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India’s Shrimp Aquaculture Industry Remains Hopeful Despite Onset of Disease

30 October 2015

INDIA - India’s shrimp exports dominated the global supply market in 2014, with over 301,000 tonnes of tiger (Penaeus monodon) and whiteleg (Penaeus vanname/Litopenaeus vannamei) shrimp exported, primarily to the United States of America.

In March 2015 the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India reported that just 8.5 per cent of the available brackish water was being utilized for shrimp production. Combined with a shift from primarily farming tiger shrimp to the faster growing whiteleg shrimp, the association predicted that with investment exports could increase to a value of $17 billion by 2017, representing a huge increase from the $3.21 billion achieved in 2014.

October 2015 saw a different announcement, this time coming from India’s Marine Products Export Development Authority - warnings about the spread of a microsporidian (parasitic fungus) Enterocytozoon Hepatopenaei (EHP) throughout India’s shrimp farms.

EHP was first characterized in 2009 in Thailand’s farmed tiger shrimp, though it has since been found in whiteleg shrimp. The fungus is does not appear to be directly fatal, but it does severely slow growth by infecting the hepatopancreas (digestive glands) tubules, limiting the amount of nutrition the infected individual receives from feed, which can lead to starvation.

Exactly how the disease spreads is still an area of ongoing research. Shrimp may be acquiring infections from environmental reservoirs, with spread to new regions and farms possibly occurring through the movement of infected individuals and/or contaminated feed. The disease has also been reported in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Viet Nam.

The economic implications for shrimp aquaculturalists impacted by EHP are not great. For those who successfully rear affected shrimp, the volume produced can be expected to be lower – partly as a result of mortality, but also as a result of the smaller body sizes of surviving shrimp.

Combined with an increase feed prices, which also limits shrimp aquaculture productivity levels, the Society of Aquaculture Professionals in Chennai predict that the total production of India’s farmed shrimp will decline this year by 10 per cent -20 per cent .

Furthermore, the Seafood Exporters Association of India have noted that American demand for shrimp has somewhat stagnated. This reduction in demand has reduced shrimp prices, leading to a predicted 20 -30 per cent decline in the value of India’s exports this year. It is also worth noting that in order to control EHP levels (there is currently no medication available for the disease, and eradication is likely to prove extremely difficult), aquaculturalists may need to change practices which may come with additional costs.

The physical removal of organic matter and the use of disinfection in ponds prior to stocking, and continual removal of organic matter from ponds during production to reduce potential reservoirs for fungal spores has been recommended. For those who also have hatcheries, full disinfection of facilities, and egg and nauplii cleaning may prove beneficial. Increased production costs coupled a decline in market prices and reduced production will inevitably hit impacted aquaculturalists’ margins, though to what extent remains to be seen.

EHP is not the only shrimp disease to have impacted Indian aquaculturalists – though not all impacts have been negative. Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS – also known as acute hepatopancreatic necrosis syndrome) is a bacterial disease transmitted orally to the shrimp.

EMS also impacts the hepatopancreas, but in addition causes toxins to be released resulting in organ collapse and rapid mortality. In 2013 EMS hit shrimp farms across Asia including those in Thailand, whilst India remained EMS free. With global shrimp supply down, prices rose. India was in the perfect position to capitalise. India’s shrimp exports increased by 90 per cent that year.

Unfortunately at the beginning of this year (2015), concerns were raised over the occurrence of what has been referred to as Running Mortality Syndrome (RMS) impacting whiteleg shrimp aquaculturalists in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

The disease appears similar to EMS, though mortality occurs much later in the cultivation. Little is known about the disease at present. It is thought that it arose though the use of cheaper, locally-sourced broodstock instead of imported broodstock.

In April 2015 another disease - White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV), a lethal viral infection - was reported in several farms across the state of Kerala. This disease may have spread through the use of infected broodstock, but also as a result of more traditional aquaculture methods which do not allow as much environmental and water quality controls as many other farms across India. Like aquaculturalists impacted by EHP, a decline in production coupled with a decline in global market prices for shrimp is of serious concern for farmers.

Despite these difficulties, fisheries managers and aquaculturalists are still retaining an optimistic outlook for India’s shrimp aquaculture industry.

In October, the Andhra Pradesh fisheries department announced the introduction of six mobile disease diagnosis laboratories in the state to help combat diseases. At the same time, at a State-level workshop on ‘shrimp disease surveillance and capacity building measures’, India’s Commissioner of Fisheries, Ram Shankar Naik announced that foreign investment interest from Japan, China, the USA and others was continuing to build.

Sam Andrews

Sam Andrews
Freelance journalist

Samantha is a marine conservation biologist/ecologist. She holds an MSc in Marine Environmental Management, an Advanced Graduate Diploma (3/4 of a Masters) in Fisheries Management, and is currently undertaking a PhD focusing on marine spatial management for conservation and sustainable ocean use. She has worked closely alongside Government, NGOs, and the fishing industry to help improve the ways in which we interact with the ocean. When she is not doing science, she works as a marine science communicator.

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