Mexico’s total shrimp production in 2007 was 178,000 tons. This total masks a significant trend in shrimping. The high-seas catch has declined since 1990 and less than a third of the total catch now comes from the 2100-vessel specialist shrimping fleet based in the port of Mazatlán. On the other hand, production of fish-farmed (“cultivated”) shrimp has risen sharply over the past 20 years and now accounts for almost 70% of total national production. In the past 24 months, fish-farmed shrimp have been hit by a serious disease, which has caused high mortality and a drop in production.
The main shrimp producing states are Sinaloa (520 shrimp farms; 35,000 hectares of shrimp ponds; 40% of cultivated shrimp production), Nayarit and Sonora (see map).
Catches of wild shrimp have been in decline. Shrimp fishermen are worried about the overfishing of shrimp stocks in shallow coastal waters, allegedly due to clandestine fishing by non-authorized boats. Pollution of coastal waters from agricultural chemicals is also a major concern. According to Adolfo Gracia Gasca, a researcher at UNAM’s Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (ICMyL), only two species of wild shrimp are NOT overexploited: the brown shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico, and the brown shrimp in the Pacific.
Among the many wild shrimp populations that have collapsed are the white and pink shrimps of the Gulf of Mexico. Catches of pink shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico declined from 10,000-12,000 metric tons a year in the 1980s to around 500 metric tons in recent years. Catches of white shrimp in the same area over the same period fell from 1,600 metric tons/year to less than 200 tons/year. The major problem has been the failure to enforce a closed season for shrimping during their main reproductive periods. On the Pacific coast (including the Sea of Cortés), shrimping resumed on 5 September 2014.
The Shrimp Trade
Shrimp exports are worth $360 million a year. Shrimp imports have risen sharply in the past two years as disease has reduced domestic production. Indeed, Mexico is currently having to import more frozen shrimp than it exports.
Mexico’s shrimp exports in the first half of 2014 were worth US $91.4 million, slightly down from 2013, while imports shot up 935% to $106.6 million. Mexico is importing shrimp from Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize.
As a consequence of Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS), the production of farmed shrimp dropped sharply between 2012 and 2013, but is expected to recover in 2015. EMS first appeared in 2009 in the southern part of China, and then spread to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. According to SAGARPA, the disease shows up in the first 20 to 30 days of life of the shrimp, and especially affects tiger (Penaeus monodon) and white (Litopenaeus vannamei) shrimp. The disease adversely impacted thousands of producers, with shrimp mortality rates as high as 98%.
The strain of EMS found in Mexico is very similar (but not identical) to the Asian strain. It is unclear how it arrived in Mexico and whether or not it was transferred across the Pacific.
The National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission (Comision Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca—CONAPESCA) sets the closed season for fishing and shrimping. In general, the closed season is timed to coincide with the shirmp’s summer breeding season.
What is being done about EMS?
Among the strategies being adopted to combat the adverse impact of EMS are research, provision of financing and limits on shrimp imports from infected regions.
In June 2013, a breakthrough in EMS research was reported, when investigators attached to Kinki University and the National Research Institute of Aquaculture in Japan showed that the disease repeatedly manifests itself in ponds where the pH levels are between 8.5 and 8.8.
Shrimp farmers have needed emergency financing to help them restock shrimp ponds. In 2013, fish farmers in Sinaloa received $75 million to help with shrimp production and exports.
In April 2013, Mexico’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Secretariat (SAGARPA) ordered the temporary suspension of shrimp imports originating from China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. The suspension included all tiger and white shrimp, whether live, raw, cooked, dehydrated or “in any presentation”. However, this strategy was criticized by international experts as “counterproductive”, given that there is no evidence for EMS being spread via dead shrimp.
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