Success for large-scale cobia air shipments from Belize
Marine Farms Belize has successfully transported close to 170,000 cobia juveniles by air to a farm in Panama. There were two shipments which were sent by a specially chartered Boeing 727-200 from Belize City. The first shipment consisted of 92,000 juveniles and was sent on 6 September, and the second of 95,000 juveniles went on 1 November.
"I believe it was the first time live marine fish have been shipped out of Belize in such commercial quantities," said Jorge Alarcon, CEO of Marine Farms Belize. "Also, I think this was the first time so many cobia had been packed and shipped in a single day by air (in both instances). Normally, cobia juvenile shipments by air consist of a maximum of 20 or 30 large boxes at a time. Ours were 43 and 48 boxes."
The fingerlings, weighing an average 1g each, were selected from two juvenile production runs at the hatchery directed by juvenile production manager Willy Meresse and totaled close to 250,000 fingerlings combined.
"We aimed to produce 100,000 juveniles each time," Alarcon said, "but in the second cycle we obtained higher survival than expected (about 20 percent from newly hatched larvae to 1g). We would normally produce in excess of what is ordered and take out the smallest individuals to ensure we ship the best performing fish to our clients.
"In this case, the remaining juveniles were sacrificed. We only kept a small number to run some indoor/re-circulating growout trial to get some performance data."
The company placed the fingerlings in seawater in triple liner bags in corrugated cardboard boxes. The packing density ranged from 5 to 8 kg per cubic meter. "We believe this is the optimum density for transport of up to 24 hours," Alarcon said.
Air transport is not without its problems, even though these usually occur on the ground rather than in the air, and for the second shipment unforeseen delays meant that there was a much higher mortality rate than for the first.
"While the first shipment registered a mortality rate of 2 percent, we registered 18 percent mortality on transport the second time due to unforeseen delays with the charter flight and loading process," Alarcon said. "This totaled 5+ hours of unplanned delays.
"Normally a mortality rate of up to 3 percent is considered normal. The second shipment had heavy mortality on the first boxes packed mainly because they spent the longest time packed (they were closed earlier). Due to the delays some boxes stayed closed for over 30 hours, which is much longer than we anticipated.
"We were expecting a maximum 24 hours transport time from closure of the box at the Belize hatchery to re-opening it at the nursery in Panama. However, the unplanned delays took transport beyond the expected 24-hour maximum, so we will have to account for that in future shipments and pack closer to the lower density range of 5 kg per cubic meter."
The Belize hatchery started operations in June 2009, although full development of current protocols and fine-tuning to reach projected capacity took a further couple of years.
"Unfortunately by then our cage farming operation in Belize was not active due to the effects of Hurricane Richard in October 2010," Alarcon said, "so we have been exploring the option to produce juveniles to third parties and this finally materialized in 2013. We now have permits to work with Florida pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) and red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) [in addition to cobia] so look forward to juvenile availability of these two species in 2014 as well.
"I am also optimistic about a near future re-opening of growout operations in Belize, given the improved results [with the growout] obtained in our sister operation in Vietnam."