Lifting the lid on Asian shrimp trade and sustainability

Published on
April 25, 2016

Asia is the undisputed leader in shrimp aquaculture and wild shrimp capture, and its important role in terms of market domination and efforts towards sustainability were outlined in a recent report by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP).

The report, “Asian shrimp trade and sustainability,” by Nicole Portley, SFP’s shrimp and salmon species coordinator, found that Asia accounts for around 85 percent of the world’s shrimp aquaculture production and 74 percent of its wild shrimp capture, including 86 percent of the warm-water shrimp harvest.

Portley also found that aquaculture accounts for a growing proportion of Asian shrimp production; currently 58 percent of the cumulative production in the main shrimp-producing countries in Asia is farmed. 

The top 10 shrimp producers in Asia, in descending order, are China, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

Shrimp aquaculture overtook the wild harvest in 2007, and has claimed a growing share of the market ever since. In 2012, according to the report, it was worth USD 19.4 billion (EUR 17.1 billion). In 2013, production from shrimp farms accounted for 56 percent of global shrimp production (FAO 2015) with a harvest of 4.45 million metric tons, compared with 3.4 million metric tons from the wild.

While shrimp is the most highly traded seafood product in the world by value, just under half (49 percent) was sold in Asian markets. The largest markets were Europe, the U.S. and Japan, which together account for around 75 percent of global shrimp imports. Of the European nations, Spain and France are the most prominent markets for shrimp, whilst the U.S. imports more than any other nation, and shrimp is America’s most consumed seafood per capita.

Whiteleg shrimp (Pennaeus vannamei) is the most popular farmed species. The two other main species grown and exported to a limited extent are the giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon) and the giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii).

Countries that have invested heavily in whiteleg shrimp production have fared well on the export market in recent years, with Vietnam, Thailand, India and Indonesia all reporting export revenues of more than USD 1 billion (EUR 880 million) each.

Thailand, once the world’s leading shrimp exporter, has been usurped by Vietnam, following losses due to disease.

Countries including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar, which have not made the same investment in whiteleg shrimp, have failed to capture the international market to the same extent. These nations each export less than USD 500 million (EUR 440 million) worth of shrimp per year and keep a much larger proportion for domestic consumption.

China bucks the trend, having invested heavily in whiteleg shrimp production, but it retains 88 percent of the shrimp to feed its domestic market.

In its report, SFP encourages global supply chain leverage to improve the sustainability of seafood stocks. By gaining a better understand of the market dynamics of the sector and identifying the main sustainability concerns for Asian shrimp, the organization hopes to act as a catalyst for further improvements in the shrimp sector. Issues around sustainability include disease proliferation, water pollution and feed sustainability.

Shrimp fisheries have been associated with environmental risk due to a high bycatch rate when using bottom trawls, while for aquaculture, the main issues are habitat destruction, disease, poor labor practices and overfishing of low trophic wild stocks to produce feed.

Technological developments such as aeration, pelleted feeds, antibiotics and water treatments have facilitated a rapid expansion in shrimp aquaculture by allowing increased stocking densities and better yields. They have also enabled farms to produce a variety of shrimp species and sizes, and provided the ability to respond better to changing market dynamics. Improvements in quality have played a major role in allowing farmed shrimp to surpass wild shrimp as the export product of choice.

However, intensification comes with the risk of disease such as Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS), which causes widespread losses, and Enterocytozoon hepatopenaei (EHP), which slows growth and weakens productivity, and all producing countries have suffered to a greater or lesser degree from disease outbreaks.

Certification schemes are helping to reduce these impacts, but according to SFP, between just one to 11 percent of production in the seven largest Asian producers is currently certified under Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and/or GlobalGAP standards. Globally, only five percent by volume of farmed shrimp is from certified sources, so much work remains to be done in international supply chains to encourage greater uptake of certification schemes. One way to do this is to make it a condition of supply.

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