Black tigers in short supply in Japan

Published on
July 22, 2011

Vietnam’s black tiger shrimp were struck by disease in April. Resulting short supply is now driving up prices in product’s largest market, Japan.

Shrimp died en-masse in coastal areas of the Mekong Delta. While white spot syndrome virus has been the major disease problem in the industry for years, this outbreak appears to have been caused by microsporidiosis. The disease’s hit to annual black tiger production is expected amount to 30 percent of the 320,000 metric tons of a typical year. Global black tiger production is approximately 720,000 metric tons, and in 2009 Vietnam had a 40 percent share. Ponds have been restocked, but raising shrimp from the post-larvae to harvest takes about 5 months.

Last year, exports to Japan amounted to USD 900 million, up 19 percent from 2009. The country has tariff-free access to the Japanese shrimp market under the Vietnam-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement signed in December 2008 and implemented in 2009. For shrimp and lobster, the previous 10 to 15 percent tariff rates were eliminated, allowing Vietnam to replace Indonesia as the top supplier. Indonesia and Thailand already had duty-free access.

The Japanese wholesale price of head-on, 16/20-count black tigers is up 15 percent from last July, year on year, to USD 15 per kilogram. Prices are being passed on to consumers, with Japanese supermarket prices rising by similar percentages. Prices usually fall in May, the biggest harvest time, but this year the trend was reversed. Indonesian product is also up, rising 17 percent to USD 15.80; 16-20 black tiger had traded in the USD 10 to USD 12 range through 2009, but, in 2010, U.S. Gulf of Mexico shrimp were hit by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and black tiger was substituted; prices jumped to USD 15 and have stayed at that level.

Adding to costs for Vietnamese product is Japan’s 100 percent testing rate for two chemicals with the cost borne by importers. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare now checks for the chemicals trifluralin and enrofloxacin in 100 percent of shrimp consignments from Vietnam after discovering Vietnamese product containing excessive residues. Implementation of the new testing rate for enrofloxacin began on 9 June.

Trifluralin is a widely used pre-emergence herbicide, banned in the European Union, but widely used in the United States and elsewhere. In April 2010, Vietnam banned its use in aquaculture, but enforcement is spotty and residues can remain in soil for months. Enrofloxacin is a bactericidal agent.

Black tiger is the second most popular shrimp variety in Japan, following vannemei (Pacific whites). In 2010, Japan imported 49,000 metric tons of black tigers and 55,000 metric tons of vannemei, excluding processed product. Vannemei production is increasing throughout Southeast Asia, due to disease concerns with black tigers.

Farmers say vannemei grow faster with fewer disease problems, but the economic return can be higher when black tiger are successfully grown. Thailand is the leader in vannamei production. Wholesale Japanese prices for Thai 30-40 Pacific whites rose last year from USD 8 per kilogram to USD 9.10 after April flood damage but declined in August as a new crop came to market.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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