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A Brief History of Shrimp Farming


Editorial Note: Please submit additions and corrections to this article. I'll incorporate them in an updated version of the article that will appear in next year's annual report. Many of the numbers which follow are rough estimates, sharpened by hindsight and rounded by time.

Shrimp farming traces its origins to Southeast Asia where for centuries farmers raised incidental crops of wild shrimp in tidal fishponds.

Modern shrimp farming was born in the 1930s when Motosaku Fujinaga, a graduate of Tokyo University, succeeded in spawning the kuruma shrimp (Penaeus japonicus). He cultured larvae through to market size in the laboratory and succeeded in mass producing them on a commercial scale. For more than 40 years, he generously shared his findings and published papers on his work in 1935, 1941, 1942 and 1967. Emperor Hirohito honored him with the title "Father of Inland Japonicus Farming".

In 1954, after having achieved the title of Director of the Research Bureau of the Japanese Fisheries Agency, Fujinaga retired and started a shrimp farm. Ten years later, National Geographic magazine, in its May 1965 issue, reported: "Despite years of hard work, capped with brilliant technical success, Dr. Fujinaga has yet to make a profit from his operation. But he...expects to turn the corner within two or three years." That was the experience of most shrimp farmers in the 1960s, and many sing the same song today.

Fujinaga also deserves the title "Father of Modern Shrimp Farming". In 1996, his sons, Ted and Kochi, worked as shrimp farming consultants in Southeast Asia.

In the early 1960s, a small shrimp farming industry sprang up around Japan's Inland Sea and on the southern side of Kyushu Island, near the cities of Amakusa and Kagoshima. World Shrimp Farming 1992 pegged Japan's production of farmed shrimp at 3,000 metric tons (live weight), from 150 semi-intensive and intensive farms with 400 hectares of ponds. In the Kagoshima area of Kyushu, farmers used large, round, land-based tanks and produced 15,000 to 20,000 kilograms per hectare. Later, semi-intensive farms appeared on Japan's southern islands, Okinawa, for example.

A cool climate, rugged coast and high costs mitigate against shrimp farming in Japan. But, since Japanese consumers pay amazingly high prices for fresh "live" kuruma shrimp, Japanese shrimp farmers will find a way to service that market. Recently, shrimp farms in northern Australia began growing kurumas for the live market in Japan.

 

1950 to 1965

Although Japan never became a major shrimp farming nation, events were taking place in the United States which would thrust it to the forefront of shrimp farming technology. In 1950, the Department of Interior's Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (later to be named the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) established a lab in Galveston, Texas, to investigate the red tides that were killing large populations of commercially valuable marine life. These investigations led to the development of techniques for culturing marine phytoplankton. In 1958, when the Lab began investigating larval shrimp rearing, it used marine phytoplankton to feed the larval stages of shrimp-and the famed "Galveston Hatchery Technology" was born.

 

1965 to 1975

In the eastern hemisphere during the late 1960s and early 1970s, researchers in France, China and Taiwan, witnessing the decline of commercial fisheries, began to investigate the potential of shrimp farming.

In the South Pacific, French researchers at the Centre Oceanologique Pacifique in Tahiti, working with several penaeid species, including P. japonicus, P. monodon and eventually P. stylirostris and P. vanammei (species indigenous to the western hemisphere), developed successful techniques for breeding and raising shrimp in intensive ponds (see page ??). It was General Charles De Gaulle, president of France at the time, who decided to create the research facility in Tahiti. In China, unknown to much of the world until the mid-1980s, researchers at the Yellow Seas Fishery Research Station discovered ways to grow huge crops of P. chinensis in large, semi-intensive (see page ??) ponds in northern China. And, in Taiwan, researchers at the Tungkang Marine Laboratory, working primarily with P. monodon, developed techniques for farming shrimp in small intensive ponds.

In the United States, The Department of Commerce's (DOC) National Marine Fisheries Service assumed control of the Galveston Lab and DOC also funded the National Sea Grant College Program, which backed shrimp farming research at several coastal universities, including Texas A&M University, a leader in shrimp farming technology even today. Sea Grant was also an early backer of shrimp virus research at the University of Arizona.

As the pieces of shrimp farming technology dribbled out, consultants, large corporations, feed companies and investors carried them to Latin America, particularly Honduras, Panama and Ecuador, where they teamed up with local entrepreneurs to build farms, hatcheries, feed mills and processing plants.

Worldwide, researchers and farmers tested dozens of penaeid species for their farming potential. In the process, they worked out breeding and spawning techniques for most of the farmed species. Other research concentrated on growout technology, nutrition and disease. These early efforts laid the groundwork for an industry which then expanded for two decades.

 

1975 to 1985

In the mid-1970s, when fishermen and hatcherymen began supplying large quantities of juvenile shrimp to farmers, the production of farm-raised shrimp really took off. Shrimp farmers in over a dozen countries discovered that stocking, feeding and pumping were the keys to profits. A new industry was born. In some cases, the results were astounding. Large extensive farms in Ecuador recaptured their entire investment in the first year (sometimes with the first crop); small-scale intensive farms in Taiwan produced dozens of shrimp millionaires; and semi-intensive government farms in China reaped untold profits from formerly unused land around the Gulf of Bohai.

Few records exist for this period, but by 1975, world production probably reached 50,000 metric tons, or 2.5% of world shrimp supplies of approximately 2 million metric tons.

By mid-1975, even before the infusion of U.S. shrimp farming technology, Ecuador was well on its way to becoming the leading producer of farm-raised shrimp in the western hemisphere. The salt flats around the Gulf of Guayaquil provided an almost perfect location for shrimp farming, and, today, Ecuador boasts of a two-decade history of consistent production.

In the eastern hemisphere, Taiwan and China were the leaders. Meanwhile, tidal fish farms in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, which had been producing some shrimp for centuries, were experimenting with shrimp monoculture and semi-intensive shrimp farming, practices which added to the increasing volume of farmed shrimp. From 1975 to 1985, production grew from 50,000 to nearly 200,000 metric tons.

 

1985 to 1995

In 1985, world production of farm-raised shrimp (whole weight) hovered around 200,000 metric tons, about 10% of total world supplies of around 2 million metric tons. About 75% of it was produced in Southeast Asia. In 1987, the United States National Marine Fisheries Service released a new estimate of world production for 1986. This estimate came in at a whopping 300,000 metric tons. It was obvious that the industry was going through a rapid growth phase.

In 1988, the world's shrimp farmers produced an estimated 450,00 metric tons of shrimp. China, Ecuador, Taiwan and Indonesia were the leaders. The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand were major contributors.

The industry also witnessed its first major crash in 1987-88. Hundreds of small intensive shrimp farms on Taiwan's west coast suddenly experienced unexplained mortalities. In one year, production dropped from roughly 100,000 metric tons to 20,000 tons. What happened? Industrial and domestic pollution combined with the rich effluent from too many intensive shrimp farms overwhelmed the carrying capacity of the local waters. Soon the farmers were pumping each other's effluent. Farmers didn't know what to do with the sludge that built up on the bottoms of their ponds, so they piled it on the pond banks, creating an ideal home for pathogens and toxins. As the water quality deteriorated, the stressed out shrimp became susceptible to ever-present pathogens, particularly viruses, which struck with a vengeance. Although attempts continue to revive Taiwan's industry, viral diseases usually kill off any progress. One strategy involved growing kurumas for the Japanese market, but again, viruses killed the crop.

After the collapse of Taiwanese intensive shrimp farming in 1987-88, Taiwanese entrepreneurs carried their technology to other parts of Asia, like the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, and to several spots in the western hemisphere, including Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Texas, in the United States. In Thailand, which already had a long history of shrimp farming, the Taiwanese technology found fertile territory. Suddenly, there were thousands of small, intensive shrimp farms in Thailand, and in 1992, Thailand became the world's leading producer of farm-raised shrimp.

The big story in 1989 was the crash in prices for farm-raised shrimp. In the spring of that year, prices paid to farmers dropped by as much as $4.00 a kilogram, from around $8.50 to $4.50. Most experts blame the prolonged death of Japan's Emperor Hirohito for the crash. Japanese consumers cut back on festivals and luxury foods during that period. Shrimp inventories built up and the market broke shortly after the Emperor's death in early 1989.

A less obvious cause of the 1989 price crash was the ever-increasing supply of farmed shrimp. During the previous decade, world shrimp production hovered around 2 million metric tons. Now, because of increased production from farms, it was around 2.5 million metric tons, representing a 25% increase in world supplies. The 1989 price crash may have been the market's way of adjusting to the new reality of farmed shrimp.

China faced a new reality in 1993. Its production of farm-raised shrimp quickly grew from about 100 metric tons in 1988, to about 200 metric tons in 1992. Then in 1993 and 1994, it crashed to about 50,000 metric tons. A virus appears to have been the culprit, but industrial and domestic pollution around the Gulf of Bohai probably played a role. In addition, China's ponds are in low-lying areas, making it difficult to clean bottoms between harvests. The Chinese practice of feeding live mollusks, insects, and agricultural and fishery wastes to the shrimp probably encouraged the spread of killer viruses.

Other countries experienced crashes when too many intensive farms concentrated in one area. Intensive shrimp farms on Negros Island, the Philippines, went through dramatic ups and downs in production until many decided to adopt less intensive farming strategies. In Thailand in the early 1990s, hundreds, if not thousands, of shrimp farmers went out of business just south of Bangkok. The local waters were so polluted that they would no longer support shrimp. At one time, the north coast of Java, Indonesia's main island, supported thousands of shrimp farms. Now, it's difficult to grow shrimp there.

It's almost always the same story. The effluent from intensive farms overwhelms the carrying capacity of the local waters. Then, the effluent backs up into the farming areas. The farms have no choice but to pump the inferior water. This stresses the shrimp, making them susceptible to viruses. Viruses can also kill in high quality water (USA, 1995), but they really seem to flourish in the rich organic waters of intensive shrimp ponds.

In the early 1990s, several new countries developed sizable shrimp farming industries. In the eastern hemisphere, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh became world class producers. In the western hemisphere, Honduras, Mexico and Colombia became major players.

By 1992, production of farm-raised shrimp reached 700,000 metric tons and continued at about that level through the mid-1990s. In 1995, commercial fishing produced around 2 million metric tons a year, so the 700,000 tons contributed by shrimp farmers represents about 25% of world shrimp supplies.

 

1995-2005

Since 1995, viral and bacterial disease have slowed the growth of shrimp farming in the eastern and western hemispheres, and costs have gone up as the industry adjusts to international standards on product quality and the environment. Nonetheless, production set a new record in 1999. With lots of new technology in place, with new strains of shrimp on the market, with case histories on many diseases, with a rosy economic outlook in Japan, the industry appears poised for another spurt in production.

From 1975 to 1985, the production of farmed shrimp increased 300%; from 1985 to 1995, 250%. If it were to increase by 200% in the 1995-2005 decade, production would be 2.1 million metric tons in 2005. Production from the commercial shrimp fishery has averaged around 2.2 million tons for the last five years but has shown a declining trend recently. Let's say it declines to 1.8 million tons in 2005. That would place world shrimp production at 3.7 million tons, with farmed shrimp representing 54% of the total.


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