INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT - Claude E. Boyd Interview #2

Dr. Claude E. Boyd is a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures at Auburn University, Alabama.


Could you speak about overall trends in terms of shrimp aquaculture that you are aware of?

I think the problem is that the market has changed. In 1997 all the concern was about the environmental impacts and possibly some of the soap impacts. Now there's a lot more concern over the quality of the product and that there's been some antibiotics used in some countries. They have shown up in the shrimp in Europe. So, everybody producing shrimp is very concerned.

The environmental and social issue still exists, but they are not concrete issues. As far as the price of the shrimp, it is low and I think that's partly because there's more production of shrimp. I think anything produced more and more, especially as they get more efficient at producing it, will bring the price down.

The farmers certainly don't see the price going down, but I suspect in some parts of the world they have probably become more efficient at producing the shrimp. As for the good of the shrimp on the market, I really don't know how to address that one because the economy is somewhat depressed worldwide and I suspect that has something to do with it.

In overall trends, despite the fact that the price is dropping, is there still a growth phase? Where is that happening?

There are places where shrimp is still growing. Certainly in Brazil there's been quite a lot of growth. Madagascar has become one of the shrimp producing countries and there's some growth there. I believe there are several other places in Africa that have tried and developed shrimp farming. There are other places where the shrimp production has declined, such as in Ecuador. This may be because of the disease problem. They were probably over built there. When it comes back, it might not cover as much of an area.

I'd like to see them intensify the production more and use this area. I suspect that in the future you might see some of this because of the disease problems. They've had to close the systems and in some places somewhat more intensely, so they could produce the same number of shrimp as the land here involved.

Do you know anything about the industry in China?

I haven't been to the part of China, recently, where they're producing the shrimp in saline water. Now I was around Shanghai last year where they're doing a lot of the inland shrimp culture and where they are growing them in nearly fresh water. That was all for the local market, I think. China has drawn a lot, and I have heard that they have overtaken Thailand in the market. What I've seen in China, their practices are not as good as in some other parts of the world.

The environmental problems there can be expected to be an issue. I assume that somebody there is aware of this and working on it. I know for the fresh water culture of the marine shrimp, they add a little saltwater. The people who took me around were from the government, and they were aware of the potential pollution problems and sterilization problems. They seemed to be setting up some programs to try to prevent these. China is a very big place and it's difficult to know exactly what's going on there. It certainly has had a lot of growth.

What would you say are some of the big advances in shrimp farming since we last spoke in 1997?

I think that you know since we talked, probably one of the major advances has been the development of better practices in general for producing shrimp. I think the industry, at least the organized part of the industry that works through associations, has had some contact with the outside world. There are some places where very small producers produce shrimp in the organized shrimp farming industry.

There have been quite a lot of discussions about the use of better practices, explanations of why this is necessary, and concerns for the producers of what's going to happen in the market. So, I think they have adopted somewhat better practices.

Specifically, I think one of the best things they've done is to produce the rootstock on the farm. That's been done in some places where they don't have to catch them from the sea. They're developing these strains, so when they leave the hatchery, they're free of disease. They can get it out in the pond if the production is not good.

There is a general awareness that they shouldn't be using antibiotics. This is a big concern. In fact, there has been quite a bit of improvement in the degree that the producers are aware of the harm that they do to the environment or the effect of some problems with the market. So, they're trying to do better.

To what degree does foreign investment play a role in the growth of the industry?

I don't really know how to answer this well. In Asia, you'd find very little money from the West in those shrimp farms. You might find a few there, but it would be very little. In South and Central America, you can find some places where there's investment from North America. In South America, for example, the local people in their own countries do the biggest part of the shrimp farming.

How about in terms of the bigger companies there? Which transnational corporations are involved?

A lot of the big buyers represent large groups who handle halibut, most of the food in Europe and US, although very few companies are represented. There are many players and there are some big farms up to several thousand hectors in some places. There is no single company controlling the shrimp industry that I know of, in any particular country. Even in the smaller countries like Madagascar there are several shrimp farms, but they have several different owners. It's the same way in Central and South America.

Those different owners, are they from the local costal communities?

You'd find that few owners of the big shrimp farms are natives of the exact area where they're farming. They usually come from somewhere else. Some of them may have been in agriculture before and branched into shrimp farming. But I doubt, at least for the big farms, that you'd find many native owners from the exact place where the farm is located. They might be native of the state, or something they start in, but not the area.

What are the biggest problems facing shrimp farming aquaculture?

Right now, the biggest problem in some countries at least is the concern over the chloramphenicols and the nitro. I think in developing the farm raised rootstock, they're not dependant on the stocks from the ocean. This is a major issue. I don't think the shrimp farming industry could ever be considered a mature industry because of this. Also, in some areas of the world they've caught a lot of groups. It's hard to get them now, and they're more expensive. So, I think the key is to close this cycle and produce the rootstock on the farm.

They should work towards intensifying production, maybe not to extremely high levels, but the existence of shrimp farming has very low density, which causes problems in the long run. Farms don't have to be what you'd call intensive. It ought to be done where they produce shrimp using feed instead of having a large pond where they're using the natural productivity.

I don't know. I don't have statistics on that but I suspect shrimp aquaculture is similar to other kinds of agriculture where you know you'll find that maybe 80 or 90% of the production comes from 10 or 20% of the production area. This is pretty common. Many times, it's these people that are contributing very little to the production. That causes an awful lot of problems. There are various reasons for that.

Can you explain how stocking densities relates to "intensification" and the use of antibiotics such as chloramphenicols and nitrofuran?

If it's managed properly, the larvae that are disease free operate this system without bringing in water from the outside. They can operate that culture without necessarily having a disease problem. It's like any intensive animal agriculture. If they get them crowded, if they're careless, and if the disease is present; then it's going to cause a big problem.

There are advantages of both types. The very extensive shrimp farming and even semi-intensive shrimp farming that we've done in some areas, we've had to bring water in from outside. Even though they weren't stocking at very high densities they could stock disease free shrimp in these ponds. Sometimes during the crop, if they brought in water from the outside, they could introduce disease.

Are sedimentation basins a strategy that is still thought of as a viable solution to the problem?

Sedimentation basins are still encouraged. In some places, they encourage sedimentation basins for the water coming into the farm. They put it into the ponds and then reticulate the water. Then, they can run it back through that basin. The sedimentation basins are a good idea to improve the quality of the water that you discharge.

It doesn't necessarily help with the disease problem, but it does help remove suspended solvents. In most aquaculture implements, suspended solvents are one of the major issues. So, if you can settle the solvents out, you can improve the water. You not only reduce the turbidity, all the suspended metal and particles, but you reduce the phosphorous concentration in the water. So, it has benefits. A lot of farms use it, but a lot of farms don't use it, as well.

New laws in Thailand tell farmers to scrape the black stuff off of the surface of the bottom of their ponds, and mud lies along ledges sitting right beside their intake waters. Is this effective?

I doubt if they are accomplishing anything. What should be done with the intakes is dry the bottom out and put that sediment back into the embankments in the pump. This process erodes and compacts it. The pond should be built so the embankments don't erode so much. Many build them steep. This is stuff that's been around for years. It's been presented many times.

Some farmers will listen and some won't. In Thailand, they are very small producers and they have a very limited amount of land to control for growing those shrimp. If they make the embankments wider or if they devote an area for this or other purposes, they are taking production area out. So, it's hard to convince a farmer to create a production area like this.

Some of the progressive producers realize it's beneficial. It's an education problem. Somebody needs to explain to them that even though they may be taking some area out of production that it's beneficial, in the long run. It makes it more sustainable, profitable. Removing that sediment out and disposing it, I'd say is a bad practice.

We were on the coast in Son Blanch province. The farmers seemed to be aware that they were bringing in viruses since everyone's outflow was going near shore waters. Yet, they're taking water from the shore waters and putting it in their ponds. Is that self-defeating? How can they get out of that cycle?

I don't know. There are some places where they just have too many shrimp farms in the same location. There is a limit to how many you can put there. I suspect in that particular area they exceeded the limit. What's going to happen is the ones that are more progressive and handle the problems better will improve and some of the others, as they fear, will go out of business. It isn't a good practice to mix the discharge water with the water supply.

What is the concern with probiotics?

It's a big thing in Asia and it's spread to South America. We've done many experiments with it over the years. I know it came here probably 25 years ago and it stayed in this culture. We never found any kind of probiotics that caused any improvement in water quality or bottom soil quality. We've run many experiments and so have people in the U.S. We have never seen a single benefit. We have run these experiments, and we can't explain why, but in a couple of experiments we saw better survival of the fish when we used the probiotics.

I've talked to the fish disease people and they can't give me a satisfactory reason. So, it's possible they might improve survival, certain types of probiotics, but we've really never seen much benefit on the soil and water quality. You really wouldn't expect it to be because these are just ordinary bacteria that are everywhere in nature, so when you put them in the pond they are just going in there with the same types of bacteria. So, there may be some benefit with probiotics on survival of shrimp but probably not on soil and water quality. It's very expensive. If they're not making money they are not liable to do this, but when the profits are better they will try anything.

We ran into a coop, and they had bubble machines that stirred up the sediment. Do you know anything about these bubble machines?

I might be familiar with them, but I'm not quite sure what they are. If you could suspend all of the organic matter that is in the water and maintain it in suspension, then it will decompose much better because it will be aerobic; there will be oxygen around it. When it settles into a pile, then it becomes anaerobic inside because there is no oxygen. So when it decomposes, it releases a lot of toxic microbial product.

If you can suspend it in the water and maintain oxygen around it, then it's in much better condition. So if that's what it's doing then that should work. That's what they do in waste-water treatment ponds. You know, activated sledge ponds? They keep that all suspended. That's what we would like to have them do. The problem is that with conventional aeration, a lot of times you suspend the organic particles and mineral particles together. Then, they go out in the middle of the pond and they settle and make that big mound of black stuff that you were talking about earlier.

People in the coop said their stocking rates were lower than in Southern Thailand. What about the relationship between disease and stocking density?

You can have a lot of stocking with different densities and grow the shrimp successfully. I don't know what's the best one but if you go to extremely high densities you have to put in a lot or aeration. Which results in a lot of sediment suspended. If you go to extremely high densities you have to line the pond with plastic so that you don't have the soil in it. Then, you can put aeration in there and reach high densities. When you are doing it in an urban lined pond it is probably difficult to go beyond about 5 tons per hectare.

They're probably not going to stock over 30 or 40 at the most. Even so, you need plenty of aeration and you need to manage it. It's probably easier when you go to 25 or 30. When you have no aeration you can go up to around 2 tons per hectare, but you're probably going to have some water exchange there. So, there's a management procedure at each one of those densities that would allow you to be successful. The problem is when you go to the high density and don't install the management that's necessary at that density. You try to use the management for a lower density pond. Then you run into a lot of problems.

Could a scenario like that happen in Thailand?

This wouldn't happen again. What happened in Taiwan, well, it's more complicated than just diseases wiping them out. The diseases came in and caused a big problem. I think probably about '88 or '87. They reach a peak of about 70,000 tons of shrimp per year. Then, the next year it was down to about 20 or 30 thousand tons. It was a tremendous collapse and it was because of disease, apparently. Some people laid it on pollution but disease was involved.

In Taiwan, there is a big demand for all kinds of fish to serve in the restaurants. They were able to just switch over and start growing these fish and make a lot of money. They grew a lot of different kinds of fish there. Some of these have traditional meaning in the Chinese culture. When I was there, it had just collapsed and I wondered why they were going into that fish. They were farming all kinds of fish. The fellow who was carrying me around from the University in Taipei was explaining to me that if they could grow these fish they could sell them in the local restaurants.

It worked out that way and a lot of these people went from problems in shrimp farming to fish culture, rather than solving the problems in the shrimp culture. There is still some shrimp culture there, but it's a little different than what you'd normally think. A lot of places where they're growing shrimp, there's probably not the opportunity to do that, so if the shrimp farming collapsed, I'm not sure they could go to another species. Although, some of the farmers in Ecuador that had so much trouble with shrimp farming did swap and are doing reasonably well now. I believe they are growing Tilapia.

Is that a potential problem in Vietnam now too?

There are some big shrimp farms in Vietnam. I've been to one or two, but there are mostly small farms as in Thailand. Now, there is something interesting in Vietnam right now because they have a very extensive shrimp culture. It's not high stocking density and the people that want organically certified shrimp want shrimps produced under those densities. So, there's a lot of interest in that country now producing organically certified shrimp for the European market. There is also a lot of interest in that in Thailand.

There was a conference in May or June on organic shrimp. In Bangladesh, it's all run by the small producers. Brazil has mostly larger farms, but there are some small producers there too. There's a greater awareness of the environment in Brazil. The government is already discussing things that the shrimp farmers need to do there. I think there is more general awareness of environmental stewardship there than in Vietnam and in Bangladesh. There are more small producers in Vietnam and Bangladesh than you'll find in Brazil.

How can Vietnam, which has mostly small producers, not repeat the same problems faced by Thailand?

If it's a big organization they can hire somebody to go in and take care of their environmental audit and monitoring and make sure people on the farm are doing things right. Especially if they must abide by regulations. Just like a company in the U.S., a big company will have an environmental manager. These kinds of farms can hire somebody. The small farms are doing the same thing, just on a smaller scale. If the owner is not educated, then it's very difficult.

This is a big problem, and it's trying to teach the producers good practices. However, it's particularly challenging to take the very small producers that are, technically, not very sophisticated and teach them to have an environmental ethic. Then, teach them some way, somehow to do the production in a way that is environmentally responsible. That's very difficult.

With the big producers, even if they don't agree that they should do it, and if they know they have to do it, they'll hire somebody to do it. The government regulation can, or regulations of an importing country can, have a bigger effect on them. But, with these small producers, they might not even understand why they need to do it. The governments in Vietnam or Bangladesh don't have the manpower to go out and check on all of the small producers.

Has the shrimp aquaculture been positive for coastal communities, in places like Thailand, or does it contribute problems?

In the short-term view, it creates jobs, and there are farmers there that are growing shrimp that have been successful. They are doing a lot better now than they were before. Some countries have benefited from it much more than other countries. However, when they have a problem and everything collapses then there is an economic problem. This can happen with anything, though, it's not just shrimp farming. Look at the airline industry in the U.S. They claim to be having a lot of problems. Any industry has a lot of problems.

I'm not sure the fish are disappearing simply because of shrimp farming, because you know there are a lot of other activities in Thailand. But, the fish catch is probably declining. I've had several raises in my life and every time I get a raise I spend more money; this is human nature. Whether it's good or bad, I don't know, but the way the economy is now, if we stop spending, if we reduce our expenditures by 10%, we have a major impact on the global economy.
Everything has become so interconnected. We're going forward and changing. I'm sure a lot of people would like to go back, and it may have been better in a lot of ways, but we're just kind of stuck in it and we have to go the way the world goes. But, I would agree that you probably spend more money when you make more money, and may not realize much from it. I'm not familiar with that, but I do know that in some countries, conversion of mangroves has drastically declined, but I don't know about that particular situation.

Can you speak a little about why, in your view, that needs to change?

One thing is if they catch too many of those it will cause competition, which could cause a decline in the local shrimp fishery. Another reason is the shrimp need to be of some vantage so you can tell where they come from. If you produce them on the farm, you should be able to trace them back to a certain strain of shrimp. To really improve the shrimp, not these genetically modified organisms but rather improving them through breeding programs, you need some lines of shrimp that you know where they came from and something about their history.

Livestock producers are not going out and catching the broodstock in the wild anymore. They have domesticated animals. So, the shrimp need to be investigated. They need to be based on domesticated stock. One thing is to conserve the natural shrimp populations but also to give a more dependable supply where they're not at the whims of the cycles of nature. For instance, some years there are more broodstock than others. Finally, by having a broodstock they know more about, they're in a better position to develop a better shrimp. The good breeding programs, just not the genetically modified ones, that's a different issue.

To what degree is the industry developing these programs and to what degree are they still depending on the wild stock?

There's an awful lot of talk about this. There are a lot of people that have done it. You can find individual farms, progressive farms, that have gone over almost totally to the farmed broodstock. But on the other hand, there's still a lot of use of the wild broodstock. In terms of percentage, I really don't know. Nearly half of the industry has gone to the farm-raised broodstock. Much more than half of it still uses wild caught.

Has most of the industry switched to hatcheries?

There's still some wild caught shrimp larvae used. The amount has declined because of the fear of the disease, and people wanted to be able to control the disease better. That can be achieved when you use the animals from the hatchery. There is some wild caught larvae used, however it is declining.

There are lawsuits about environmental issues that can get two equally respected scientists to come in and testify who have completely divergent ideas. Facts can be twisted. You can just interpret them in the way that's the most favorable to your cause. We see that. We see the environmentalists taking the information and putting their twist on it and trying to show the worst case. We see people from aquaculture taking it and trying to show the best case. There is no doubt in my mind that that is what's going on.

The truth is somewhere in-between. The catfish industry in the U.S. is a good example of what can be done. In the 1960's when I first started to work, the catfish feed was about 44% crude protein and it contained about 12-14% fishmeal. Today that feed is about 22% crude protein and it's about 1 or 2% fishmeal. This has resulted from research. Not only has this reduced the fishmeal content of the feed, but it's reduced the price. The profit in catfish today is probably about equal to the amount of savings that was in that feed.

If they didn't do that, they probably would not have been able to grow catfish successfully. It wasn't an environmental issue really, but it solved an environmental problem just the same. The fishmeal is a real issue, because the world's population has grown. The wild fishery is not doing well now. Aquaculture, I'm not sure exactly what percentage it makes up - different people give different numbers - but it's well over 20% of the world fisheries production.

A lot of it's based on feed, and a lot of this feed has fishmeal in it. Fishmeal represents part of the catch of the oceans, so anything we can do to reduce the fishmeal content in the feed is a positive thing. That's not to say though we shouldn't use fishmeal in feeds. There is still a place for them. I don't think there has been real convincing evidence that the fishmeal fisheries are overfished. There is also a lot of information around. They've never found any way to really convert those fish that they make fishmeal from into a food directly for humans.

So, it goes into animal feed, and there is a world market for it. Right now, I'm not sure there's a problem. But, I can conceive in the future that if aquaculture increases a lot and it depends on a lot of fishmeal it could be a problem in the future. We not only need to reduce fishmeal content, but also take some of the phosphorus out of the feed which will help the environment.

What is the future for shrimp aquaculture. Will it go indoors?

Anything I say about this someone may take as offensive. Those indoor systems are just a way to get money from the investors. I don't think that will ever be very successful. The very intensive systems that some people have operated successfully may be so complex that not everybody can run them. But who knows what is going to happen in the future, we may end up with those super intensive systems. Those line ponds and all the aeration they produce.

My guess is it's going to be basically like we see it now with using less water exchange and possibly a lot of the marginal producers falling out because of the lower prices. I hate to say that that's a good thing because someone's loosing their livelihood. From an environmental standpoint, that's probably a good thing because those marginal producers were probably causing a disproportionate amount of damage for each unit of production.

We'll see some consolidation in some countries possibly, some intensification. What's going to happen is that somebody is going to succeed with coming up with one of these certification programs, the aquaculture certification council of the GAA, have a program which has a potential for being used by a lot of people.

There are some other groups interested in making these. It's possible that we will see a lot of these shrimp that have been produced by these procedures that allow them to sell them under an eco label, or some type of label. There'll be some kind of inspection to verify that the shrimp were actually produced that way. The buyers may demand this because of the antibiotic residues. If they had everybody producing like that, they'd be more certain of getting shrimp that didn't have the residues. This would result in better practices being used.

What's your sense on certification?

Right now most of the programs are being developed by the industry. The industry's very reluctant to bring in the environmentalist, but I think they must. The environmentalist cannot develop a program. They have to have somebody produce those shrimp. I doubt that they can get the producers to buy into their program. On the other hand, if the industry makes the program, I don't think they can get the environmentalists to buy into it, and so they're going to cause a lot of opposition to it in the market place. They are going to be forced to work together.

It sounds like the marketplace is going to drive the industry in a sustainable direction. What are your thoughts about that?

It will in the long run. People are becoming more environmentally aware and as they do they want a product that's produced in an environmentally responsible way. The big issues right now, though, are that people are afraid of various things in their food supply. I'd argue that the food supply is the safest it's ever been in the history of mankind. But, people are willing to take very small risks now. They get very upset over something that might be in their food. It's a bigger issue, now, even bigger than the environmental issue. You can tie the two together. In order to not use the antibiotics, you need to produce the shrimp by a method where they're not going to get sick and need the antibiotics, so they definitely are connected.

How important is aquaculture to world food security?

It depends on whose estimate you look at, but in 50 years the world population is probably going to be between 9 and 10 billion. Assuming they're going to continue to eat fish in the same amount that they're eating them now, there's going to be a lot more fish, and they're not going to come from the ocean. If they don't come from aquaculture where are they going to come from? This is where the fishmeal thing comes in. You probably can't get all the fishmeal from those either so they're going to have to develop better feeds. I think it's obvious, if the world population continues to increase, aquaculture will have to continue to increase if people are going to continue to eat fish in the same proportions that they have in the past.

What's the role of shrimp aquaculture in world food security?

People want to eat shrimp. It's the same way. You don't have to have major league baseball or professional football, but people watch it. So they support it, but it's completely unessential to the society, I suppose. I guess shrimp could be looked at along those lines. It's not a staple in anybody's diet but people like to eat it, so they'll buy it. It's the same way with salmon. It gives variety in life, and people are going to buy it. I don't see anything myself that's a matter of producing it for people who want it. Although from the standpoint of food security, it's not going to feed a lot of starving people, that's for sure. If we're just going to get down to the basic requirements for human life, we could eliminate an awful lot of things, and most people really don't want to live that way.

What's the future role of genetically modified fish?

Genetically modified organisms are very important in agriculture in the US, it's not so important in Europe as you know. But here, it's quite important. I assume that these things will continue to be important. To feed the world, we may have to go to them. I don't know. There are a lot of things said about them. You particularly get into a lot of this science that's voodoo science, I believe. You get into a lot of that with the genetics on both sides. It's a little early to tell where that's going, but I would assume that some of those things are going to turn out to be legitimate aquacultural products that will be important in the future. There are some of them that are going to fall to the wayside for some reason. It certainly pays to investigate these things, and not just to depend on them totally, but I believe that's going to be done, cause there's a lot of opposition to it right now.

Are they going to genetically modify shrimp?

I don't know. I don't get involved in the shrimp. There is a lot of shrimp breeding going on, but as far as whether there's any that are genetically modified, well, it just crosses most of it I've seen. But somebody may be doing that.

What's the future of aqua culture? How important is it to this planet?

Aquaculture is essential to this planet if people are going to eat fish as products at the same proportion to their diet as they do today. The oceans are not going to supply it. Unless for some reason, the population numbers decline, but I don't see how that will happen.

Are the problems with aquaculture solvable? Does the future look bright?

It's always hard to predict a future, there are a lot of people that are somewhat negative about aquaculture that's done on land. They think that it'll all go out to the sea and be out of the immediate coastal zone but out into the deeper water. There probably will be a great increase in that. People going into aquaculture in this country have done aquaculture because it provided good returns. For example, the catfish provided good returns when the other kinds of aquaculture were having declining returns.

Now the catfish industry has become very big, and the profits aren't nearly as good as they were when it was a niche product. Wherever it's done, the profits from it are going to get smaller, so only the efficient producers are going to be able to do it. American agriculture is not very profitable. We could probably just not produce any food in this country and bring it all in from overseas, and do quite well. But the people and the government are not going to allow that to happen. So, we're going to keep aquaculture-I mean agriculture-going in the US in some way. We are going to see a lot of changes because a lot of things are just not as profitable as they used to be.