By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor
The shrimp industry in Belize is on its way to recovery from a bacterial disease which threatened the industry in March last year.. The impacts were at first confined, but extremely high temperatures caused the bacteria to spread across all but one farm. .
Alvin Henderson, President of the Belize Shrimp Growers Association, told the Reporter newspaper this week that since the outbreak, the Belize Shrimp Growers Association, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) and the Ministry of Agriculture have teamed up to identify the source of the infection and to develop an appropriate strategic response.
“The industry is still in the early stage of rolling out a plan based on a three-pronged strategy: genetic improvement; biological control; and a change in farm management practices,” Henderson said.
The recovery should have been fully realized by this time, but Henderson explained that there has been some delay in restocking the farms. While stakeholders have been able to improve the genetic stock,he said, production from this new genetic material has not been sufficient to replenish depleted stocks. The industry should be back to full operational and production capacity by June, the latest, Henderson said.
The disease dealt a severe blow to the industry, with losses in the area of 30 percent. “Industry earnings went from near to $90 million in 2014 to close to $60 million,” Henderson revealed.
There was little expectation that this bacterial disease would have impacted Belize so severely, Henderson pointed out, despite its detection on farms on the Pacific side of Central America and Mexico, because it had not been seen on shrimp farms in this part of the hemisphere.
Belize has done a lot over the years to avoid these types of outbreaks in the shrimp industry, by means of a bio-security program with strict protocols that industry players must adhere to when importing new genetic material. A testament to these good practices is Belize low record of new diseases affecting the industry .
The the last bacterial outbreak occurred almost 14 years in 2001, when the Taura Syndrome Virus (TSV) depleted shrimp stocks.
As the industry gets ready to make a full recovery, it also has done a lot of work to broaden its market access, marketing its shrimp to the US, Canada, England, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, among others.
In April 2015, eight of the farms in the industry, representing more than 90 percent of the industry’s production, were certified under the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s label (ASC).
This certification places Belize in a stronger position as she markets her production globally.
“The ASC label recognizes Belize for the tremendous effort that it has made in acting in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable way,” Henderson said.