08 May 2019
Fewer Inputs, More Outputs – The Sustainability Case for Increasing Stocking Densities on Shrimp Farms
Written by Zach Stein

50% of the hectares in the world devoted to shrimp farming only produce 10% of the world’s farmed shrimp. These are the super extensive farms with very low stocking densities and very large ponds. What else could that land be used for? On such a large, low-density farm, what resources are required to produce one kilo of shrimp? Is there a positive correlation between shrimp stocking density and a farms sustainability footprint?

We explore these questions and more in this post.

Global Demand for Shrimp Will Only Rise

With the rising middle classes of seafood-loving countries in Asia, the demand for seafood as a whole and shrimp in particular is expected to continue to increase. How the farmed shrimp industry reacts to this ever-increasing demand will dictate the environmental and eventually financial sustainability of the industry.

The industry could fail to innovate and expand current practices, taking up more land that could be used for other purposes and operating them in less efficient manners. Or it can push to innovate on how existing farms can do more with less and expansions can be taken very strategically.

The answer is obviously far more complicated than the black and white illustration above and as of right now, both are occurring, but what we need is only the latter.

Maximize Existing Farms; Preserve Land

Given the youth of the shrimp industry, right now sustainability and efficiency go hand in hand. When efficiency goes up, sustainability of the industry does as well. Fewer inputs – less feed, less chemicals, fewer antibiotics, with greater outputs – faster growth rates, lower mortalities, higher stocking densities.  

The government of India has identified one million hectares of coastal land that could be converted to aquaculture ponds. We ask, why not hold onto that land and instead focus on improving the efficiency of existing farms, particularly in helping farmers increase their stocking densities?

We likely will always see a skew in terms of production per hectare up towards the hyper-intensive farms that are pushing the boundaries of what was previously thought as possible. But imagine if that half of hectares devoted to shrimp farming produced something closer to 25% of farmed shrimp. Can the industry’s upcoming growth come from already cultivated land?

Greater Sustainability = Greater Resource Efficiency

Furthermore, recent studies have showed the increased efficiencies that can be attained by farming in more intensive fashions. Simply put, the general trend is the more densely one farms, the fewer resources one used per kilo of shrimp raised. Even if we assume no change in growth rate or survival, this fact alone can have a huge impact on the overall sustainability of the industry.

The land the farm uses is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the resource impact of farmed shrimp. The land used to grow the wheat and soy used in the feed pellets. The fresh water that was used to irrigate that land. The fishmeal put into the feed. The less of these we can use per kilo of shrimp, the fewer embodied resources, the more efficient and thus sustainable the industry can be.

Conclusion

This should all be good news for farmers. While there are still ways where sustainability and economic efficiency are at odds on the farm (such as antibiotics usage and effluent treatment, to new a couple), improving these core aspects of a farms balance sheet will fundamentally improve its environmental footprint as well.

Bring on the intensification of shrimp and let’s see how sustainable the innovators of this industry can push it to be.