The Whiteleg Shrimp: Aquaculture’s New Found Star
Aquaculture expert Victor Emmanuel J. Estilo talks about the science of raising Litopenaeus vannamei and the overall status of the Philippine shrimp industry.
Seafood lovers all over the world are always on a roll whenever they talk about the whiteleg shrimp. Scientifically called Litopenaeus vannamei, and also known as the Pacific white shrimp, these expensive and exotic shrimps are the main stuff of some of the world’s most fantastic culinary dishes.
Once banned for many years in the country because of the outbreak of the white spot disease, vannamei raising experienced a renaissance of sorts in 2007 and has been called aquaculture’s newfound star. The shrimp, which is native to the Eastern coast from Mexico all the way to Central and South America, is now making headway in the country although fishery experts admit we have been a late bloomer in vannamei farming.
From 1995 to 2005, PT. Wachyuni Mandira, the largest shrimp company in the world, which is located in Sumatra, Indonesia hired the services of a Filipino to be its senior management for operations and later head its Research and Development team. Victor Emmanuel J. Estilo, a native of Iloilo, holds a BS and MS degrees in Inland Fisheries from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas. With over 3o years in aquaculture experience, Estilo’s expertise in pond production management of Litopenaeus vannamei and other fish and aquaculture species has made him a much sought after consultant in the field of vannamei raising. Today, he is the manager of the technical marketing of Hoc Po Feeds, one of the major aquaculture feed companies in the Philippines.
We recently talked to Mr. Victor Estilo where he shared with us his expertise, knowledge and insights on the science of raising the precious vannamei and the overall status of our country’s shrimp industry.
How much vannamei are we growing in the country?
Practically almost all the vannamei goes to the Malabon fish market. And it is sold as fresh or chilled. Most of the shrimps are grown in Luzon.
There are those coming from Bacolod. In our farm there, we have around too hectares. We also have large growers of shrimps in Batangas, Zambales and then parts of Pampanga. A lot of traditional farmers grow tilapia and add vannamei as a side product. The volume of production of vannamei on a regular day is around 10-12 tons a night. Our lowest production is about 1-2 tons a night. So if we compute, let’s say we average about five tons a night, that’s about 15,000 to 20,000 tons a year.
Are we at par with other countries when it comes to vannamei production?
Unfortunately not. The biggest is China because of its sheer size and its good export system. Thailand is second. They are producing about 200,000 tons per year. For the Philippines, we’ve joined the group of countries growing vannamei quite late. The world price of shrimps has slowly declined when we entered into the picture so we cannot compete.
Is it easy to grow vannamei?
If you ask me, I find it easier to grow vannamei compared to sugpo. One of the reasons is that the fry that we are using are pathogen-free fry. That already is a very big advantage compared to sugpo.
Where do the vannamei farmers get their fingerlings and fry?
It comes from two types of hatcheries. One is accredited meaning they are only breeding the imported good stocks. You have to understand that vannamei is noindemic to our country. This comes from Central America—Ecuador to be specific. These hatcheries import good stocks. These good stocks come from certified breeding centers. The Fisheries Adminitrative Production sets the guidelines.
So there are seven production centers where farmers can buy the broodstocks. These are the clean ones…The fry are what we call the SPF—Specific Pathogen Free. You’re assured that unless your fry are not going to be contaminated, it won’t get the whitespot disease. In fact, SPF means its pathogen-free for seven types of viral diseases. So that’s a big advantage and that is what is being produced by the accredited hatcheries. But there are also those unaccredited hatcheries, vananamei being very easy to breed. And we have been advising farmers not to patronize this.
Tell us about this white spot disease…
The white spot disease in shrimp is just like the AIDS virus in humans. There’s no cure for that yet. It’s a viral disease and can be easily transmitted. Once a farm gets infected, the other ponds get contaminated very fast. But we already know how to handle that. We have biosecurity measures. Like AIDS, you prevent the transmittal of the virus from one carrier to the other. In the case of white spot, we prevent the carrier from getting infected.
Does the white spot disease affect humans who consume the contaminated vannamei?
No, they are not pathogens for humans. We don’t get affected. You have to understand that there are more than ten viruses infecting vannamei. The white spot is the worst. There’s also the Taura syndrome virus. It’s named after a river in Ecuador. That wiped out the vannamei industry in that country. And then there’s also the IMMV—infectious myomicropic virus. That wiped out the shrimp industry of Indonesia. So, it’s really dangerous if you buy your fingerlings or fry from unaccredited hatcheries.
How long does it take for vannamei to grow to its harvestable size?
The length of time would depend on the weather. If it’s cold, the growth is slower. If the water is not clean and lacks the required oxygen, the growth is affected also. But under normal conditions, a 10-gram shrimp would take you 70 days up to 120 days to grow. It also depends on the density. If you raise vannamei at 5o pieces per square meter, the growth will be faster compared to raising them at 150 pieces per square meter.
How frequent do you feed the vannamei?
We’re using single pellets and the frequency of feeding is between four and five times per day. We do five times feeding. One is at seven in the morning, then we do the rest of the feeding at 11am, 2 pm, 7 pm and 11 pm. We do the broadcast method in feeding.
Let’s talk about investment. If I have around Php2M, is that enough for me to operate a one-hectare shrimp farm?
It really depends on a lot of things. If you have to build your pond from the ground up, and you have to buy the fry and pay your electric bill, then probably yes or it could cost more. Our estimate is for every kilo of shrimp that you produce, you’d spend around Php150. So going by that logic, one ton would be Php150,000. So ten tons would be Php1.5 million—that’s for a hectare of shrimp pond.
What comprises the production cost?
Around 40% to 50% goes to feeds. Second is the power and third is the fry. We buy the fry at 18 cents each. But then you have to fly and ship it to Manila so it becomes expensive.
How much does whitleleg shrimp cost in the market today?
Yesterday, I saw it sold in the supermarket in Megamall and it’s expensive—Php425 per kilo (the interview was done in early February, 2010—ED)
Do you have any idea how many vannamei growers are there in the country now?
I can name you the big ones. There were 33 of them who wecall the major shrimp growers. Plus the landed fish farm operators who are growing shrimps in what we call “the-stock-andforget-system..they grow and harvest tilapia at the same time. In General Santos City, there are seven big growers there. Bacolod, about 5o and they’re growing anywhere between 5 and 50 hectares.
Are there also a growing number of backyard raisers raising vannamei?
I know of a group in Antipolo. They raise shrimps using an intensive facility. 25,000 fry in I think 5o cubic meters. I wasn’t able to monitor what happened to them. But there are techniques in doing that. One is what we call the microbial dominated environment. You have microbes in the water. It’s very different from the traditional way of raising shrimps. We’re partly doing that in our farm. We use bacteria to clean the environment, to remove toxic substances, to improve the resistance in the organism and to improve the different metabolic processes.
What’s the marketing system for shrimps?
One method is to bring the shrimps to Malabon. There are consignations there. They would sell the shrimps for you, and then they collect 5%. Call them and say I’ll have to tons tonight and they’ll wait for you. The other method is ex-farm. The traders will go to your farm, sample your shrimps, and they would quote a price. These are like the baculeras in tilapia. The advantage of this is that the growers need not bother about the tracking, the ice, etc. But of course the price is lower with the consignations.
What would make us compete in the shrimp world market?
Bring down the cost of the fry and the cost of energy. If energy goes down, the cost of feeds will go down. Because raw materials that are being imported, you cannot dictate the prices of these. We import fishmeal. We have a local fishmeal industry but sadly, it is not a very good grade fishmeal. Crustaceans need a much better quality fishmeal. We also import soybean and the other components—copra meal, cassava meal, etc. But those other ingredients are imported.
What do you think is needed to improve our industry?
What we have now is the local market for shrimps. If we can improve the per capita consumption of shrimps and just target 10% of the households in the Philippines, that’s already a very significant volume. The per capita consumption of shrimps is very low—less than to kilos per year. If our consumption averages at 10 kilos per year, per person and we target 10% of our households…let’s say 80 million. Ten percent of that is 8 million. So at to kilos that’s already 80 million kilos.
For more information about the whiteleg shrimp, you can contact Mr. Victor Estilo at email@example.com
By Ronald G. Mangubat