Four reasons why India’s shrimp exports are booming


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
January 15, 2015

For years it seemed nearly impossible for another country to outpace Thailand’s shrimp exports to the United States, the world’s biggest market for shrimp.

Early mortality syndrome (EMS) saw an end to that. The disease, which attacks the shrimp’s hepatopancreas, an organ crucial to digestion, proved to be a major setback for Thailand and other producing nations in Southeast Asia starting in 2009. The stunning downturn in production, estimated at more than 30 percent in the region, opened the door for India to assume a position of greater influence in the global shrimp trade, and it has capitalized.

An equally significant consideration was shrimp producers’ 2009 adoption of Pacific white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) as the most prominent species produced by India’s growing aquaculture industry. Long known as a leader in black tiger (Penaeus monodon) farming, India’s shrimp industry lobbied to have SPF (specific pathogen free) vannamei broodstock imported from the United States for cultivation. Pacific white shrimp takes less time to grow to market size, is more resistant to disease than black tigers, and is more affordable. Black tiger prices are currently about 25 to 30 percent higher than Pacific whites.

Mangala Babu, a seafood exporter in Kochi, told the Times of India this week that the transition was a “huge success” and the main reason behind India’s increasing shrimp exports.

A third reason is the devaluation of India’s Rupee (INR 100 equals USD 1.60; EUR 1.36), which has made its seafood products more attractive. U.S. buyers have obviously taken notice: According to the (U.S.) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shrimp imports (all product forms) from India through the first 11 months of 2014 exceeded 219 million pounds, about 16 percent more than the same period in 2013. The Indian Rupee has significantly decreased in value over the past quarter century, from about 6 US cents to less than 2 cents today.

The final factor is reliability. An importer I spoke with recently said most exporters from India and Indonesia could be counted on to ship product on time (Indonesia’s shrimp exports to the United States through November 2014 were up 27 percent year-on-year from the same period in 2013). When purchasing shrimp 20,000- to 30,000-pound container at a time, promptness is as important as price. A delay of just 48 hours can create a ripple effect of displeasure throughout a buyer’s supply chain, particularly during the run-up to the holiday season, a peak time for shrimp sales.

This confluence of circumstances has put India in a strong position as a global leader in farmed shrimp. According to India’s Marine Export Development Authority (MPEDA), overall marine product exports reached an all-time high in fiscal year 2013-14, topping USD 5 billion (EUR 4.24 billion), with 62.12 percent of that value coming from its burgeoning shrimp sector.

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