Thai shrimp update: Mortality rate ‘reduced substantially : July 17, 2013
Jeanine Stewart – Undercurrent News
Thailand’s shrimp production was 57% during the first half of the year compared to last year, but as the mortality rate begins to reduce, current estimates put the production rate down ‘just’ 50% for the year.
Better cooperation between hatcheries and farms has helped improve the situation, and survival rates of shrimp post larvae have improved to 50-60%, Thai industry associations said in a joint statement on Monday.
The associations predicted that shrimp production will rise in the third quarter of the year, and return to a normal state by end 2013/ early 2014.
Any improvement is a good sign for an industry that has been wrecked with disease for over a year and, according to Thai shrimp exporter Jim Gulkin, struggling to meet demand for two to three years.
“Mortality rate has reduced substantially,” Gulkin, who is based in Thailand as group managing director of shrimp supplier Siam Canadian, told Undercurrent News. “If the improvements do continue, then Thailand will see more production starting in August to September.”
While there are no firm numbers on production improvements at this point, he is seeing sanitation and hygiene improvements at hatcheries that look promising.
There is better hygiene and sanitation control, regular clean-up and – perhaps most importantly — frequent tests for vibrio parahaemolyticus, which is bacteria that is suspected to be contributing to the cause of EMS, he said.
“The collaboration between the shrimp hatcheries, which are the first in the production chain, to solve the problem along with new [environmentally] friendly cultured techniques helped to build confidence among the consumers,” the Thai associations had said, in their statement.
Cause identified, action taken
In May, the Global Aquaculture Alliance confirmed the cause of EMS, which was first found by Donald Lightner, with the University of Arizona.
The culprit is a bacteriophage, which is a group of viruses that infect specific bacteria, usually causing their disintegration or dissolution.
Lightner’s team identified the EMS/AHPNS pathogen as a unique strain of a relatively common bacterium, Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Shrimp are compromised when a bacteriophage attacks the vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria living inside shrimp. Once that happens, the bacteriophage releases a toxin that damages the shrimp digestive organ and causes death.
At this point, shrimp farmers are testing regularly for that bacteria, in addition to making improvements to their ponds and systems, Gulkin said.
“Unfortunately, until this moment, there is no cure,” Gulkin said.
“Farmers can only prevent and eliminate any possibility to have Vibrio parahaemolyticus, such as avoid using sea water directly to the ponds, as sea water usually contains high level of Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Water treatment is strictly required; hygiene and sanitation have improved.”
Producers still making sales to US
It is not easy to make a sale to the US, considering producers would have to charge $8.30 to $8.70 to make a profit and cover their costs, and US buyers are not willing to pay anything near that, according to Gulkin.
“Even stock offers at $7.50 were declined,” he said.
But maintaining business is important enough that Thai producers are making sacrifices to make it happen, and producers are still selling to the United States, Canada and Japan.
“Some producers are selling at loss to maintain business. Some buyers are paying higher prices in order to keep their programs in Thailand. Business is down 70% but that’s still 30% moving one way or another.”
Thailand is losing business to India, China and Indonesia, where prices are more reasonable, but this is not a new trend. Thailand has been struggling to meet demand for the past two to three years, and during that time, major US and Canadian retailers have moved their purchases elsewhere.
Finances tight, pressure mounting
The price of shrimp larvae and the cost of post-larvae shrimp is usually very stable, with the only variations coming from sales and promotions, but that is not the case now. Raw material prices have been high, Gulkin said.
Meanwhile, financial assistance is not exactly growing.
“We read the local papers saying that all of Thai banks are monitoring packers very closely and in some cases tightening lines,” Gulkin said.
Factories have had to slow down their orders because of the lower supplies and higher prices, the associations had said in their joint statement.
Data from January to April shows raw material prices were up 50%, while plants were running at 10-20% of their daily capacity. “Furthermore, they [the processing plants] have the burden of expenses for the labor and interest,” said the associations.