracked open and huge volcanoes intermittently belched unfathomable amounts of heat into his domain.

For the last 150 thousand years, or so, El Niño has been using this heat to attack the coasts of Peru and Ecuador, hoping to establish a base in the mangroves around the Gulf of Guayaquil, something similar to his hideout in Indonesia. Although he has launched some massive attacks, occupying the Gulf for most of the early 1990s, he has never been able to retain control because his volcanoes go quiet, cutting him off from his source of power. When this happens, La Niña is always there, ready to sap his heat and force him out to sea. Over the millennia, her coolness has almost equaled his heat.

La Niña's rise to power also depended on a stroke of luck. She gambled on the deep, nutrient-rich waters along the coast of Peru and Ecuador, a cold, dark world, sealed off from the sun by a thick blanket of warm surface waters. With little to do, and for millions and millions of years, she nagged the Wayward Gods for some exposure to the sun.

The Wayward Gods, aggravated by El Niño's sporadic excursions onto their territory, offered La Niña a proposition:

Wayward Gods: Would you like to become one of us, a Wayward God? If you snuff-out El Niño, we will grant you a permanent place in the sun along the coast of Peru and Ecuador, and you will become one of us, a Wayward God, forever.

La Niña: I've been trying to do just that for millions of years, but it could take millions more to finish him off. With a little help from you, I could get it done real soon. It would be fun, like putting out one of those oil well fires. Yes, I will become a Wayward God.

Wayward God-generated winds blow El Niño's blanket of warm surface waters out to sea, and, with an upwelling gush, Niña rises to the surface on a cool current of fertile water. She embraces the equatorial sun and together they spawn a community of plants and animals into the receptive waters, creating a cool biological barrier to El Niño's heated assaults on the coast.

Recently, however, in the 1990s, El Niño has been able to harvest even more heat from his volcanoes and soon, he says, the coasts of Peru and Ecuador will be his forever.

Scene One
The Gulf of Guayaquil
April 1998

A misty island in the Gulf of Guayaquil, a luscious place a few degrees south of the Ecuator on the Ecuador/Peru border, where hundreds of shrimp farms exist in harmony with the surrounding mangrove islands.

Celebrating his 1997-98 conquest of the coast, El Niño, fat and sweaty, sits in a depression gouged out of the mucky brown sand. Surrounded by millions and millions of spent beer cans, he munches on a small roasted donkey. His unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt is covered with donkey hair, grease and flies. He wears no shoes, no pants. His eyes bulge bright pink. Tiny pupils, one of them pale yellow, strain to see a glimmer of white in the mist.

He knows that it is over, that his volcanoes are losing their punch, that La Niña absorbed his most powerful onslaught ever and dispatched it in less than a year.

A tall, thin woman approaches. She wears white tennis shoes, white linen slacks and a white see-through blouse, no bra.

Niño (sounding like the Devil himself, but not recognizing La Niña in her current disguise): Stop Right There!

Niña (in a firm clear voice, while continuing to walk forward): I'm here to talk business.

Niño: I mean it, stop right there, or else!

Niña: Or else what?

Niño: Or else, I'll have to see what's under them nice white pants.

Niña: In your dreams little boy. Your done. I've seen you in this condition a thousand times. Your 15 thousand years of fame are over.

Niño: Are not.

Niña: Are to.

Niño: Are not.

Niña: Are to.

Niño: You bitch! You look almost human.

Niña: We need to talk.

Niño: No, you need to talk. I don't need to listen.

Niña: An American is building a shrimp farm on my island, and I want your help in getting him off.

Niño: No, no, no, never, never, never. Those guys like me. Everybody else in the world bitches about me, but not the shrimp farmers. They like me. I'm going to be the shrimp farmers friend, forever and ever and ever.

Niña: Why not cooperate? It's a give and take world. Get rid of the American shrimp farmer, and I'll give up something.

Niño: No way, never, never, never.

Niña: I have something to offer.

Niño: What?

Niña (with a little smile and a softer voice, as she fiddles with the top button of her blouse): Something you always wanted....

Niño: What, what, what....

Niña: Come know....

Niño: WHAT?

Niña:You once said that one night with me would be worth more than a million years in control of the Gulf of Guayaquil. I'll give you that night--if you get rid of the American shrimp farmer.

Niño: Done deal.

Scene Two
El Niño and the Shrimp Farmer


The American shrimp farmer also knows that it is over. El Niño's flood waters breached his low-lying farm twice, washing millions of shrimp and millions of dollars out to sea. Last year it was a killer virus. The year before that, money and management problems. He's broke.

From the liquor cabinet, he grabs a quart of gin; from the safe, a .45 caliber pistol. He walks to his bedroom, locks the door, drinks half of the gin, lies down on the bed, cranks a bullet into the breach of the pistol, puts the gun to his head--and El Niño blows in through the window.

Niño: Hey, pal, I can help you.

Farmer (trying to sound tough): Are you talking to me?

Niño: Yeah, I'm talking to you, you little turd, and you better be careful with that gun. You don't know who you're fucking with here. I'm "El Niño", the God of the Sea. If I wanted to, I could push your farm over the mountains and into...errr...Mexico. I could make it rain for a million years, but, instead, I'm just going to change you into a shrimp for a couple of minutes.

Poof! The shrimp farmer becomes a shrimp. El Niño gulps down the rest of the gin. Poof! The farmer's back, dripping wet, spitting shrimp pellets, still working his fingers like little pincers, no longer trying to sound tough.

Farmer: Actually, we're having one of our best years ever; the farm's really doing well.

Niño: Don't bullshit me little boy. Your done. I've seen you in this state before. Your fifteen years of fame are over. You picked the wrong island for your shrimp farm. You're on La Niña's Island. She's made it real difficult for you. Now, she's going to create a big storm that's going to wash your farm out to sea. I can't save you this time because I've got some business to attend to in Indonesia, but, if I were you, I'd stay on high ground for the next couple of days.

Incidentally, I expect to make a permanent home here. That's right, it's going to be "El Niño" forever around the Gulf of Guayaquil. You know what that means for shrimp farming--endless supplies of wild seedstock, clean warm water, low operating costs and high profits. You'll make a fortune if you start a new farm. Try higher ground the next time. Never give up the fight.

Since I'm going to be living amongst you shrimp farmers, I want to set the record straight on one thing. This thing called "La Niña" is really strange. She has thousands of weird disguises, she hates men, and when it comes to sex, she only likes other women and a few species of squid.

El Niño exits through the window. Farmer crashes on bed.

Scene Three
La Niña and the Shrimp Farmer

Niña (sounding very sexy): Hey, hey, hey big fellow.

Farmer: Who's that?

Niña: It's me, La Niña, the Goddess of the Sea.

Farmer: come I can't see you?

Niña:Because I'm invisible right now. Would you like to see me? I don't have any cloths on.

Farmer: Are you a woman, or something weird?

Niña (Poof, La Niña appears). It's the real me, and as you can see, I'm all woman.

Farmer: Wow...they'

Niña: I thought size didn't matter.

Farmer (perhaps a little too quickly but recovering quickly): That's right. That's Right! Except for shrimp! What are you doing here?

Niña:I know that El Niño was here and that he probably told you a pack of lies. I'm here to set the record straight. What did he tell you?

Farmer: He said you were going to create a big storm that would wash my farm out to sea and that you only liked to have sex with other women and oysters.

Niña (softly, with a gentle smile): Poor baby, you look like you've had a rough night. You're shaking like a leaf. You need a warm human experience. Let me help you out of those wet clothes. I'll warm you up under the covers--and prove that Niño was wrong about one thing!

Farmer (a few minutes later): But what about the storm that's going to wash my farm out to sea? El Niño said you were going to do it real soon.

Niña: Well he lied about my sexual preferences didn't he? He lied about the storm, too. He's the one who's going to wash your farm away. He wants you out of there because he considers your island his territory. You'll see, it will be a "warm" El Niño storm that washes your farm out to sea.

If I were you, I would get into the hatchery business. I'm about to kick El Niño off the coast of Peru and Ecuador, forever, so there's not going to be any wild seedstock. Develop a variety of shrimp that tolerates lower water temperatures. You'll make a fortune. Never give up the fight.


Scene Four
El Niño Washes the Farm out to Sea

Scene Five
La Niña Delivers

Niño: Well, I delivered. When do you deliver?

Niña: Tonight.

Niño: Where?

Niña: On the Titanic.

Niño: On the.......Titanic?

Niña: You must know about the Titanic sweetie pie.

Niño: Yeah, yeah, I know about the sinking of the Titanic, and I know about the movie, but I haven't seen it yet.

Niña: We'll recreate the big sex scene from the movie. It takes place in the back seat of a car in the cargo hull of the Titanic. After that, we'll play the roles of the movie stars until you find your rightful place in the Sea.

Niño: Done deal.

Source: Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, November 11, 1998.

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