Tuesday,7 June,2011 08:54:02
If you have been following the “news,” you are no doubt reading that in Vietnam, Indonesia and China shrimp farmers are being hit with serious disease problems. This is a classic example of the adage one man’s misery is another man’s fortune. This is a good thing for shrimp farmers elsewhere as it guarantees that for a short while at least prices will be stronger and profits greater. As is often the case many small farms that cannot afford problems are being devastated. While this is the reality, the truth as I see it, is that events such as these should be wake up calls. This is not a business for the faint of heart and neither is it for farmers who live from crop to crop. While it is laudable that governments seek to ensure incomes for subsistence farmers, this paradigm simply is not sustainable in the long term. It leads to desperation which in turn can lead to the use of management tools that are not suitable (such as banned chemotherapeutants) and a proliferation of snake oil salesmen selling solutions in a bottle for a price further victimizing unwitting desperate farmers.
It has been my experience that many of the farms in these parts of the world are not operated in a sustainable manner. Biosecurity is poorly understood and rarely followed and while efforts have been made to lessen the impact of preventable viral diseases by switching production to Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) Litopenaeus vannamei these efforts are all too often an opportunity for some individuals to sell shrimp as SPF that are not. SPF shrimp are never produced outdoors. They have to be produced in controlled indoor environments. Add to this the huge numbers of small farms that are all packed together, where effluent from one set of ponds easily becomes the influent of someone else’s and you have a scenario that is ripe for serious disease outbreaks.
Disease is natural. Its absence is not. As humans we try to exert as much control as we can over the environment to lessen any negative impacts on our activities. Pathogens abound in aquatic ecosystems. Combine this with animals that are routinely stressed, being produced in monoculture environments; proclivities to take short cuts and to use pseudoscientific tools to try and manage problems and you have the makings of a perfect storm. Unfortunately the long term prognosis is not good. While Best Management Practices programs are proliferating, they do not always take into account reality. It is cheaper in the short term to manage problems reactively than proactively and while any fish health professional will tell you this is not wise, it changes little. Truly proactive management health programs are costly and are geared towards preventing problems. This means the proper use of biosecurity tools, proper design of farms and support systems (hatcheries, maturation, feed mills and processing plants), and appropriate use of science based technology, etc.
For the time being those that are making money off the misfortune of those shrimp farmers that are being wiped out, enjoy it while it lasts! For those in the throes of wipe out disasters, find another way to make a living! As much as I hate to say this, I think that many of these farmers are their own worst enemies in this and it is not likely that even with these problems will there be the types of changes that must be made. Horrific disease outbreaks have occurred for decades and are inherent in the process of farming fish and shrimp. Today there are just different players with similar or the same problems. Growing shrimp is best done by companies with the resources to weather these down times, although unfortunately all too many of these will be gone in the years to come as well.
For those who make a living selling the seafood that comes out of these areas and that are being impacted by this, consider changing your business model. Vertically integrated companies have the best chance of ensuring that the impact from problems of this nature are minimal and that they remain financially secure throughout these downturns. Sustainability is not just about the production of the animals. The ability to weather the economic ups and downs and bring resources to bear to proactively address problems are critical, and all too often, overlooked elements of sustainable production. True sustainability is not measured by audit performance but is a reflection of an operational philosophy. Until this message sinks in, recurrent and extensive disease outbreaks will be a natural component of shrimp farming.