The State of Shrimp Aquaculture in Asia – Thriving (or Surviving) in a Changing World

Mr Robins McIntosh, Executive Vice President, Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Company, Thailand

Today, the conversation in shrimp farming forums is the oversupply of shrimp and declining farm gate prices. This contrasted greatly to earlier discussions at the 2017 Asia Pacific Forum where the main topics revolved around diseases and their impact on production. We also talked about the change needed to meet the challenges presented by a world seemingly filled with newly emerging pathogens. And so, did the world change so much that today we are talking about oversupply and lower farm gate prices?

In the supply/demand balances, a reduction in supply results in better prices. With shrimp farming, this incentivized and supported two activities: development of new ponds, and new farming areas and the application of new technologies in existing farms to improve farm efficiency. A combination of these two activities has resulted in a rapid gain in world shrimp supply over the past two years. But while world shrimp production was increasing, the global average in shrimp costs has also risen. Again, we will face a polarized world, farmers who have genuinely not just increased production versus those farmers and countries that have focused on, not the development of new areas, but the efficiency improvement of existing culture areas and farms.

History has shown that with every major disruption in world shrimp supply, and the subsequent increase in shrimp prices, rapid innovation followed for the next growth phase in shrimp supply. Today we are experiencing a growth phase but much of this growth is not through innovation but using new farming areas. So it may be that this will be a “false rise” in supply that may slow down or even slightly reverse.

There are however genuine technical advancements in knowledge arising directly from the challenges presented by the pandemic of AHPND, EHP and resurgence of WSSV. And it will be the broad application of these new ideas, technologies and management strategies that the future of increased shrimp production will be based on. Some farms and countries are ahead than others; but again if lower farm prices become normalized for a period, there will be incentive for the low efficiency producers to change.

The change we wish to see will be to reduce pond size, increase yields, diets and genetics that result in fewer days of grow-out, genetics that create even better tolerance to more pathogens in disease-free shrimp, and more modernization of hatcheries to create larger and healthier post larvae, and more emphasis on creating “market stories and differentiated shrimp products”. The science of shrimp pathology will move away from only creating diagnostics to identify the disease, towards preventative diagnostics to tell you the health condition of your shrimp and pond. This will be a major advance that will give us the tools to keep our shrimp healthy. Probiotic development will become much more precise than is currently available, and the result will again be healthier shrimp that are more difficult to infect.

Growth in supply may not be a straight line up; but the seeds are there for it to continue to increase and at the same time shrimp costs to come down. And this is completely compatible and preferred from a shrimp industry sustainability model. The next change will be producing more shrimp with less: less resource, and less cost. 2010 was the best year for Thailand’s industry with 640,000 tonnes produced from 45,000 ha of ponds, a yield of 14,000 kg/ha/year. In 2017, Thailand produced 340,000 tonnes of shrimp from less than 10,000 ha of culture ponds, a yield of 34 tonnes/ha/year. This is the future – more from less.