GSMC Shrimp panel: farmers recovering from EMS, but slowly

The world’s shrimp farmers are figuring out how to recover from EMS, and volumes and prices will reflect that, but don’t expect it to happen fast.

That was the message of the shrimp panel at the National Fisheries Institute (NFI)’s Global Seafood Market Conference in Las Vegas, Nev., USA, this week. The panel was one of a series of plenary sessions discussing the current state of the markets for various species.

Among the speakers was Robins McIntosh, senior VP at Thailand-based CP Foods, on hand to speak about Southeast Asia. The region has been hit the hardest worldwide by Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS). The disease’s cause had been a mystery until the summer of 2013, when scientists said it came from the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria.

This discovery, as opposed to blaming a virus, McIntosh said, “changed the rules.” It’s much more difficult to prevent the growth of bacteria, which he said means it’s not accurate to say farmers have “cured” or otherwise beaten EMS.

“I think that’s a misnomer,” he said. “I think we’re learning to live with EMS.”

Despite this, data from the session showed volumes were only marginally better in 2014 than when they hit record lows in 2013. The problem, McIntosh said, was not the disease, but the fear of it driving farmers to stock less.

“We did not expect the weak recovery in farmer’s minds,” he said.

The shrimp farming industry is also seeing fewer farmers in Central America, albeit for different reasons, according to fellow panelist Bill Dresser, president of Sea Port Products Corp.

In that region, he said, many operators of smaller farms are selling off in a series of consolidations that point to fewer people wanting to be involved in an industry that in that region is simply not making enough money to be worth it.

“There are a lot of folks exiting the business,” he said.

The disease is less of a problem in Central America and Mexico, Dresser said, and from that perspective, the industry appears to be recovering too, but overall, production will likely not bounce back. Lessons learned from EMS will make for a long, slow road to higher volumes, at least in regions struck by the disease, the panelists said.


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