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The Indian state setting a high bar for shrimp production

Industry veteran, who helped put the state of Gujarat on the shrimp map, has come up with a reduced risk, increased production system for shrimp in the country.

After 25 years in India's now burgeoning aquaculture industry, Manoj Sharma has strong views on the afflictions of the international shrimp farming industry. "People ask me 'What is the No. 1 disease challenge in the shrimp sector?' And I tell them it is greed."

Sharma has been an integral force in India's shrimp farming revolution, which has seen volumes explode from 80,000 metric tons at the turn of the century to today's 700,000 metric tons, making the country an international leader.

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Sharma's role has been in working with local farmers in Gujarat, India's westernmost state, north of Mumbai, to bring it from 4,000 metric tons production in 2001 to 60,000 metric tons in 2018. Today, the state contributes between 10 and 12 percent of India's shrimp production, but in terms of production per hectare and profitability, it is No. 1 Sharma tells IntraFish.

The secret to its success? Working in association.

After the whitespot virus decimated India's shrimp production in 2000, Gujarat's producers came together to source quality seed and feed, share farming practices with "strict biosecurity protocols" and take their product to market. Today Gujarat is home to 600 producers farming on 10,400 hectares with five processing plants in the region -- including one owned by WestCoast Seafood -- bringing product to market.

That market, until 2015, was primarily Europe and the United States. But now China is the state's No. 1 buyer, said Sharma. And they are paying between $0.20 and $0.50 per kilo more than other buyers, he told IntraFish.

"You'd be surprised," he said, but as he points out, China is a country that was producing 1.5 to 1.6 million tons of shrimp, but today, thanks to disease issues, is struggling to produce even half of that.

High-tech farm enables shorter production cycle

But Sharma's input into Indian shrimp farming doesn't stop there. He is also the man behind a new high-tech shrimp farm in the region that employs a novel three-phase culture system in order to reduce grow-out time and the biological risk associated with it, potentially enabling two to four farming cycles per year, compared to the single cycle most Indian producers manage.

Phase 1 sees five-day-old post larvae grown in 50-metric-ton biosecure land-based tanks. At 15 days these are transferred to 200-metric-ton tanks for a further 25 days, before the 40 day-old-post larvae are transferred to grow-out in the company's ponds.

Keeping the post-larvae in an entirely biosecure environment until they are 40 days old gives Mayank Aquaculture, Sharma's own production company, "100 percent" assurity that the shrimp are disease-free and will survive the reduced 60-day grow-out that is now needed to reach shrimp of harvestable, 22 to 25 gram size.

3a6d3033451d1e9a22f7ff2d25fd5d43 Dr Manoj Sharma on his Gujarat shrimp farm. Photo: Mayank Aquaculture

It goes against the traditions of stocking eight-day-old post larvae in ponds to be grown out for between 100 to 120 days, and with ponds only occupied for 60 days per cycle, enables 2-4 production cycles per year, said Sharma.

The system is designed to produce 14 metric tons per hectare, double the amount traditional farms produce on the same land. It reduces costs and risk at the same time.

The whole system is also completely integrated. Mayank uses its own probiotics, its own feed and own hatchery. Sharma also recently completed the supply line with the opening of the first in a chain of restaurants set up to sell the farm's product.

"I am educating [Indian] people to eat shrimp," said Sharma, who believes that exporting 95 percent of its product is not India's future.

"Look at China or Brazil. Brazil used to sell nearly all its shrimp to the United States. Now it has to import," said Sharma.

The future is bright

Sharma is hopeful about the future of Indian shrimp farming and says government commitment to a "blue revolution" -- Modi's government was the first to establish a ministry for aquaculture -- will help drive the sustainability of the sector.

"Soon we will see new production systems [across India] that will be far more biosecure and progressive," he told IntraFish.

With the introduction of vannamei into the country 10 years ago it has been a race to the bottom in terms of intensification, but Sharma is convinced there will be a natural correction, with an increase once again in the production of black tiger, which only survives in much lower stocking densities.

In Sharma's words, "black will be back."

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