Ecuador's shrimp producers are stepping up calls for authorities to protect them from a spike in organized crime that cost around $60 million (€54.4 million) in 2019 alone.

Producers reported more than 150 criminal actions against their property in 2019, including assault, robbery of shrimp, feed, supplies, equipment, boats and their engines.

Producers that can afford it are forking out for private security contracting, including the purchase of surveillance systems and infrared technology, but it has not been enough to thwart determined criminals or prevent them from becoming victims of criminal gangs involved in extortion.

Most worrying, Ecuadorian shrimp industry officials say, is a lack of response from the Ministries of Defense and Interior to provide sufficient security.

Producers want to see authorities break up organized gangs and the circle of the buying and selling stolen goods.

Trade groups and representatives from Guayas and El Oro provinces, which recorded the highest number of criminal incidents last year, were joined by others from Manabi, Esmeraldas and Santa Elena an at a recent summit meeting where they denounced the security situation as "unsustainable."

Organized crime costs Ecuador shrimp producers dearly. Jose Antonio Camposano president of CNA (third from left) speaks on the issue, along with, Telmo Romero second left, Miguel Uscocovich (second right) and Luis Alvarado (right). Photo: CNA

“We are sending a request to the President of the Republic, Lenin Moreno, to order the strengthening of the security policy in maritime, river and land areas in Ecuador. Economic, technological and personal resources are lacking to guarantee the security of our sector," said Jose Antonio Camposano, president of the National Chamber of Aquaculture trade body.

"Every day we record thefts of boats and raids on farms, so we request that urgent actions be taken to deal with organized crime efficiently.”

It is not uncommon in Ecuador for stolen goods to be offered back for sale to the original victims of crime or held as ransom for their safe return.

"We are being victims of extortion to recover stolen engines, there are many criminal gangs that are operating in the province and we are afraid to report for fear of reprisals" said Telmo Romero, from shrimp producers association APROCAM.

Shrimp producers want to see a 300 percent tax on the purchase of firearms and ammunition dropped and a relaxation of rules making it it difficult for them to carry weapons.

"We need the government to help us urgently,” Miguel Uscocovich, president of the shrimp association of the Sucre, Tosagua, Chone and San Vicente regions in Manabi province.

After petroleum, shrimp products are the country's most important earner with shipments reaching a record $3.65 billion (€3.31 billion) in 2019.