1983 – 1985 The shrimp farm period

Here I am going to tell the story of my time developing the farming of shrimp within the industry. For me it all started in Ecuador and with the Pacific white shrimp vannamei.

I spent 10,000 hours plus walking barefoot on a 250 hectare shrimp farm, jumping in and out of ponds, taking twice daily parameter measurements, weekly growth sampling shrimp, monthly population density testing and calculations, calculating weekly new daily feeding regimes, harvesting with ice, post harvest pond preparation, fertilizer applications, night transferring shrimp from nursery to grow-out ponds, culture water exchange control and filtration via weir gates, rebuilding/maintenance ponds with heavy earth moving equipment, maintenance on one-meter diameter pumps and their diesel engines, logistics supply via supply vessels along local estuaries, managing and HR administration of 50 workers, living quarters and meals setup, tractor and trailer driver, automatic feeder trials, in pond cage feed trials, building an on-site three apartment building and office, public relations with local authorities, supporting local military (to help their entry into shrimp farming and to stop theft of shrimp), security development.

In 1983 global shrimp aquaculture production was under 100,000 MT.

This was less than 6% of the total 1,700,000 MT fished shrimp globally. Captured fisheries globally stood at 75,000,000 MT but growth had slowed from the 6% annual of the two prior decades to 2 % annually.

Ecuador was producing and exporting around 35,000 MT farmed shrimp in 1983.

Global farmed salmon was at 24,500 MT in 1983.

All commercially grown shrimp came from wild origin post larvae seed at that time.

Initially seed was coming from estuaries but we started scouting on motorbikes up the Ecuadorian coast ravaged by El Niño. There was no continual coastal road and we would often have to use the beach where there were no roads. On one trip sourcing wild seed in the estuary areas north of Olon/Ayangue we decided for fun to run our small tank sampler scissor nets directly at a beach. This is when we started finding concentrated vannamei shrimp seed at the beaches rather than the more diluted mixed estuary caught larvae.

Sourcing, buying, seperating, transporting and stocking seed, as well as maintaining stock for out of season use for maximizing farm production output and efficiency was the essential part and spur for the growth and success of the business.

Working as hands-on General Manager of Granmar (now Zona 900 as part of Empagran Group), a 250 hectare farm with, at that time 50 employees and using wild post-larval seed I developed commercial shrimp farm production protocols.

This included direct pond and nursery stocking strategies depending, at that time, on the wild seed supply which in turn depended the season and weather conditions. Stocking densities also depended target market size and harvest dates for marketing.

FCR control were important within certain parameters but profit margin were so big we had plenty of scope to experiment on a multitude of levels.

I developed live shrimp transport and handling technologies, feeding strategies, harvesting systems as well as in pond shrimp feed trials using imported US subsidized wheat.

I undertook the first shrimp pond trials of hatchery bred vannamei (pacific white) seed from the first commercial shrimp hatchery in the world. This was not commercially very successful because performance lacked against robust wild larvae.

Guaranteed quality hatchery shrimp seed was still a long way off. The seed we had was from hatchery matured females but in this area the technology was still being developed. The shrimp hatchery industry only really got going in 1986 when spawning stations located at the same beach places where the abundant wild larvae was found started producing nauplii using wild gravid females caught just offshore.

Effectively capturing the gravid females before they spawned. As the weak part of the equation at that time hatchery maturation did not deliver but larval grow out from nauplii to post larva was more or less nailed down.

The move to hatcheries was however propelled by farm demand and increased productivity potential led by economics.

It was to have shrimp controlled seed supply at fixed costs and so as also to take out the seasonality from the farming equation.

A drive also was that wild seed capture was long term unsustainable and bad for the environment and the local population.

The process involved scissor net fine mesh beach capture of all species and killing off all unwanted larvae of other species by first dipping in fresh water and then back into marine. Stress killed off all except p. vannamei, p.stylirostris and crab larvae.

Crab larvae were removed by swirling water around in a tub with mesh hanging on side.

Shrimp larvae would move to centre and crabs would cling on to net. Nets would be removed and shook onto sand.

Child labour oft used also.

So the later development of the hatchery part of the shrimp industry was part of steering the industry towards long term sustainability as well as social and environmental responsibility.