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Asia—Riving Freshwater Prawn Farming



Giant Prawn 2017 (Bangkok, Thailand, March 2017), organized by Michael New, a consultant in the United Kingdom, and Dr. K.R. Salin, an assistant professor at the Asian Institute of Technology, brought prawn specialists from around the world together to discuss the present status and future prospects of freshwater prawn farming.


The four-day conference, attended by 150 participants from 22 countries, was preceded by a two-day workshop, attended by 25 participants from 15 countries.  The workshop covered hatchery production and improving efficiency and survival.  During the conference, it was clear that the malaise in giant prawn farming starts with at hatchery and nursery stages.


Asia’s agro-multinational Charoen Pokphand Public Foods Limited (CPF), the platinum sponsor of Giant Prawn 2017, fully recognizes the potential for freshwater prawn farming in Asia.  CPF is very active in the promotion of prawn farming in Asia and provides seedstock, feeds and technical assistance to farmers.  Other sponsors included Thailand-based Bio-Active, Co., Ltd., and l&V Bio, NACA, China-based Nutriera and India’s Ananda Group.



Industry Problems


Two decades ago, the giant freshwater prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) was the darling of aquaculture in Asia, alongside the marine shrimp (Penaeus monodon).  Total production of freshwater prawns (all Macrobrachium species) in 2014 was 217,000 metric tons, valued at $1.2 billion.  China led the world in freshwater prawn production with 127,000 tons, mostly from the oriental prawn M. nipponense.  Next was Bangladesh at 45,000 tons, producing mainly M. rosenbergii.  In general, aside from China and Bangladesh, other producing countries have seen their production volumes falling over the last decade.  For example, production of prawns in Thailand dropped from a peak of 30,000 tons in 2005 to 18,000 tons in 2014.


At Giant Prawn 2017, Pinyo Kiatpinyo, representing prawn farmers in Thailand, explained the dire straits of prawn farming in Thailand.  He said prawns are in demand for the Thai dish torn yam goong, as well as for export.  “We have exported live giant prawns to Korea and China, but now we cannot meet the demand.  For the last ten years, we have been facing problems and do not have access to quality postlarvae.  The regional irony is that we used to buy large prawns from Myanmar and now Myanmar wants to buy prawns from Thailand.  ...The industry is asking academia and industry for help,” he said.


Statements from producers and farmers during the meeting indicated that the major problems were inbreeding and the use of wild broodstock by most hatcheries in Asia.  Thanabal, who has a three-million-postlarvae-a-year prawn hatchery in Lumut, Perak, Malaysia, often experiences poor performances from wild broodstock.  He said, “I cannot guarantee the demand of my clients and worry that I will disappoint them with poor quality postlarvae.”  He sells postlarvae for $16-$18 per 1,000.


Dr. Uthairat Na-Nakorn from Thailand’s Kasetsart University said the main obstacles to prawn farming were low yields and farmers’ sensitivities to high prices for genetically improved postlarvae.  “The situation is not good for the giant prawn in Thailand.  The low yield per hectare and long culture period (8-12 months) are obstacles, giving giant prawn farming a low return on investment, compared to farming the marine shrimp Penaeus vannamei and Nile tilapia.  Farmers either switch to other species or try polyculture.”



Country Comments


Many in the audience at Giant Prawn 2017 reported the shift in production from prawns to marine shrimp (Penaeus vannamei), which reflects the rising demand for shrimp and the higher yields from shrimp farming.


In Myanmar, the number of prawn hatcheries has dropped from 29 to 5, and in Bangladesh, the number has dropped from 81 to only 5 or 10.  Myanmar has imported prawn postlarvae from Thailand at $7.40 per 1,000, while in Bangladesh, prawn postlarvae sell for $25.50 per 1,000.


In Israel, recent progress in breeding and genetic selection studies include the development of all male and all female progeny, led by Professor Amir Sagi at Ben Gurion University.


In China, Dr. Yang Guoliang at Huzhou University reported on the development of specific pathogen free prawns and the farming of an improved strain, “South Taihu No 2.”  Targeting growth and survival, the strain was developed after seven generations of breeding.


In Indonesia, through selective breeding, two research institutes have produced two new strains of prawns, “Gl-Macro II” and “Siratu,” which show fast growth and broodstock that are free of Macrobrachium rosenbergii nodavirus (MrNV).  “The two institutes are also working on the production of all-male and sterile-female M. rosenbergii,” said Dr. Endhay K. Kontara from Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.


In Thailand, since 2009, Charoen Pokphand Public Foods Limited (CPF) has been working on specific pathogen free Macrobrachium, said CPF’s Dr. Donghuo Jiang.  After breeding prawns [video] for five generations, CPF has demonstrated consistent improvements in harvest weights and average daily growth.  Its postlarvae are marketed in several countries.  Jiang said that farmers who grow large prawns at low densities are succeeding in Thailand.  Orange claw prawns are fast growers, so farmers remove slower-growing blue claw prawns.  In addition to producing specific pathogen free Macrobrachium, his breeding goals are to improve body size, growth rate, survival and density tolerance.


CPF has only 20% of the postlarvae market because its prices are so high, compared to the market for postlarvae from wild-caught spawners, said Dr. Uthairat Na-Nakorn from Thailand’s Kasetsart University.


In Hong Kong, China, the proprietary all-female prawn production technology presented by Assaf Shechter from Enzootic is a novel alternative strategy for prawn farmers seeking an intensive culture model.


In Thailand, the market price of freshwater prawns is similar to that of P. vannamei at $4.40 to $5.70 a kilogram.  With freshwater prawn monoculture, juveniles are stocked at 250,000 to 375,000 per hectare, and partial harvests begin after six to eight months.  The yield is two tons per hectare, with a large size variation in the harvested prawns.


Khoo Eng Wah, who conducts aquaculture courses in Malaysia, said prices have been rising because of a supply shortage.  In March 2017, 30-to-35-count-per-kilo prawns were selling for $13.30 to $14.90.  “Restaurants demand live prawns, but at high prices, they sometimes settle for chilled or frozen imported prawns,” said Khoo.


Dr. Mohd Fariduddin Othman from Malaysia’s Department of Fisheries said that in 2016 only 1,500 hectares were dedicated to prawn farming in Malaysia.  He estimated prawn production at between 300-500 tons in 2016, adding that yields per hectare were only 1-2 tons and survivals were low at 20-30%.


In Myanmar, Dr. Nyan Taw, a consultant, said that the major challenge for the industry was “white diseases” affecting larval production, adding that only a few hatcheries continue to operate.


Dr. Tran Ngoc Hai from Can Tho University, said, “The prawn has potential for aquaculture in Vietnam, but the issue is the shortage of postlarvae, although there are 59 hatcheries operating in Vietnam.”  The demand is for 1 to 3 billion postlarvae a year, but supply is only 260,000 a year.


In India, C. Mohanakumaran Nair said that although prawn production during 2015-2016 rose to 10,152 tons, it was still below the peak of 45,780 tons in 2005-2006.  The problems were high feed, labor and certification costs, poor seed quality and issues related to water quality.  Nair said a recent development in India was the production of all-male prawns.  It takes eight hours to manually sex and separate 5,000 to 8,000 juveniles.  Farmers throw out females or, if possible, farm males and females separately.  All-male culture results in a 60% increase in yield and larger animals at harvest.


In Malampuzha, Kerala, some farms produce jumbo prawns—up to 760 grams each—however, genetic studies are still needed to produce faster-growing prawns with size homogeneity.


Source: AQUA Culture AsiaPacific (Editor/Publisher, Zuridah Merican, email zuridah@aquaasiapac.com).  News/Reviving Giant Prawn Farming in Asia.  Volume 13, Number 3, Page 4, May/June 2017.


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