How can Ecuador make the most of its ever-growing shrimp production?

Gabriel Luna runs Glunashrimp, a company that offers shrimp market advisory services

© PSB Photography

Ecuador’s shrimp exports reached a record 841,000 tonnes in 2021 and, according to Luna, who runs Glunashrimp, a firm that offers shrimp market consultancy services, the country is on track to easily surpass that. figure in 2022, as exports from January to June were up. 35% compared to the same period last year.

“One million metric tons is the estimate, but it’s going to be higher [by 2-4 percent] because these end-of-year months are higher than the months of the first part of the year,” Luna predicted.

Growth catalysts

According to Luna, the growth of shrimp production in Ecuador over the past decade has been spurred by a number of events. These include the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which drove up shrimp prices and encouraged farmers to bring back into production ponds that were mothballed after the white spot outbreak in 2000.

line graph
Volume of Ecuador’s Shrimp Exports vs. Front End Raw Material Price Change

© Glunashrimp

Another key event was the outbreak of Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) in Asia in 2012, which created a window for Ecuadorian shrimp farmers to export to China, causing a noticeable increase in demand for frontal shrimp. from 2012 to 2016 in particular.

As production levels in most countries recovered in 2018, prices fell, Luna noted, leading most Ecuadorian shrimp farmers to operate at a loss for at least five weeks a year, inspiring innovation.

Gabriel Luna
Ecuador’s new feed mills have allowed shrimp farmers to improve their growth rates

© PSB Photography

“We’re not creative the rest of the year, it’s only during those five weeks that we lose money that we get creative and find ways to increase our productivity by reducing our costs. And the way to do it in your same farm…imagine you build a second floor…if you need to cut your costs again, you have to build a third floor because what you need to do is – with the same direction, same people, same employees, same infrastructure – you have to try to make more shrimp,” Luna explained.

This was done – in part – by increasing stocking densities from 8 to 15 shrimp per square meter. But, as Luna explained, Ecuador is reluctant to attempt to farm at too high a density, as they are determined to ensure that their shrimp remain healthy.

As a result, they sought to improve other aspects of production, especially feed, from 2010. The arrival of a series of new feed mills in the 2010s helped farmers improve shrimp growth rates from 1.1 g to 2.5 g per week. Other improvements included the adoption of nurseries and better pond management, including the combination of automatic feeders and aerators.

“We tried automatic feeders first, they were awesome, they increased growth rates and decreased mortality rates, but when we combined them with aeration, they got ballistic, we discovered new levels “, recalls Luna.

The result is that the 220,000 ha of shrimp farms in Ecuador produce an average of 4.5 tonnes per ha per year. Still, Luna thinks that figure could be much higher, as the majority of shrimp farms in the country still use extensive farming techniques.

“That means we have a bit of a way to go, because an efficient farm in Ecuador can produce this in one cycle, not one year…so there is a little room for improvement,” Luna explained.

In particular, he pointed to the increased use of aerators in the 70 percent of farms nationwide that still use minimal technology.

Gabriel Luna
Luna thinks Ecuadorian shrimp farmers will need to adopt new technologies to become more efficient

© PSB Photography

“In three or four years, that’s what you’re going to see: a little more aeration, a little more feeders, a little more machinery inside the ponds to achieve the growth that we’re not aiming for but have to become efficient and reduce our production costs,” explained Luna.

With rising costs for food, transportation, packaging, combined with inflation, Luna finds this process essential. And he predicts that weekly shrimp growth rates will increase from 2.4 to 2.9 g, in part due to the adoption of automatic feeders linked to microphones to improve feeding regimes.

Meanwhile, on the post-production side of the industry, growing demand for value-added products – particularly in the US – is another challenge that needs to be addressed. Effective systems will need to be put in place to allow Ecuador to compete with countries like India, where labor costs are lower, Luna concluded.

Rob Flecher

Editor-in-Chief at The Fish Site

Rob Fletcher has been writing about aquaculture since 2007, as editor of fish farmer, Fish farming specialist and The fish website. He holds an MA in History from the University of Edinburgh and an MA in Sustainable Aquaculture from the University of St Andrews. He currently lives and works in Scotland.

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