Imported broodstock no panacea for China’s shrimp production problems : March 16, 2017
Louis Harkell : Undercurrentnews
Foreign companies are selling more broodstock to China than ever before as demand increase for high quality shrimp.
But, as Chinese farmers begin to seed their ponds en masse, many farmers still fret about low quality shrimp larvae, while others worry foreign broodstock won’t be a panacea for China’s shrimp production problems.
Chinese shrimp production this year is expected to be similar with last year, according to Siam Canadian Group, a Thailand-based shrimp supplier which also operates in China. Siam Canadian said that key production challenges — land rent increases, disease, industrial pollution, poor quality shrimp larvae and larvae feed, and typhoons and flooding — would prevent an improvement on last year’s production.
Cui He, head of the China Aquatic Products Processing and Manufacturing Alliance, was less sure. He recently told Undercurrent News that disease and weather are too unpredictable to make forecasts worth their while. There’s also dispute over last year’s shrimp production, which he said increased by around 5% compared with 2015 — citing a 5% increase in shrimp feed sales — contrary to reports of a decrease owing to a disastrous autumn harvest.
Consequently, this year’s Chinese vannamei shrimp production could be anywhere from official figures of 1.6 million metric tons to just 600,000t forecast recently at the Global Seafood Market Conference in San Francisco, California in January.
But on the ground, local media report an upswell of dissatisfaction among Chinese farmers. As Chinese farmers begin to seed their ponds en masse for this year’s harvest, many fret about their future in the sector. Presently their most immediate concern is: poor quality of shrimp larvae.
Chinese shrimp farmers typically aim to seed ponds as soon after Chinese New Year as possible, when stocks are low and prices high, weather permitting. In South China, many are seeding ponds now.
“From the biggest industrial farm to the smallest backyard pond, Chinese shrimp farmers worry about shrimp larvae quality,” reported Shuichan, an industry publication.
“The quality of shrimp fry in China is not consistent. Quality can differ even in the same batch. This means some shrimp fry do better than others in the same area, under the same conditions.”
Chinese farmers are buying shrimp larvae in a “chaotic” marketplace, it said, with hundreds of firms plugging wares of varying quality. Many farmers say they choose their product based on a seller’s character, more than anything. Others say getting good larvae is down to “blind luck”.
The issue has become more pertinent due to problems with Chinese shrimp farming, such as widespread disease. “People are looking for answers. Some blame the broodstock, some blame Chinese shrimp larvae firms. Others blame the water in which shrimp larvae are cultivated. Everyone has an opinion,” said Shuichan.
Foreign broodstock to the rescue?
More and more foreign companies are in China marketing broodstock which they develop abroad, and which they say will improve yields. The biggest are Charoen Pokphand Group, Shrimp Improvement Systems (SIS), Kona Bay Marine Resources, Primo Broodstock, Blue Genetics, Molokai Sea Farms, Syaqua and Indonesia’s Global Gen.
They claim their shrimp, produced under SPF — specific pathogen free — conditions and with genetic selection, possess enhanced disease resistance and are tailored to local conditions. Last year, they exported around $28.8m worth of shrimp for cultivation to the country, according to International Trade Center, an increase of 20% compared with 2015.
Texas-based Sea Products Development (SPD), a company from Global Blue Technology’s family of businesses, visited Chinese hatcheries in Zhanjiang, Guangdong, this January. Stephen White, CEO of SPD, told Undercurrent that the trip was “too cool”.
“The message conveyed was less a sales pitch for [SPD] products as a sincere request to learn what Chinese hatcheries want and need and determine how SPD could meet those needs,” White wrote in a review of the trip he shared with Undercurrent.
“Open discussion led to the conclusion by everyone involved that China’s shrimp aquaculture industry is facing a number of issues that must be addressed and overcome,” he said.
He said “most important” for the success of China’s shrimp farms is ensuring optimum bio-secutiry for hatcheries, disease avoidance and healthy husbandry techniques.
“Providing quality broodstock is important, but the most immediate need is for a mutually agreed upon joint strategic plan to provide on-going technical assistance.” This would also help preserve the reputation of SPD and the broodstock it hopes to provide.
SPD aims to have shrimp available on the market in China by the third quarter. But, imported broodstock from the likes of SPD is expensive — a single SPD breeding shrimp can cost $58, according to Chinese media.
Consequently, to exploit their full value, Chinese larvae cultivators frequently mix imported broodstock with other types of broodstock, or breed larvae from broodstock beyond their effective lifespan, according to local reports. This reduces the overall quality of the shrimp larvae.
Some even speculate that imported broodstock carries disease. Shrimp Improvement Systems lost its leading market position — the Haiwaii-based firm reportedly had a 70% market share at one point — after farmers complained its broodstock yielded poor results.
While foreign broodstock firms are bringing in expertise and resources, they won’t be the panacea for China’s shrimp problems.