Shrimp Like It Hot
Ecuador's Shrimp Market: Overview
If you have lived in the United States, you have probably eaten Ecuadorian shrimp without even realizing it. In 2014, Ecuador had one of the highest growth rates of shrimp exportation, jumping about 20% from the year before. With markets like the EU, USA, China, Japan and Vietnam, Ecuador is surging ahead as one of the top exporters of shrimp. In fact, in 2014 Ecuador was the third largest exporter of white shrimp, or Vannamei shrimp, in the world. The coastal regions in Guayas have excellent access to estuaries, rivers and seas. If you are interested in the shrimp market or investing your resources into developing a shrimp farm, now is the time, and the coastal regions of Ecuador are the perfect places.
Although shrimping can be traced back to the era of the Incans, the Ecuador shrimp farming industry gained steam in the 1960s in the El Oro and Guayas regions. Currently 66% of shrimp farms are in the Guayas region and 18% are in the El Oro province. The largest estuary in the South Pacific is the Gulf of Guayaquil, a perfect source of natural salt water. Concurrently, the Guayas River provides ample amounts of fresh water and sediments that, when mixed with the salt water, create ideal tides for shrimp farming. The Humboldt Current also creates ideal water temperatures for seafood along the coast of South America. Quite simply, the equatorial climates make the shrimp happy. Because of all of these conditions, most shrimp farms here can produce three crops per year, compared to two crops in competing countries. Shrimp just like it hot.
Now is an excellent time to start a shrimp farm. Up until November 2015, shrimp prices in the United States were fairly steady, hovering around $7 per kilogram. However, with the recovery of Asian markets, the price for Ecuadorian shrimp dipped slightly, down to $6 per kilo. José Antonio Camposano, the President of the National Aquaculture Chamber, says the Ecuadorian shrimp industry will have to increase production at least 15% to maintain its export revenues of 2014. He wants more farmers to get involved.
Shrimp are Ecuador’s second largest non-petroleum export; bananas are the first. The country of Ecuador exports overs twenty different shrimp products, including whole shrimp, shrimp tails, and frozen blocks of shrimp. Ecuadorian shrimp are known for their firmness, flavor, and color. Over 90% of the shrimp products are sent to the United States, the European Union, China and Vietnam, and these countries want more Ecuadorian shrimp. For example, the United States imported 30% more warm water and frozen shrimp in 2014 than the previous year. However, there isn’t a ton of competition within Ecuador to harvest shrimp. About 75% of Ecuador’s shrimp farms are small-medium sized, family-owned businesses.
Bubba Says: “White Shrimp, Tropical Shrimp, Steel Shrimp…”
The most popular Ecuadorian shrimp breeds are Vannamei, Steel shrimp and tropical shrimp. Vannamei shrimp, also known as “white shrimp,” prefer deep waters (down to 72 meters from the shoreline) with muddy bottoms. Steel shrimp, also known as blue shrimp, are found along the coastline and they are slightly smaller than Vannamei shrimp. Another breed of shrimp to investigate is black tiger shrimp. Typically, they’re indigenous to Vietnam and Thailand, but they are very popular; if a farm was able to cultivate black tiger shrimp in Ecuador, it could be a profitable niche in the region.
Most shrimp farms in Ecuador function in an organic manner, without lots of technology or overcrowding of fish. The German company Naturland certified many Ecuadorian shrimp farms as organic. When farming in Ecuador, it is always important to maintain the biodiversity of the land. The country’s reforesting programs work in tandem with the shrimp farms; shrimp farmers must be cognizant of how much land they can use to build shrimp ponds, as well as the importance of not destroying mangrove forests. The highest level of ranking is the ASC, or Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification, which deems the farm incredibly responsible and well managed.
How to Start a Shrimp Farm in Ecuador
Most shrimp farms spring up along natural water sources: rivers, estuaries and seas. Hectare prices range from $500-$5,000, depending on the land and water resources available. Working with a real estate agent who understands the shrimp farming process and the potential in the property is vital. Agents also can help you procure the necessary permits through the Ecuadorian government to start your own farm. If you are redirecting water from a water source, make sure to check the quality of water. If you want more information or want to see an example of an organic shrimping farm, you can also visit one of the more established farms like OMARSA. OMARSA is in the Guayas region and it is the only farm to receive the ASC certification so far in Ecuador.
Building the Ponds
In Ecuador, most shrimp farms fall into two categories: low density (or extensive) farms or semi-intensive farms. Both pond types rely on close access to rivers, estuaries and seas. If you are building grow out ponds for the shrimp, the ideal size for a shrimp pond is 10-25 hectares. First, test the soil for the pond. You can dig out the pond or use large fish tanks or swimming pools to mold the ponds accordingly. Saltwater farms are the most popular farms in Ecuador, but due to the boom in viruses in the past few decades, fresh water farms are also becoming popular. Currently, there are around 300 farms that export shrimp to the United States. The number of shrimp farms in Ecuador has lots of potential to grow, especially with the Aquaculture Chamber’s desire to increase the production rates of Ecuadorian shrimp.
In Ecuador, there are many large hatcheries that raise the nauplii (first larval stage of crustaceans) shrimp to post larvae size. These hatcheries prepare the larvae for the growing phases. Use of nurseries has changed in the past decades with the increase of viruses like white spot or the Taura virus. In Ecuador, there are many raceway hatcheries that increase the rate of distributing post larvae shrimp to grow-out ponds in about 30 days. Some shrimp farmers still use a nursery phase to continue cultivating the shrimp before depositing them into grow-out ponds. The shorter the time of incubation, the lower the risk of contracting viruses. These raceways are covered at night to protect the growing shrimp from cold temperatures.
After a pond is stocked with post larval shrimp, it takes between 3-6 months to produce a crop of market-size shrimp. The average hectare produces roughly 125 kilos of shrimp per year. It is vitally important to eliminate predators in the area: crabs, fish, birds and people. Also, depending on the type of farming you choose (extensive or semi-intensive), you may need to utilize feeding and fertilizing systems as well. After 3-6 months, the shrimp are then sent to production factories for cleaning and processing before being exported.
Types of Shrimp Farms
Most Ecuadorian shrimp farms require minimal technology and utilize the natural environment as much as possible. These are called: “low density” or “extensive” shrimp farms. 60% of farms in Ecuador are low-density farms. The grow-out ponds in extensive farms contain 8-15 larvae per square meter of water. This type of pond results in higher quality shrimp that have more room to feed and breed. Extensive farms also dissuade viruses, specifically the white spot virus. These farms utilize the rivers and estuaries, bringing wild larvae into their ponds, and growing them to market size. Therefore, farmers don’t usually feed at all; the shrimp feed on natural resources. You can use small amounts of feed and fertilizers if needed. As the crop grows, there are rarely more than 25,000 full grown shrimp per hectare. Use of cast nets and bamboo traps tend to produce 50-500 kilograms per hectare per harvest.
These farms are laid out on the high tide lines along rivers, estuaries and the ocean. The ponds are typically covered to guarantee a water temperature of 30-33 degrees Celsius. These ponds usually contain between 15-25 post larvae per square meter. These shrimp tend to feed off the bottom of the ponds; therefore, they also require high-quality food to sustain their natural food web. Ideally, the shrimp should be fed 3-5 times a day. The ponds are fertilized with nutrients to encourage a natural cycle. Ponds are harvested using pumps or a net, and usually the yield is significantly higher: 500-5,000 kilograms per hectare per year. However, environmentally, if too many of these ponds are in the same area, they can have a negative effect on the environment. Therefore, if you are interested in semi-intensive farms, it is best to use strategies employed by larger farms like OMARSA who commit to reforesting up to 20% of the land in a short time period.
Unexpected Benefits of El Niño
The production of farm-raised shrimp actually tends to increase during El Niño years. Shrimp prefer the warm waters and grow rapidly in their brackish environments during heavy rains. These rains also flush out rivers and estuaries, channeling shrimp towards the ponds. Wild shrimp also reproduce at a heightened rate during El Niño years, although, depending on the intensity of the storms, the farmer must carefully tend to the water levels of his/her ponds.
Wrapping it up (in bacon)
In the first seven months of 2015, Ecuador exported 197,000 metric tons of shrimp, worth $1.3 billion. Last year, Ecuador’s yield was worth roughly $2.6 billion. This is a big market. Currently, the price for shrimp in the United States is around $7 per kilo. If you are interested in this type of agricultural investment and experience, shrimping is a growing area. The climate, water access and traditional farming practices make Ecuador an ideal region to start a shrimp farm. These environmental factors, coupled with the Aquaculture Chamber’s desire to increase the production levels, mean that now is an ideal time to look for land and start the farming process. If you are interested in talking with a real estate agent who has excellent land with water access for shrimp farms, contact John Vollmecke. He knows the coastal regions well, and has already put together teams of skilled laborers who can help turn your fishy dream into a reality.