Strengthen the shrimp industry – The pending task

Aquabanq plans to construct a shrimp farm in West Virginia, USA. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Aquabanq plans to construct a shrimp farm in West Virginia, USA. Photo: Adobe Stock.

Today is trendy to talk about shrimp. There is not a day that goes by without news regarding this incipient sector about which little is known and much is wanted to be discovered. There are even some who dare to ensure that after salmon, prawns are the main successors in terms of great aquaculture products.

But the salmon business has changed a lot in the last 20 years. It has been developed, modernized, and customized. Instead, the shrimp sector looks like more to the Devil's Triangle. Shrimp farms are small and belong in the majority of cases to the family business. Then, the final product is sold to a local processor. Consequently, the process of entering the highly complex global supply chain is almost impossible or at least challenging.

Therefore, it seems more than pertinent to ask the most relevant experts for their opinions and solutions in this regard. WeAreAquaculture has had the privilege of peeking a little more into this emergent world.

To become a consolidated and modernized sector

Firstly, the Vice President of Sales Aquaculture at RIMFROST AS, reminds us that the shrimp industry in the main producing countries like Ecuador and India is very fragmented. Incuding some large producers and many smaller companies.

I think consolidation is taking place through the commercialization and export of the products since many of the smaller producers don't have the infrastructure and contacts to do the processing and exports. They do that through the processing facilities of the bigger companies. The market itself will push for consolidation, to channel all the increased production to the international markets.

shrimp farm, prawn farming with with aerator pump oxygenation water near ocean. aerial view fish farm with ponds growing fish and shrimp and other seafood. Fish hatchery pond aerial view aquaculture business exported international market. Java, Indonesia

Because of this fragmentation, a senior analyst at Kontali, Sander Visch remarks that the shrimp industry is harder to map in terms of data collection. Constant data surveillance is key to unlocking and establishing reliable data. Data are the building blocks of any successful analysis. From which forecast, and risk analysis can be established, and investments can be made to promote modernization in the sector, he highlights.

In the same line, Rico Wibisono, Chief Operating Officer at FisTx, adds we must reduce the lack of knowledge among shrimp farming holders by introducing technology with gradual steps. Second, we must be open mind for tech and data because data is new mining in the future. All, can reduce risk and optimize profit.

Finally, consultant RAS shrimp farming, Philip Buike, advises technological advances take their time to develop. As we have seen in traditional shrimp-producing areas across the globe, technological advancement is neither linear nor rapid. While standard designs and procedures emerge these are the most optimum mix of resource use, financial risk, and complexity for each particular area be it Latam, South East Asia, or India.

What about sustainability

Companies are now more aware of the need to make the sector sustainable. Many of them are reforesting the mangroves and doing social work, López Alvarado recalls. At present we can consider shrimp farming sustainable. In the sense that it can continue over time without significantly affecting the natural environment beyond its present state.

Regarding sustainability certifications, Visch notes that some farms have already gained them. However, there is also a group of agents who are more directly controlling farm operations or even their cash (flow), and unfortunately do not always have the best interest of the farmer at heart. But to change the sector, we need to involve them as well and provide a place for them in the supply chain, which is easier said than done as cultural and community structures are sometimes difficult to adjust.

Moreover, he adds it is largely down to the farmers, and their commitment to improving their business operations. However, usually cost is involved which they cannot always bear. Therefore, third parties could provide assistance in providing sustainable loans or another way of financing. However, they need to have a good understanding of the risks involved, and that is where data analysis and information are key again.

Shrimp boats navigate marshes around Hunting Island and St. Helena Island on the approaches to Beaufort. South Carolina. USA

On the other hand, Buike focuses the debate on energy use. On the surface, it would appear that inland shrimp farming could successfully present itself as an ecologically responsible enterprise. It is important to note that most of the world´s shrimp currently come from simple phototrophic systems. The sun is the primary energy source to drive the system.

Any move towards intensification requires some sort of external energy input. It is the relative cost of this energy versus production gains that will determine technological advance in any particular region, he explains.

In addition, the Chief Operating Officer at FisTx asks for a farming system with a minimum water exchange. A policy for wastewater treatment with mangrove zone with communal wastewater treatment. Finally, customer awareness of trigger prices is a reward for saving the environment.

Shrimp farming in Europe

One of the questions that arouse more curiosity today is how the old continent must compete against the other markets. How Europe can install and competent a consolidate shrimp industry.

For shrimp farming to work in Europe, it must be extremely efficient in resource use. Particularly in two key areas, water use, and labor demand. In simple terms, if labor and real estate costs are high, you have to produce a lot in a small space with as few people as possible, Buike says.

The logical conclusion of this train of thought is what we are seeing at present with the new high-tech RAS operations throughout Europe. Theoretically, beyond the initial filling of the facility, water use is practically zero. Labor use is minimized by automating many repetitive tasks traditionally done by relatively unskilled labor, and production per unit volume should be at least one order of magnitude higher than that achieved in semi-intensive open pond systems.

Thus, the consultant RAS shrimp farming stage the challenge in both maximizing return per unit energy input and securing renewable means to provide that energy. Therefore it is premature to talk about the international market penetration of European-farmed shrimp.

Variety of fresh seafood on the fish market in Barcelona, Spain

However, what is very clear, is the massive potential homegrown shrimp has within the domestic market. The question here is how could European shrimp compete with imports in this extremely lucrative market. The real key to the future of shrimp farming in Europe depends entirely on the size and robustness of this market, he states.

Besides, López Alvarado alerts about the small size of the European production. Production costs are higher. In my opinion, the European producers should take advantage of being close to a very good market. Also, specialize in selling a fresh product, or even live product that does not compete with the products coming from South America and Asia.

Alike, Wibisono encourages European farmers to take advantage of the market they can approach. I think that quality and higher prices can be achieved with RAS and biofloc model. Direct order, quality, freshness, taste, and zero waste can be good for promotion to European customers.

Seeking for professionals

Just by scratching a little, you can see how the sector is full of specialized people with a thorough knowledge of the system. However, Despite this, it is striking how the sector still has a long way to go to become professionalized. Educating and communicating seems a convulsive task.

Latin American workers inspecting frozen farmed shrimp at an industrial food plant in Chinandega Nicaragua

Lastly, Philip Buike shares his concerns about this. The main challenge in this area is the fact that often larger start-ups do not have experienced aquaculturists at the senior executive level.

This potentially can be problematic. As the criteria needed to make critical decisions often has to come from third parties. Those whose own experience of shrimp culture be it intensive or otherwise, is limited.

This has led to major design flaws remaining undetected until production has begun. Invariably leading to expensive refits and in some cases, loss of investor confidence. Whilst this is most definitely not unique in the aquaculture world, the situation contrasts sharply with Equador for example. Here all the major players have grown over many years. The executive teams have an intimate knowledge of their business, he underlines.

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