Seajoy following “Ecuador-style" model for shrimp farming in Honduras, Nicaragua
The Gulf of Fonseca, on the Pacific coast of Central America, has the potential to produce significantly more shrimp by transforming traditional pond culture into more efficient units, SeaJoy CEO Ismael Wong said at the recent Global Shrimp Forum.
Currently, 60 percent of shrimp production in Central America comes from just two countries – Honduras and Nicaragua – which both have coastlines on the gulf. And Seajoy is a big part of that regional production, operating shrimp hatcheries, nurseries, farms, and large-scale packing plants for raw and cooked value-added products in both countries. Wong said the company farms 3,800 hectares in the Gulf of Fonseca and accounts for nearly 15 percent of production there.
“Honduras has 24,000 hectares under cultivation and produced 53,491 metric tons [MT] in 2021, and Nicaragua has 17,500 hectares and produced 30,000 MT in that year,” he said. Of those amounts, Seajoy produces 13.7 percent of Honduras' total shrimp output and 21.63 percent of Nicaragua's shrimp-production total.
Seajoy, which has been part of Cooke Aquaculture since 2019, has production areas that stretch from Panama to Guatemala, but its largest production areas are along the Gulf of Fonseca.
“Farming has taken place in the gulf since the 1980s, when it was identified as suitable due to the flat landscape, saline soil, good water quality, a nutrient rich estuary, and favorable weather conditions. The availability of wild Penaeus vannamei larvae was also advantageous, although today we use hatchery larvae,” Wong said.
Regionally, shrimp are grown in large ponds ranging from 15 to 30 hectares, with a low stocking density of 8 to 10 animals per square meter. Production volumes range from 1,500 to 2,500 pounds per hectare per crop. This results in a low average yield across all farms of just 2 MT per hectare per year, Wong said.
There are more gains to be made in efficiency, primarily through the introduction of new technology, Wong said.
“Production increased by around 15 to 20 percent in both countries last year where technification was introduced, but much more is needed if the industry is to thrive and be competitive in the international marketplace,” he said. “Some farms are following the example of Ecuador, building deeper partitioned ponds and using aeration to increase oxygen levels, and they are doing well.”
Wong said further gains could be made in Central America's shrimp sector by increasing the number of annual crop cycles, pursuing organic, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and Best Aquaculture Practices certifications, seeking to diversify its end-markets, and gaining greater access to finance.
By introducing greater technification in the “Ecuador style,” as outlined in the company's recently enacted five-year plan, Wong predicted SeaJoy can almost double production by 2028.
“We also aim to be a global leader in the organic market, driven by innovation and new product development with our customers,” he said.
The majority of Seajoy’s production is destined for export, with its major markets being the European Union, Taiwan, and Mexico, and with smaller volumes going to Japan and the U.S.A.
Honduras has increased its shrimp exports over the last four years, but at a slow rate. The country exported 68.5 million pounds (31,000 MT) in 2018, and that amount increased by less than a million pounds each year until 2021, when it exported 73.9 million pounds (33,500 MT), according to data from the Association Nacional De Acuacultores De Honduras (ANDAH).
So far in 2022, exports have remained relatively flat compared to 2021. However, data from ANDAH indicates exports to Mexico have dropped – in May 2021, the country exported three million pounds of shrimp to Mexico, but in May 2022, that total was under 500,000 pounds.
Wong also spoke of the importance of the company’s social license, and said Seajoy has put considerable effort into social and environmental programs, including supporting local schools, mangrove restoration, and a sea turtle conservation program.
Photo courtesy of SeaJoy