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In wake of shrimp blight in Taiwan, is intensive farming still the way?

In Wake of Shrimp Blight in Taiwan, Is Intensive Farming Still the Way?

Yes, so long as environmental quality is maximized to prevent disease, reports the Oceanic Institute of Hawaii. "Intensity is not in itself a problem," says Dr. Pruder.

Several years ago the Taiwanese model of shrimp farming was looked upon as the ideal by many of the world's aquaculture experts. Intensive pond operations turned poor, ex-rice farmers into wealthy entrepreneurs as their production of black tiger prawns (Penaeus monodon) topped 75,000 metric tons in 1987.

But the boom turned to bust as the glitter of southwest Taiwan's "black gold" was eclipsed by a "black death" disease that began devastating shrimp farms in Pingtung and beyond last year. The island's tight-knit industry has been close-mouthed about releasing details regarding what is presumed to be a spreading viral infection of some sort.

A warning of impending doom was sounded several years ago by Dr. I-Chiu Liao, the man whose pioneering work in Penaeus monodon cultivation was credited with Taiwan's initial success in shrimp farming. He then advised:

"Unless careful measures such as zoning to exclude industrial effluent from aquacultural areas are implemented, prawn farming may well suffer from long-term damages in the future."

The numbers may be bearing out his prophesy as output is not expected to exceed 30,000 metric tons this year. Indeed, July's harvest was all but wiped out as contaminated broodstock had to be dumped earlier in the season.

Much speculation about the root causes of the problem has ensued. The consensus is that overcrowded living conditions aggravated by tainted irrigated water are to blame. Consequently, many shrimp farmers are thinking twice about investing in transplanting the Taiwan model to their operations. Semi-intensive farming is thought to be a safer way to proceed. But that opinion is not shared by all.

"Intensity is not in itself a problem if the environment is properly monitored and maintained. You can still pack them in if the quality control is high," according to Dr. Gary Pruder of the U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Consortium.

Quick Frozen Foods International recently visited Dr. Pruder in Waimanalo, Hawaii, where he coordinates research at the Oceanic Institute (OI). Headquartered at picturesque Makapuu Point overlooking the Pacific, the organization's primary mission is to find better ways to raise shrimp and fish and expand their industrial output. Presently funded with more than $6.3 million in grants from the United States government, the facility houses the Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture.

Washington has good reason to fund research and demonstration projects in aquaculture. The U.S., after all, is running an annual trade deficit of some $1.2 billion in shrimp alone as more than 75% of the nation's needs are supplied by imports. Only through technological advancement, it is believed, will high labor rate countries such as America be able to seriously compete in culturing premium-priced species and thus become less reliant on foreign sources.

The Institute has been successful in producing Penaeus vanamei (white shrimp) at densities of up to 100 per square meter, with outputs of 13,000 to 19,000 kilograms per hectare in 12- to 13-week periods. And thanks to fair weather, three harvests per year are possible.

Meanwhile, the problems encountered in Taiwan have focused greater attention on Oceanic Institute's environmentally-sensitive approach to farming fish. "Aquaculture is one of the few growing activities that has the potential of being non-polluting," said Dr. Pruder. "If properly run, it has a lot of the characteristics of advanced waste management."

The Institute has for the past two years been very active in projects addressing government regulations limiting effluent discharge from aquaculture facilities, as well as approval of drugs to treat diseases in aquatic species.

A landmark at OI's 56-acre site is its 337-square-meter round pond -- a hybrid of Japanese, Taiwanese and Hawaiian design--which has witnessed exceptionally high shrimp productivity rates. Made of concrete and featuring an earthen bottom, drain and aerating paddle wheel, the system is constantly waterflushed, thus allowing for the stocking of shrimp at higher densities than usual.

Dr. Pruder gave QFFI a tour of the center, where research is always conducted with an eye toward commercial application. He pointed out special tanks where flow vs. no-flow water experiments are performed. "Our shrimp survival rate is 88%," the doctor said proudly.

OI's private sector orientation can be seen in its relationship with Amorient Aquafarm, Inc., a Hawaiian marine shrimp raiser. The Institute operates a half-acre commercial-scale round pond at the company's Kahuku property where it carries out research on pond management techniques. Repeated trials have resulted in year-round record production with excellent growth and survival. Total output in a typical 10- to 12-week cycle is said to greatly surpass benchmark farm production figures. Revenue generated at the site last year was in the area of $500,000.

Citing a variety of technical and economic studies, Dr. Pruder suggested that a profitable shrimp-raising industry will become a reality in the U.S. only through intensive, controlled production techniques. Expensive land and labor requirements rule out extensive farming methods, he said. And climate limitations will probably restrict any real industry from starting up outside of Hawaii, South Carolina and coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico.

"That's why our research here is geared toward intensive aquaculture," he explained. "Our purpose is to expand industrial output, not engage in academic exercises."

Pruder admitted, however, that the U.S. has a long way to go in getting shrimp farming up to speed. Despite the incentive of a state market that consumes some seven-million pounds of shrimp annually, imports still meet most of the demand in Hawaii.

It's not that local attempts have not been made to supply the need. The islands' landscape is dotted with a number of aquaculture failures. A recent report in Hawaii Investor magazine listed some of the flops as follows:

* C. Brewer & Company abandoned an uneconomical and ambitious 100-acre prawn farm in Kauai during 1980 after three years of trying to make a go of it.

* In 1981 Coca-Cola pulled out of a partnership with F.H. Prince Company to back a $10 million shrimp-raising facility in Kahuku.

* Two years later Amfac Aquatech shelved a project to develop a 350-acre prawn farm on Kauai after determining that prices earned from sales to the mainland U.S. would not justify the investment.

* W.R. Grace & Company's Marine Culture Enterprises closed down its Kahuku operations in 1988 after losing all its shrimp to disease. It has since been taken over by Pacific SeaFarms, a Norwegian concern.

Indeed, last year Hawaiian aquaculture produced no more than $5.5 million worth of shrimp, fish, algae and other sea creatures. That was well short of the $20 million in revenues that a state-sponsored study projected island industries would be generating by 1987.

Still, there is reason for hope. The number of ponds harvested has multiplied six-fold in the last decade during a time when acreage under cultivation has risen by just one-third. That progress has been directly linked to better culture techniques and higher yielding species.

"We're succeeding at bringing managed solutions to relatively difficult problems," said Dr. Pruder. "But it takes time to bring business and management together. We still have a lot of work to do."

O.I. is now developing a site on the "Big Island" of Hawaii that promises to be on the cutting edge of research. And $15 million from the U.S.D.A. has been approved for construction of a state-of-the-art Center for Applied Aquaculture at Makapuu. It will be the first American aquaculture facility devoted entirely to industrial development through applied research.

America may be slow off the mark compared to other countries when it comes to shrimp farm production, admitted Dr. Pruder. "However, we plan to be leaders on the technology side which, in the long run, will put us in the forefront of the overall picture."

So, with a staff of about 100 scientists and technicians, research goes on not only in shrimp raising, but also in farming mahimahi (dolphin fish), mullet and other species. Feed stocks are also being experimented with. As a matter of fact, a few varieties--with conversion rates of 2.4 pounds of feed per two pounds of shrimp grown -- are said to out-perform Taiwanese feeds.

PHOTO : Picturesque Makapuu Point, overlooking the Pacific on the extreme eastern edge of the

PHOTO : island or Oahu, is home of the Oceanic Institute's aquaculture research stations.
COPYRIGHT 1989 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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