Widespread protests in Ecuador left shrimp industry largely untouched

Published on
August 22, 2022
Protestors converge on the capital in Ecuador during protests in June 2022.

The social protests that spread through Ecuador in the last two weeks of June 2022 caused an estimated USD 9 million (EUR 8.96 million) in losses to the country's shrimp sector, Ecuador’s National Chamber of Aquaculture (CNA) Executive President José Antonio Camposano told SeafoodSource.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities launched an indefinite national strike that virtually paralyzed economic activity in Ecuador beginning 13 June, after which the country suffered 18 straight days of social upheaval ignited by demonstrators protesting against higher gasoline and food prices, oil exploration and mining activity that they claimed had gone unchecked, and lack of health and education services. The protests at times turned violent and included road blockades, affecting supplies to the country’s north, which was one of the areas most-affected by the strike.

During the protests, dozens were injured and at least four people died. The protests ended once the government agreed to cut fuel prices and enact oil exploration as well as mining restrictions, while also negotiating a three-month window to respond to social demands.

During that period, collateral damage was recorded in the shrimp sector, Camposano said, including product being held up, lack of raw materials, extra costs to transport products via alternative routes, and the required purchase of supplies such as oxygen needed to preserve crustaceans for the duration of the protests.

“Shrimp producers were affected in different areas of the country because they could not distribute their product and the daily income from the local sale of the product was affected,” he said. “In addition, in the province of El Oro, the theft of the product from a boat was recorded [in an incident in which] looting occurred in the Jambelí Archipelago.”

Overall, there was significant damage to private property and “the impact of the protests in Ecuador reached USD 100 million [EUR 99.6 million] and this put more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs at risk,” Camposano said, who is also the chair of the Ecuadorian exporters association, CORDEX. However, Camposano said the country's the shrimp aquaculture industry was remained largely untargeted by the protests. 

In 2021, Ecuador’s mineral fuels exports, including oil, reached USD 8.6 billion (EUR 8.6 billion), representing 32.8 percent of total goods sent abroad and making it the country’s largest export, according to the World’s Top Exports website. The category “fish” came in second at USD 5.7 billion (EUR 5.7 billion), or 21.8 percent of total exports, which includes crustaceans. According to CNA figures, last year the country exported USD 5.08 billion (EUR 5.06 billion) in shrimp alone, firmly consolidating the sector as the country's leading non-oil export – a position it first gained in 2017, when it surpassed banana exports.

The country also became the second to surpass a million metric tons of shrimp production in 2021. It isn’t the first country to surpass that mark – China did so in 2009 before early mortality syndrome (EMS) caused production to plummet – but it is the first to do so in over a decade.

Judging from the CNA’s latest figures, Ecuador's shrimp sector growth shows no sign of slowing down. During the first six months of 2022, the industry once again broke its all-time record in shrimp exports, having sent a total of 1.126 billion pounds, or 510,745 metric tons, of shrimp abroad, an increase of 33 percent over the same period of 2021. That volume was worth USD 3.29 billion (EUR 3.28 billion) – up 58 percent and achieving another record.

From January through June 2022, Ecuador's exports to China reached USD 1.67 billion (EUR 1.66 billion) in value and 592 million pounds (268,527 MT) in volume, jumps of 101 percent and 69 percent, respectively, over the first six months one year ago. For its second-biggest market, the U.S., Ecuador's shrimp exports increased 34 percent year-over-year in value to USD 702 million (EUR 699 million) and 7 percent in volume to 217 million pounds (98,429 MT). In Europe, the third-biggest market, shrimp exports expanded 26 percent in dollar terms to USD 622 million (EUR 619 million) and 9 percent in volume to 214 million pounds (97,068 MT).

China took the lion’s share of Ecuador’s shrimp exports, representing 53 percent of the total, while the U.S. and Europe were tied at 19 percent each.

The export totals indicate Ecuador is reverting back to its pre-COVID export patterns, when the country was heavily dependent on China as a destination for its shrimp exports. At times before the pandemic, up to 80 percent of all production in the country was being sent to China.

However, mid-summer 2020, China placed multiple bans on Ecuadorian shrimp after finding potential instances of COVID-19 on shrimp packaging. That forced Ecuador to find new markets, allowing it to pivot more towards the U.S. and European markets and cater more towards the online and retail segments.

Trade with China appears to be resuming, but the fact that the China Administration of Customs recently announced new import bans against three more international firms may slow down that shift. The ban is against three Asian firms – South Korea’s Dai Han Fisheries Co., Indonesia’s Pt. Rembang Sportindo Mandiri, and Vietnam’s An Thinh Trung Seafood Joint Stock Co. – and comes on the heels of three other seafood firms being barred from the Chinese market. That ban affected Brazil’s C Norte Pescados Ltda., India’s M/s. Sagar Samrat Seafoods, and Indonesian firm PT. Cilacap Samudera Fishing Industry.  

Photo courtesy of teranbryan_ecu/Shutterstock

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500