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Mitch's Reign
Three Days of Rain Flood Shrimp Farms in Honduras and Nicargua

Introduction
Mitch Pelts Every Country in Central America
Honduran President Carlos Flores on CNN’s Larry King
Down on the Farm with Jack Crockett
Day by Day with Mitch
Damage to Shrimp Farms in Nicaragua
Damage to Shrimp Farms in Honduras
Background Information on Shrimp Farming in Nicaragua
Background Information on Shrimp Farming in Honduras
Sea Farms Leads Recovery from Mitch

Introduction

In late October 1998, Hurricane Mitch flooded 50% of the shrimp ponds in Nicaragua and Honduras.  Early estimates placed the total loss to the shrimp farming industry at $50 million.

 

Farms along fast-moving rivers had some ponds washed away, but the greatest loss came when flood waters overflowed pond banks, freeing $25 million worth of shrimp.  The industry will loose another $25 million to down production time and to clean up and repair costs.  Just one day less of rain and many of the farms would have escaped damage.

 

Actually, it was “Tropical Storm” Mitch, not “Hurricane” Mitch, that did the damage.  By the time Mitch made landfall on Honduras’s north coast, it had been reduced to a tropical storm (winds from 55 to 74 mph), but it was already dropping up to two feet of rain a day over much of the country—at the end of the wet season, when the ground was already saturated.  On the Pacific coast of Honduras, all rivers flow into the Gulf of Fonseca, whose southern reaches on the Nicaragua/Honduras border harbor 50,000 acres of shrimp ponds.

 

Shrimp farms on and near the coast and those on large estuaries, where the flood waters quickly drained down to sea level, weathered the storm better than farms in the backwaters, where the water accumulated faster than it could drain off.

 

Clean up costs have been high, and all farms lost valuable production time, but, fortunately, most survived in pretty good shape and many have cleaned up and restocked!

 

Mitch Pelts Every Country in Central America

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In the March/April 1999 issue of Weatherwise  magazine, managing editor Doyle Rice, says, “Mitch was truly a monster, the deadliest hurricane in this hemisphere in over 200 years and one of the greatest natural disasters of the 20th century.”

 

The November 13, 1998 issue of The New York Times reported: Throughout Central America, Mitch’s rains, floods and mudslides wiped out so many bridges, roads and crops that it will be years until the infrastructure recovers.

 

As with Hurricane Georges, which spun through the Caribbean in September 1998, the worst damage did not come from high winds, but from the drenching rains.  Mitch dumped 50 inches of rain on some areas that, due in part to deforestation, had little or no vegetation to prevent deadly mudslides.

 

Costa Rica and Panama suffered only minor damage (flooding and scattering of debris) when the storm was still out at sea.  In El Salvador, the storm killed more than 240 people and wreaked havoc with roads and agriculture.  In Guatemala, most of the damage was in the eastern part of the country, but shrimp farms along the coast got hit hard.  Two big farms, representing sixty percent of Guatemala’s production, got flooded out, and many smaller farms were so badly damaged that they have not been able to restart operations.  Belize took only a glancing blow, largely confined to offshore areas.

 

The storm hit Honduras and Nicaragua the hardest, the two poorest countries in the hemisphere, after Haiti.  Honduras suffered losses equivalent to its gross national product of $5 billion and will probably lose an equivalent amount in lost production.

 

In early 1999, Buenas Noticias, a Honduran magazine, published a special report (partially funded by the shrimp farming industry) on Hurricane Mitch.  In Spanish and titled Mitch Will Not Stop Us, it’s loaded with articles about the flood and color photographs of its aftermath.  The report says, in Choluteca Province, home to most of the country’s shrimp farms, 5,863 people were injured, 603 dissappeared, 154,580 suffered damage, 134,785 were evacuated, and 497 died.  In the city of Choluteca, riverside areas were buried in mud, and the town lost its best hotel.

 

Honduran President Carlos Flores on CNN’s Larry King

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On Saturday, December 26, 1998, Honduran President Carlos Flores appeared on CNN Larry King Weekend  to discuss Honduras’s reconstruction needs.  Here are some edited excerpts from the transcript:

 

Larry King: Mr. President, please give us an update on the Mitch tragedy.

 

Are you glad the president of the United States will be visiting Honduras?

 

Carlos Flores: Oh, yes, we are glad to receive President Clinton, and a couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of having Tipper Gore, and of course the first lady, Hillary Clinton, and they were very helpful in terms of giving us hope and in boosting our faith.

 

But the reconstruction is going to take several years.  It’s not a matter of days, or months, but of years.  Preliminary calculations and estimates place the damage at $5 billion, equivalent to 106 percent of our gross national product, so it’s an enormous tragedy for us.

 

Larry King: How many of your people died?

 

Carlos Flores: Regretfully, Larry, 5,600 Hondurans died, and 8,000 people are unaccounted for.  The number of people that were directly affected, that lost their homes, that lost their jobs, that were evacuated amounts to more than two million.

 

During the war—the 1980 war in Central America—even though there was conflict and a lot of destruction, the economy still worked.  The infrastructure wasn’t hit this hard.  This devastated the whole country.

 

Larry King:  Mr. President, I wish you every good fortune and thank you.

 

Carlos Flores: Thank you, sir.

 

Down on the Farm with Jack Crockett

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On February 17, 1999, Jack Crockett, at the time general manager of Cultivos Marinos, S.A. de C.V., a large shrimp farm in Choluteca, Honduras, that was owned by USA-based Seaboard Corporation, reported:

 

Dear Bob, I’m glad to report that things are slowly but surely getting back to normal.  Here are some of my experiences during the worst of Mitch.

 

Thursday, October 29: The heavy rain started in the evening.  By Friday morning, the rivers were so swollen that I stopped all the buses to the farm.  Didn’t want to risk stranding our employees.  A skeleton crew of 18, in four-wheel-drive vehicles, went down to the farm to take care of security and basic activities.  I was in touch with them via radio.  By Friday noon, the river that crosses the farm access road was flooded and could no longer be forded.  By mid afternoon, the drainage canal system at the farm was underwater and the skeleton crew was desperately inserting additional dam boards in the water control gates to keep water from flooding into the ponds.

 

I drove towards my house on the new loop highway.  Water was beginning to cover the road.  When I reached the new bridge over the Choluteca River I was shocked.  The raging river was beginning to wash away the bridge access road.  Giant trees were flowing under the bridge.  I got across as quickly as possible because the water was rising.  I turned off on the first access road to my house, but had to turn back because the road was flooded, so was the next access road.  I finally got to my house on an access road near the old bridge across the Choluteca River after driving through three feet of water.  The lower part of my property was underwater, but the house was okay.  Then the power went out.  It was about 5:30 p.m. and getting dark.  I talked to the crew at the farm and they informed me the ponds were now covered with water and the level was still rising.  I told them to get into the loft of the warehouse.  I then talked to people at the processing plant.  They told me water was starting to flow into the main processing area.  I told them to head back to Choluteca as soon as possible and I decided to do the same.  I made it back to the main highway which by then had about a foot of water flowing over it.  Several 40-foot-containers were floating along one side of the road.  I drove across the old bridge.  Little did I know how close I came to being stranded on the other side of the river.  The highway was washed away soon afterwards.

 

Later that night I checked into a hotel, and that’s where I lived for the following three weeks.  I had no clothes other than the rain jacket, T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes that I had changed into at the house.  Everything was wet.

 

Saturday, October 31: Saturday morning the torrential rainfall continued and the flooding got worse.  I checked out both bridges at dawn.  The bridges were still standing, but their access roads had been washed away.  The river was now over 1,000 yards wide, about 5 times its normal width.  The lower parts of Choluteca were underwater.  Hundreds of houses had been swept away and many people were missing.

 

I talked to the crew at the farm.  The water level at our main work area was waist deep.  There was nothing they could do and I was worried about their safety.  I told them to evacuate in the motorboats we used to feed the shrimp.  They were able to get to high ground without mishap.

 

It continued to rain all day Saturday.  Choluteca’s streets were full of homeless people wandering about.  There was no power and no drinking water.  It was sad.  There was a sense of desperation.  That evening a rumor spread like wildfire that the Choluteca River and a smaller river that flows parallel to it were going to join and that Choluteca would soon be under water.  People began to panic.  I heard a lady crying out that she could hear the water approaching and that all was lost.  The phones were still working and I called a friend who could see the Choluteca River from his house.  He reported the level was holding.  I then drove out to the other river and verified that it was still very far from Choluteca.  There was no truth to the rumors.  But before people could return to their homes, looters had cleaned many out.  What a wild Halloween night.

 

Sunday, November 1: To control looting, the military declared martial law and a 7:00 p.m. curfew which lasted for 3 weeks.  It stopped raining just before dawn on Sunday morning.  Both bridges over the Choluteca River were still standing.  The water level was receding.  A cool, gentle breeze blew in from the northeast.  The eastern sky opened and the sun began to clear away the clouds.  It was the beginning of the dry season.

 

Sunday morning a crew of security personnel went back to the farm.  Just in time, too, thieves were looting the company store.  They were chased off.

 

Monday, November 2: On Monday, the Mexican Airforce arrived with a fleet of helicopters.  The Mexicans stayed in Choluteca for several weeks and played a major role in the relief effort.

 

At the farm we lost about 95% of our production.  Damage to the levees, water control gates, and equipment was extensive.  In addition, we lost production time during the reconstruction and restocking period.  Now we are doing our best to get things back to normal.

 

Wednesday, November 4: We could not get across the river until Wednesday, via motorboat.  We got the emergency generator at the processing plant running and our losses there were minimal.

 

That afternoon I hiked through knee-deep mud and broken trees to get to my house.  It was unaffected, however, I lost 130 yards of fence line (about 12,000 bricks) and 600 yards of electrical power lines.  It cost a lot to get things repaired, but I was not hurt as badly as many, and I am thankful for that.  Many lost all they had.  Others lost their lives.

 

In closing, I would like to mention that the Honduran people have shown incredible strength during and after this unfortunate event.  I have been genuinely touched by their ability to accept hardship and then battle forward.

 

Day by Day with Mitch

(Based primarily on daily reports in The New York Times) 

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Mitch: The 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, spawned nine hurricanes and five tropical storms.  Mitch was the most powerful of them all.

 

Mid-October 1998: During the second week of October 1998, an atmospheric disturbance, accompanied by thunderstorms, moves out of West Africa and into the Atlantic Ocean, like any one of a hundred, or so, similar storms that do the same thing every summer and fall.  As they head west toward North America, nine out of ten of these storms dissolve into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.  But not this one.  It reaches the eastern Caribbean, near the Lesser Antilles Islands, on October 19.

 

Tuesday, October 20: It grows stronger as it enters the central Caribbean, where sea-surface temperatures above 80 degrees supply it with renewed energy.  For the next two days, it sucks up moisture and heat and its winds began to rise.

 

Wednesday, October 21: Meteorologists at the Miami Hurricane Center declare the storm a tropical depression, pinpoint its location as 360 miles due south of Jamaica (moving north)—and name it Mitch.

 

Thursday, October 22: Mitch’s winds rise to 45 miles an hour, and meteorologists upgrade him to a tropical storm.  United States Air Force scientists fly over the storm and see nothing exceptional.  But, later that night and through the next day, Mitch continues to grow.

 

Saturday, October 24: By Saturday, he’s a Category One hurricane with 90-mile-an-hour winds.  Located about 200 miles south-southwest of Jamaica, he inches north at seven miles per hour.  Far out at sea, his rains hit the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, where floods kill seven.

 

Sunday, October 25: Cuba and Jamaica prepare for the impact, but on October 25, Mitch veers westward and ambles menacingly toward the Yucatán Peninsula.  People in Belize and Mexico brace for the worst.  Dozens of foreign journalists travel to the resort city of Cancún, Mexico, to cover the storm.  But Mitch fakes them out.

 

Monday, October 26: Blocked from moving north by a powerful front over the Gulf of Mexico, Mitch sits off the north coast of Honduras for three days, sucking up more heat and moisture and dumping rain over most of Central America.  In preparation for his attack on Honduras, he generates winds of 180 miles per hour and reduces the barometric pressure to 905 millibars, tying him with Camille in 1969 as the fourth-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record.  Buy now, a Category Five monster, he dumps as much as two feet of rain a day on northern Honduras.

 

Thursday, October 29: Mitch makes landfall on the hilly north coast of Honduras, near Trujillo.  His winds slacken to 60 miles an hour, and the meteorologists reduce him to a tropical storm, but he continues to produce enormous downpours.

 

As he wanders westward across Honduras during the next 48 hours, the rivers and creeks lacing Honduras’s mountainous countryside quickly swell to several times their normal size and flood entire villages and towns.  Mudslides kill thousands of people.

 

Friday, October 30: Mitch is now directly over central Honduras and heading west, still dropping huge amounts of rain.

 

Saturday, October 31: Centered over northwest Honduras, Mitch turns north and heads for Guatemala, where he floods out most of the shrimp farming industry.

 

Sunday, November 1: Mitch passes over Guatemala and enters Chiapas, Mexico, much reduced in intensity.

 

Monday, November 2: With most of his energy gone, Mitch turns east and heads for the Yucatán Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Tuesday, November 3: Over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, however, Mitch picks up additional energy and heads for the Florida Keys, where six weeks earlier, Hurricane Georges destroyed or damaged 4,000 homes.

 

Wednesday, November 4: Mitch hits the Florida Keys and then the central part of the state.  The Keys take the biggest blow.  Tornadoes flip mobile homes, fell trees and snap power lines.  In some parts of central Florida, Mitch drops up to 7.5 inches of rain.  He floods streets, generates 55-mile-per-hour winds and spawns tornadoes that damage crops and houses.  He races across the state in less than 24 hours.

 

Thursday, November 5: On November 5, 1998, with rains and winds considerably diminished, the National Hurricane Center in Miami issues its last advisory on the once-deadly Mitch, who moves off the east coast of Florida, and dies a peaceful death somewhere northeast of the Bahamas.

 

Damage to Shrimp Farms in Nicaragua

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Nicaragua: In Nicaragua, small, government-backed cooperatives occupy the backwater areas, where the flooding was the heaviest.  An estimated $2 million worth of shrimp escaped, and the industry will lose another $2 million in lost production.  Overall, Nicaragua lost 25 to 30% of its 1998 crop, and the industry suffered an $8 million loss.

 

Damage to Shrimp Farms in Honduras 

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On November 23, 1998, Bart Green, at the time a researcher at Auburn University (Alabama, USA), who worked closely with the shrimp farming industry in Honduras, posted this report on the internet:

 

I spent Thursday, November 19, and Friday, November 20, 1998, in Choluteca, Honduras.  I met with ANDAH (Asociación Nacional de Acuicultores de Honduras) representatives and several shrimp farm managers.  Most, if not all, shrimp farms were flooded.  Farm managers reported water a meter over their dikes.  The floodwaters entered many farms at the pumping station and then traveled along the supply canals to the ponds.  As a result, the damage was not as great as it would have been if there had been raging torrents of water.

 

Farms are now in the process of draining ponds to quantify losses and begin restoration.  About 10% of the total farm infrastructure was damaged by the storm, primarily as erosion damage to pond dikes and flooding of farm buildings (offices, workshops, feed/fertilizer storage buildings).  In addition, lots of equipment, vehicles, machinery and pumps were damaged or destroyed.

 

Total losses to the shrimp industry are estimated at $35 million ($23 million in lost production in 1998, $4 million in lost production in 1999, and $8 million in lost equipment and infrastructure).  This figure does not include lost profit.  Some farms were insured for damages to infrastructure and for crop loss, but not for lost profit.  It should be noted that the annual shrimp farm profit is attained only with successful rainy season production (June-December).  According to Alberto Zelaya, ANDAH’s general manager, “The majority of shrimp farms will not register profits in 1998.”  Most shrimp ponds affected were scheduled to be harvested by the end of December 1998, which explains the large loss in 1998 production.  Not all farms operate during the dry season (January-May).  Those that do will harvest in early March.  This is the reason for the lower losses in 1999.

 

As of November 23, 1998, in an on-going assessment of storm damage, ANDAH had surveyed 51 shrimp farms representing 11,635 hectares of pond production (of approximately 14,402 hectares total pond area in Honduras).  An estimated nine million pounds of shrimp (as tails) that would have been harvested between November 1998 and February 1999 were lost.  Expected 1998 calendar year production was 26,419,460 pounds (as tails).  Based on this estimate, 28.7% of 1998 shrimp production was lost as a result of tropical storm Mitch.

 

Some farms that operate year round will be able to resume operations at 90% of capacity within the next couple of weeks.  Other farms hope to be ready to stock ponds by February or March 1999.  Repairs need to be completed before the end of the dry season (May), to take advantage of rapid growth rates during the wet season (June-December).

 

Hatcheries: None of the hatcheries currently are producing postlarval shrimp.  However, some are involved in acclimating imported postlarvae to local water quality conditions.  Hatcheries suffered little damage, but are not operating now because of storm-related water quality and salinity problems.  It is expected that water quality conditions in the Gulf of Fonseca will improve within the next several weeks, allowing hatcheries to resume operation.  This is important because some farms that are ready to resume stocking are unable to obtain sufficient postlarvae.

 

Employment: No sector within the shrimp industry has intentions of firing workers because of damages wrought by tropical storm Mitch.  However, given the massive, sudden financial losses sustained by most, if not all, shrimp farms in Honduras, ANDAH President Hector Corrales estimates that as many as 6,000 workers in the shrimp industry (farms, hatcheries, processing plants, seedstock collectors) may face temporary layoffs until shrimp production returns to normal.

 

ANDAH: The Asociación Nacional de Acuicultores de Honduras is working diligently to reactivate the shrimp industry.  It’s plan has been presented to the Honduran Government and banking system.  In addition, ANDAH continues to assess the damages and inform government and private sector agencies about the losses.

 

Estuarine Monitoring Program: The estuarine monitoring program is of particular importance given that two important rivers experienced a change in course as a result of tropical storm Mitch.  The Río Negro, which used to empty into the San Bernardo estuary, now empties onto a salt flat in Nicaragua.  The diversion of this river occurred in Nicaraguan territory not far from the Honduran border.  The Río Choluteca split into two branches.  One branch, which represents an estimated 30% of the flow, now empties into an estuary of the Bahia de San Lorenzo in the vicinity of Las Arenas, while the other branch retains its previous course.

 

Background Information on Shrimp Farming in Nicaragua

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The November/December 1998 issue of Aquaculture Magazine contains a great article on shrimp farming in Nicaragua by Dr. Darryl Jory and Julio Castañeda.  Jory is the magazine’s shrimp columnist, and an aquaculture consultant and adjunct assistant professor of aquaculture at the University of Miami (Florida, USA).  Castañeda is marketing and customer service manager at Sahlman Seafoods, an American company that operates shrimp farms and a shrimp processing plant in Chinandega, Nicaragua.  Here are some excerpts:

 

Current Status: Shrimp farms locate on the country’s Pacific Ocean coast, in the Departments of Chinandega and León.  More than 95% of the farms are on the Estero Real, a huge estuary system (approximately 3,767 square kilometers) southeast of the Gulf of Fonseca.  The area is characterized by a strong rainy season (May to November) with an annual precipitation of 1,200-2,000 millimeters.  During the dry season, salinities can reach 42 parts per thousand, while during the rainy season, they can approach zero ppt in many areas.  Differences between the wet and dry seasons cause problems with growth and survival.

 

Most land suitable for shrimp farming belongs to the government, which grants concessions to companies interested in building farms.  There are currently around 20,500 hectares under concession (private companies 11,551 hectares, and cooperatives 8,939 hectares).  By the end of 1997, a total of 5,502 hectares of ponds had been built (private companies about 3,169 hectares, and cooperatives about 2,333 hectares).  During the first 5 months of 1998, an additional 750 hectares of semi-intensive ponds were built by private companies, bringing the total area in the hands of private companies to around 3,920 hectares.  Expansion continues.  It has been estimated that by the end of 1998 there will be around 5,000 hectares of semi-intensive ponds in the country.

 

Approximately 140 cooperative shrimp farms practice artisanal and extensive farming.  With artisanal farming (about 566 hectares), there is little or no water exchange and no feeding of commercial pellets.  With extensive farming (about 1,783 hectares), there is some water exchange and feeding, but typically feeds are lower in protein than those used on semi-intensive farms.  Cooperative shrimp farming projects bring together several people from one location that pool their efforts and resources with government assistance.

 

There are currently about 20 semi-intensive, private farms which produce between 1,500 and 2,500 pounds per hectare per crop.  Most farms harvest two crops per year, with some getting 2.5.  Most of this production is for export.  Private producers have formed the Nicaraguan Association of Aquaculturists (Asociación Nicaragüense de Acuicultores, ANDA).

 

The average production in artisanal projects is 150 to 350 pounds of whole shrimp per hectare per crop (with two crops per year).  For extensive projects the average production is 400 to 700 pounds per hectare per crop (also 2 crops per year).  The average size of private farms is around 300 hectares, and the largest farm is about 600 hectares.

 

In 1997, Nicaragua produced an estimated 6,880,564 pounds (tails) of farmed shrimp, worth around $35 million.  Production of farmed shrimp has increased every year since 1988.  Seafood exports are the second most important source of hard currency for the country, after coffee.  The industry generates many direct and indirect jobs in rural areas.  Currently, approximately 1,138 direct and 13,989 indirect jobs have been generated by shrimp farms and support industries (processing, transport, maintenance, security, and others), for a total of approximately 15,127 jobs.  Artisanal systems generate about 1 direct job per 10 hectares, extensive systems 1 direct job per 5 hectares, and semi-intensive systems generate 1 direct job per 3 hectares.

 

Background Information on Shrimp Farming in Honduras

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In July 1998, the first issue of GRUPO, the newsletter of Grupo Granjas Marinas, reported:

 

Grupo Granjas Marinas is an affiliation of shrimp farms that are committed to the production and marketing of high quality Pacific white shrimp.  It ranks amongst the largest shrimp farming operations in the world with production from 6,500 hectares (16,500 acres).  Grupo recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding company, Sea Farms of Honduras, a 360-hectare farm that has been in continuous operation since the early 1970s.  Grupo’s two hatcheries produce 130 million PLs per month.

 

Empacadora San Lorenzo, Grupo’s processing plant, can handle over 100,000 pounds of shrimp per day.  Shrimp Culture Technologies, its research and development division, does applied research in genetics, nutrition and management practices.  It provides technical support and genetically-improved broodstock to the farms.

 

One of Grupo’s shrimp hatcheries is located on Summerland Key, Florida, USA.  In 1997, this hatchery sold over 150 million postlarvae to third parties.

 

The Deli Group: The May/June 1998 issue of Panorama Acuícola  contained an article on Grupo Deli, the second largest integrated shrimp farm in Honduras.  Here are some excerpts:

 

In the early 1980s, the Deli Group built a big shrimp hatchery and farm in Ecuador, and, in 1986, it built its first shrimp farm in Honduras, Acuacultura Fonseca, S.A.  It’s located in the El Garcero Estuary, at the southern end of the Gulf of Fonseca.  It has 700 hectares of ponds, which average 20 hectares each.  In 1994, Taura virus dealt a heavy blow to this farm, but it survived and experienced good years in 1996 and 1997.  Because of its proximity to the rich Choluteca River, the farm does not need to fertilize its ponds.  Deli’s second farm in Honduras, BIOMAR (420 hectares), is closer to the Gulf, so the primary productivity is not as good.

 

Together the farms produced 3.6 million pounds of shrimp in 1997, making the Deli Group the second biggest producer in Honduras.  Since 1995, Deli has been doing its own processing at Empacadora Deli de Honduras, S.A., which has a daily freezing capacity of 80,000 blocks of shrimp and 15,000 pounds of individually quick frozen shrimp (IQF).  The plant employs nearly 500 women and was one of the first in Honduras to implement a HACCP Plan.

 

Another of the group’s companies is Larvicultura del Pacifico, S.A. (LARVIPAC), a hatchery.  Located on El Tigre Island, in the middle of the Gulf of Fonseca, LARVIPAC has excellent water quality.

 

At Deli’s packing plant, the Honduran Aquaculture Association maintains a forestry nursery that produces more than 500,000 tree seedlings annually to reforest the Choluteca River Basin and other river basins around the Gulf of Guayaquil.  These rivers carry heavy loads of sediment as a result of deforestation in the 1950s.  Deli encourages sustainable shrimp farming and supports the industry’s environmental initiatives.

 

Deli helps neighboring communities build schools, roads and health centers, facilities that are desperately needed in rural areas where there is little government assistance.

 

Sea Farms Leads Recovery from Mitch

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On June 30, 2004, I interviewed Jim Heerin, co-chairman of Sea Farms International, Inc., the management company for one of the largest shrimp farming operations in the Western Hemisphere (see Grupo Granjas Marinas above).  Sea Farms operates research facilities in the United States and hatcheries, processing plants and shrimp farms in Venezuela and Honduras.  Its primary holdings are in Honduras where it has over 16,000 acres of shrimp ponds.  I asked Jim about his 37 years in shrimp farming and his experiences during Mitch:

 

By the time Mitch reached us on the Pacific coast, its winds had subsided, but Mitch dropped incredible amounts of rain.  Some areas were getting two feet of rain a day.  In one week, we got as much rain as the eastern coast of the United States gets in a year!  It rained and rained and rained and all of the ponds were flooded, but our infrastructure—ponds, pumps and processing facilities—were not badly damaged.  Forever optimists, we figured (hoped, prayed) that the shrimp would ride out the flood on the bottom of saltwater ponds, sealed in by a surface layer of fresh water from Mitch’s rains.  Well, when the water levels dropped and we drained the ponds, there wasn’t a shrimp in sight.  We pretty much lost the entire crop.  We had some insurance and the International Finance Corporation, a part of the World Bank, came through with an emergency loan and we survived.  But it really set us back at a time when we thought we were going to have one of our best years ever.

 

In the days after Mitch, there were no roads in southern Honduras, no phones (except for cell phones), and no services of any kind.  All the small, subsistence farmers lost their crops, so food shortages began to develop.  Clean drinking water was in short supply.  The people began to panic.  We used our seedstock plane to make emergency flights into southern Honduras with food and supplies.  The staff at our Summerland Key, Miami and Fort Pierce, Florida locations canvassed neighbors and friends for relief supplies for devastated south Honduras.  We supplied the first relief in the area.  The people in South Florida responded with food, money, blankets and medical supplies, and we delivered what we could to the people of Choluteca.  Unfortunately, it was only one plane, and not a large one, and we really could not deliver the volume of aid needed.

 

I called an attorney friend at the United States Federal Aviation Administration who told me about a federal program in which military aircraft and personnel could be used for humanitarian purposes (The Denton Program).  I made some phone calls and got in touch with the appropriate people, figuring that it would probably take weeks or months to get some action.  Much to my surprise, once I got through to the right people, they took the ball and ran with it.  They contacted the National Guard and Air Force Reserves and within two days, we had a big C-130 cargo plane loaded with equipment and supplies, donated by charities, companies and individuals, mostly in South Florida, going into Honduras.  We got hundreds of thousands of pounds of emergency supplies into Honduras.  I just can’t say enough about that program and those people.  All we had to do was to get the stuff—food, blankets, medical supplies—to Homestead Air Force Base and the Air Force took it from there and delivered them to Honduras.

 

In southern Honduras, Sea Farms was in charge of the physical restoration of the infrastructure.  Carlos Lara, our general manager in Honduras, did a superb job of organizing and overseeing the task of getting the area up and running again.  We donated all our construction equipment, like the bulldozers that we used to construct ponds, to the rebuilding of the roads.  It was certainly a setback for Sea Farms and a great personal tragedy for the people of Honduras, but the community pulled together and it was heartening to see the way Sea Farms and its friends helped the people of Honduras work their way out of this catastrophe.

 

Information: Currently, Jim is president of the Aquaculture Certification Council.  Jim Heerin, 765 Lullwater Road, Atlanta, GA 30307 USA (phone 404-377-2233, fax 404-377-0978, email jheerin@bellsouth.net, webpage http://www.aquaculturecertification.org/).

 

Sources: 1. World Shrimp Farming 1999.  Mitch’s Reign.  Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International.  October 1999.  2. Updated January 2010.

 

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