The quantities of shrimp farmed globally continue to increase. More than 5 million MTs of shrimp will be produced on farms in 2022, with some estimates as much as double this. There are still many parts of the world where shrimp could be farmed and provide a source of jobs and revenue for local economies. Development is slowly expanding into these areas although if history is to guide us it will be filled with failures. Progress will be at best tentative. In Ecuador, currently the world’s largest producer of farmed shrimp, the long-term paradigm of production (big pond, low density with minimal inputs) is evolving and with it the challenges that always come with shrimp farming. Stress, disease, and carriers are the biggest part of these.
There is a great deal of speculation as to why this growth has occurred and why it continues. Through March 2022, production for 2022 was 238,000 MTs compared with 165,800 MTs over the same period in 2021, a 30% increase. If the trend continues Ecuador’s production will be over 1 million MTs total in 2022. This will depend on the market to some degree as at the moment there is a glut of farmed shrimp. Covid changed the nature of the market. The recent war in Ukraine as well as the misguided attempts of the Chinese to keep the virus out of their 1.4 billion citizens have also impacted demand.
What is Ecuador doing to succeed when so many others continue to struggle? Genetically improved strains of shrimp are helping to reduce the risks and increase the chances of success. Under the right cultural conditions selected strains of P. vannamei can grow as much as a gram per day and readily resist disease and are much more stress tolerant than the wild type. Better appreciation of the limitations that the environment places on animals realizing their growth potential has led to modifications in how shrimp are being produced. Paying closer attention to water quality and the load of environmental organic matter also has had profound impacts. Farmers must have all these things working simultaneously to ensure sustainability.
PRO4000X was developed more than 20 years ago and is being used widely in Ecuador on many farms. It is a management tool with field proven ability to dramatically reduce accumulated organic matter in shrimp ponds (and fish ponds as well). This can result in shorter down times with much less frequent need for traditional dry out and pre-filling treatments. This allows more time for shrimp to grow.
Partial harvests are a great way to increase the yields. Done correctly they reduce the biomass to the point that there can be a growth rebound impact on the remaining shrimp; they grow faster. Application of PRO4000X reduces issues with quality in shrimp harvested partially that are typical in areas with accumulated organics that can foul the gills and reduce overall quality.
Stress is insidious. Its affects can be cumulative and failure to minimize as many stressors as is possible increases the odds of disease issues, poorer growth, and higher feed conversions. Adequate aeration is essential. Animals should be reared at or close to saturation if electricity costs allow this. If not, then dissolved oxygen levels need to be kept as high as possible. Animals are weakened when they are robbed of oxygen. It causes changes in the animals’ homeostasis that while they may appear to be sloughed off in the short run can also have a cumulative net negative impact. Shrimp respond to stress by the production of heat shock proteins. These are chaperone molecules that can help repair some of the cellular damage that occurs because of stress. They also serve other functions. Animals should be expending their energy on growth not on coping with stress.
The photos below demonstrate the visual impact on accumulated organic material. Reports from our client in Ecuador are telling is that their pond bottoms are cleaner than ever. This has allowed farmers to skip the typical steps of letting ponds fallow between cycles. There is little to no accumulated organic matter. This allows for more time in shrimp ponds and an increased number of cycles per year.
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