Are Your Shrimp Safe?
Farmed shrimp have no place to hide. Poachers scoop them out of ponds, bandits and pirates highjack them on the way to processing plants—and stoned kids stuff two-pound bags of frozen 26/30s into their pants at grocery stores and walk right out the door.
Bait, a decade-old movie, begins with two, small-time criminals discussing their next heist, a shrimp distributor’s warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, USA. That scene really captures the essence of the small-time thieves who steal shrimp (as you’ll discover in the police blotter reports below). In the movie, Alvin Sanders (played by Jamie Foxx), a paroled thief, and his brother are caught red-handed stealing $2,000 worth of shrimp. Here’s a snippet of their uninformed dialogue:
Alvin Sanders: "All we got to do is go over there and knock this thing off. We'll get a couple of grand. I've been casing this joint for months, baby. Look at that!"
Stevie Sanders (Alvin's brother, looking at a photograph): "Shrimp! You on parole and you out here trying to go back for stealing some shrimp."
Alvin Sanders: "Not shrimps baby! Prawns!”
Stevie Sanders: "What the hell is a prawn?"
Alvin Sanders: "I'll tell you what a prawn is. A prawn is bigger than a shrimp. It's more like a jumbo shrimp cocktail, right. The prawns come out and they are real big, like they've been working out in the back, like they're on steroids or something. That's prawns. A prawn, that's like five or six shrimp."
Stevie Sanders: "Yeah, right, I'm going back to the truck."
From Police Blotters in the United States
At the retail level, most of the crimes against shrimp are misdemeanors, minor crimes that result in fines and maybe a little jail time.
Brookline, Massachusetts: On February 5, 2011, Brookline police arrested a Dorchester man at gunpoint after he tried stealing eight bags of EZ Peel Shrimp, each worth $19.98, from the Harvard Street Stop & Shop. He led officers on a two-minute pursuit that covered about 3/10s of a mile at speeds no greater than 15-miles-per-hour due to heavy traffic and rainy weather. The thief was charged with shoplifting, failing to stop for a police officer, two counts of “operating to endanger”, driving with a suspended license, failing to stop for a red light and making an unsafe lane change.
Lorain, Ohio: On November 19, 2010, Police arrested a man for theft and obstructing official business when three bags of frozen shrimp fell out of his coat.
Suffolk, Virginia: On June 14, 2011, a man was arrested in his boxer shorts after he stole several bags of shrimp from a local store. He was charged with “third-offense petty larceny” (a felony, a major crime that can result in jail time), resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and being drunk in public.
Norwalk, Connecticut: On August 21, 2011, a man with an apparent appetite for surf n’ turf was arrested after he was caught stealing two steaks and a bag of frozen shrimp from a grocery store. A small bag of marijuana and a package of rolling papers were found in his pockets.
D’Iberville, Mississippi: On September 3, 2011, at a Winn-Dixie store, a man stuffed two bags of jumbo shrimp down his pants and filled the pockets of his cargo shorts with live lobsters. When confronted by employees, he pulled a pork loin from the waistband of his pants and threw it at them, then fell as he attempted to run out of the store. Charged with a misdemeanor, Police Chief Wayne Payne said: “In all my years in law enforcement, I’ve seen people shoplift steaks and all kinds of items, but never live lobster. It’s a good thing the rubber bands didn’t break.”
Thefts at the Transportation and Distribution Level
Pilfering also occurs while shrimp are in transit and cold storage, but with a more sophisticated breed of criminal and at a higher cost. At this level, the crimes are felonies, and the cost to the shrimp industry shows up in insurance premiums. Thefts range from a few hundred dollars to a quarter of a million and beyond. The following reports are based mostly on online newspaper reports.
Vietnam (August 2007): Many enterprises are suffering financial losses due to the mysterious disappearance of export goods in the transportation process. Lam Ngoc Khuan, director of Phuong Nam Co., Ltd., a seafood exporter, said his company exported a container of shrimp to Canada, but two months later, he received a complaint from his customer in Canada that the amount in the container was less than the contract specified. He sent 7,210 boxes, but the customer only received 6,047 boxes. Khuan said the container was transported from Soc Trang to Ho Chi Minh City. After crosschecking the documents, the goods recorded in Soc Trang were adequate while the amount arriving in HCMC was lower. It’s likely that the shrimp were hijacked during transport because they are closely monitored at ports. Drivers of container trucks might appropriate goods from the sealed containers by dropping them off at specialized facilities where thieves pry open the casings and then disguise their work by repainted and repairing the damaged surfaces. The Association of Export Enterprises tells its members to insure their goods, but in Kuan’s case, the insurance company denied his claim, and he had to pay the Canadian importer $28,000 for the missing boxes.
Ecuador (1991): Kristine Beran, an Ecuadorian shrimp farmer/processor, told this story about getting shrimp to port during the 1991 El Niño:
And the rains came. We received several unexpected shrimp deliveries from farmers whose dikes had burst. Now we had to get them to Guayaquil. There were two roads to the Port of Guayaquil. Both were terrible, so it was just a matter of which one was open. Torrential rains and mudslides made travel very slow. I estimated it would take 12 hours to travel the 150 miles to Guayaquil. Not only that, we secured so much shrimp that it quickly exceeded our processing capabilities.
Drivers from Guayaquil would not come to our low-lying processing plant for fear of getting stuck and were understandably nervous about driving at night, especially while hauling containers worth several hundred thousand dollars. We had to deliver our shrimp to them at an inland site. With tons of product ready to go, things were getting desperate.
The drivers wanted to wait until morning, but I knew that wasn’t an option. We had to get the shrimp to Guayaquil ASAP. “You will travel tonight...escorted by three taxis with armed men and enough coffee to keep you awake until you reach Guayaquil, where you will call me and inform me of your safe arrival.” Normally, I would never send a container of shrimp at night because of the risk of robbery and poor driving visibility, but our ship was leaving at three o’clock the next day. I was already cutting it close. The shrimp made it on time.
United States (2011): In early June 2011, Preferred Freezer Services offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of thieves who stole 1,550 cases of 31/40 Victory Seafood brand easy-peel shrimp weighing 31,000 pounds from a truck that left Preferred’s facilities in Vernon, California, on May 31, 2011. Each 20-pound case of farmed shrimp from Thailand in the truck contained ten, two-pound bags in a master case.
Preferred immediately informed its seafood customer network about the specific details of the stolen product, which stalled the resale of the product and helped recover everything. Preferred’s extensive security cameras along with its standard operating procedure of capturing driver license information helped law enforcement move quickly. John Galiher, President and CEO of Preferred Freezer Services, said the shrimp were recovered in less than 48 hours and delivered to the customer without any change in quality.
United States (2010): On November 21, 2010, in Chesnee, South Carolina, a tractor-trailer driver said 60 cases of shrimp, weighing 50 pounds each were stolen out of his truck while he stopped for a meal at the Mr. Waffle Truck Stop. When he returned to his truck about an hour and 15 minutes later he noticed shrink-wrap on the ground behind the trailer. A worker at the restaurant reported seeing a van parked in the area for some time, but there were no witnesses to the reported theft.
When you add up all the costs of stolen shrimp, the shrimp farmer bears the biggest burden. Grocery store thefts don’t add up to much, and attacks on the distribution system are relatively rare, but shrimp farms have big footprints, making them especially vulnerable to poaching. Poachers can skim away a farmer’s profit in one night, and they have forced some farms to leave the business. Small farms are the most vulnerable because they can’t afford the expensive security measures adopted by the big corporate farms. Security measures include: around-the-clock guards, lights, towers, barbed wire, trip wires, fences, electronic surveillance, peacocks, dogs and open warfare.
The following reports appeared on the Internet or were taken from back issues of Shrimp News International.
Bangladesh (July 2011): Police recovered the body of Babul Nikari (27), a shrimp thief, who was beaten to death at a shrimp farm in south central part of the country. Moniruzzaman Molla, officer-in-charge, said he suspected that workers at the shrimp farm caught him and beat to him death on the spot because he was stealing shrimp.
Vietnam (May 2008): In the Mekong Delta, shrimp farms in Bac Lieu and Soc Trang provinces face persistent poachers. At one farm, after cutting through metal fencing, the poachers scattered shrimp feed on the surface of the pond, harvested shrimp with cast nets and fled on motorbikes.
Nguyen Tri Thuc, the managing director of Duyen Hai Aquiculture Company, which owns a farm with more than 500 hectares of ponds in Bac Lieu, said his company is a regular victim of poachers. Thuc said the company’s security guards have encountered them several times and have even been attacked by them. Many farms have hired security guards and some use dogs to protect their ponds from poachers.
Despite relentless efforts by shrimp farmers, organized shrimp thieves continue to prey on ponds that are ready for harvest. Nguyen Van Be has been hit three times and has lost a ton of shrimp. He said, “The thieves were...watching me while I was watching out for them, and they would make use of any moment I left the ponds, to have lunch or dinner, for example.”
The thieves know which ponds are ready for harvest, said Quach Thanh Moc who has hired four men to guard his 1.5-hectare shrimp farm. Another farmer, Trinh Thanh Lam has spent thousands of dollars fencing his ponds, hanging electric lights around them and positioning three guards, but these measures have not been foolproof. Another, Le Anh Xuan invested more than $5,600 to light up his shrimp ponds. He also hired guards to camp out around the ponds. He said, “I’m still robbed once in a while.”
Police officer Truong Minh Khoi, who has chased shrimp thieves away from ponds in the Mekong Delta several times, recalled one case in March 2009 when more than 20 thieves armed with swords plotted to rob a shrimp farm. They even brought mosquito nets to protect themselves while they waited for the right time to attack. Outnumbered, Khoi said his force fired its guns into the air and scared off the attackers, except for one, who had fallen asleep before the raid and slept through all the commotion.
In early 2009, after being captured, a member of a seven-member gang of shrimp thieves said that one member would keep watch, two would scatter feed to attract the shrimp, two would work the nets—and two would wait on motorbikes to drive everyone away on short notice.
New Zealand (November 2010): Six teenagers pleaded guilty to stealing 75-kilograms of live freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) worth $5,500 from the Huka Prawn Park. Another 210-kilograms—worth $15,200—were destroyed and deemed unusable after being trampled by the group as it groped in the darkness. In total, about 290-kilograms of prawns—valued at $72 a kilogram—were destroyed in the August 19, 2010, raid. [These must be broodstock prices?]
Huka Prawn Park owner Richard Klein said the group was stealing to order for restaurants and private sellers. The thefts may have been taking place for 18-months before the thieves were busted by security. One member of the group was a former employee and had inside knowledge of the prawn park operation. Klein said staff suspected prawns were being stolen, but could not find any evidence. “We couldn’t understand why there was a drop in production.”
In court, Judge Phillip Cooper told three of the thieves their offence was the “result of boredom, stupidity, an unstructured lifestyle and too much alcohol and drugs”.
Updates to “Are Your Shrimp Safe?” Article
Shrimp News received a big response to the above report. Here are three of the responses that contain new information about poaching on shrimp farms:
Lai Leland (firstname.lastname@example.org): Picture a sprawling semi-intensive shrimp farm on an estuary somewhere in Latin America. Make it a dark night with patchy fog. The guards can’t even see their feet, let alone the poachers sneaking through the mangroves with cast nets over their shoulders.
We have supplied “super ears” and night vision goggles, all legally of course, to shrimp farmers attempting to defend themselves against poachers. And yes, a special IR (infrared) turret mounted light source that shoots an invisible beam 1.5 km into the darkness.
Yong Thong Poh (email@example.com): You mentioned poaching in the USA, New Zealand, Ecuador, Vietnam and Bangladesh. It’s just as rampant in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
One legendary story goes something like this: An almost nude poacher wrapped himself in a recently removed goat skin (bloody side out) and slid into a shrimp pond. The shrimp began to browse on the skin, and he casually picked them off and put them in his net bag. After observing the creativity of poachers all over this region, I believe that story could be true.
At many farms, poorly built fences, inadequate lights and long, irregular perimeters make it difficult for security personnel to monitor the entire farm. The poachers hide in the dark, waiting for the guard to move on to another section of the farm. In ten to twenty minutes, they can cast or drag net five to ten kilograms of shrimp from a pond and then sell them for the equivalent of three days pay.
Usually the thieves get into the pond and drag net it. With little more than their heads above the surface, they are very difficult to spot, especially if they hide near the aerators. They cause big water quality problems when they stir up the sludge that accumulates at the center of a pond, and no telling what they tromped through when they were sneaking around the ponds. They could be bringing all kinds of diseases into the ponds.
About ten years ago, I met a shrimp farmer in Indonesia (Medan, Sumatra) who was nursing ugly cuts on his forearm from a poacher attack. He and his workers were tied up and watched helplessly as the thieves harvested their shrimp (Penaeus monodon), which they planned to sell to buyers at discounted prices.
Many farms in Indonesia have very secure fencing. In Bali, one farm has a three-meter-high concrete wall around it with barbed-wire and broken glass on the top ledge.
Laurence Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org): We have a new farm in Saudi Arabia, and during the first crop of 2011, we were hit three times by an organized gang of thieves, twice at night and once during the day, so we have now introduced 24-hour security. The thieves had to swim across a drainage canal and cut a fence to gain access to the farm. Beyond the fence is flat, treeless desert, yet they found the right moment to break in. We may have lost a few hundred kilograms of shrimp. The bags of poached shrimp had to be dragged away from the ponds, rather that carried, which suggest they were quite heavy. During the daytime theft, the poachers took feed from our warehouse and used it to attract the shrimp. Weekends occur here on Thursday and Friday and that’s when the poachers come, usually at night.
In South Africa, from 1989 to 2004, we operated two shrimp farms, one in a small village and one 30 kilometers away in a remote area. In the early 2000s, at the remote farm, a gang of thieves attacked the farm with guns blazing. I still recall the sound of a bullet flying past my right ear. Two men stood on each dyke and shot at everybody they saw, while others drag-netted the pond. All the staff fled. The attack lasted less than an hour. In another attack, the police arrived while the poachers were finishing their harvest, but they would not confront the poachers because they were out-gunned. Eventually we found the shrimp in a local butchery. It had been placing weekly orders with the gang. The shrimp were confiscated, but the case never went to trial because we could not prove that they were our shrimp.
One of the members of that gang was eventually shot dead by one of our staff in a face-to-face shootout. Our staff member spent six months in jail because his gun had no license. That gang was broken, but the poaching never ended. Sometimes it would be a local fisherman needing bait, or a person selling our shrimp as bait to fishermen. All they needed was a kilogram or two to cover a day’s wages. On one dark night, a poacher, pretending to be a pond feeder, walked up to one of our armed guards, wacked him in the head with a machete and walked away with his shotgun. Within a radius of about 100 kilometers of the farm, there were people who would go door-to-door selling shrimp on ice. When the farm closed, they all disappeared.
On another occasion, we traced shrimp sales at local villages to our senior farm supervisor. He had been with the farm for over ten years. On checking his private room on site, we found the product for his next sale in his freezer.
Silvina Corniola (email@example.com). The 13 unions and farmer groups that make up Ecuador’s National Chamber of Aquaculture (CNA) have sent a letter to Rafael Correa Delgado, the President of Ecuador, asking him to stop the rampant attacks on shrimp farms by criminals.
Segundo Calderón, chairman of the Guild of Shrimp Producers in El Oro Province (on the southern edge of the Gulf of Guayaquil), said, “The Navy is unable to protect us, so when 15 to 20 heavily armed men attack us, we cannot defend ourselves.” Most crimes go unreported because of fear of reprisals, and no official statistics exist. In each assault roughly 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of shrimp (about 4.5 to 6 tons) is taken, representing approximately $25,000. The pirates hit the small and medium-size farms and mostly avoid the big operations. They might arrive in police or military uniforms to catch the farm off guard.
Cesar Monge, president of the CNA, says the industry needs police protection and help from the government, which, in 2009, banned the use of weapons to protect shrimp farms, leaving the farmers defenseless. To strengthen the safety and security of their operations, the farmers want a change in the weapons laws.
The gangsters also demand “protection”. “We pay for information that lets us know what day we will be attacked,” complained Monge.
Shrimp News: Please forward your stories about security on shrimp farms and I’ll append them to the end of this report.
Sources: 1. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, September 6, 2011. 2. Newspaper articles that appeared on the Internet, most of which quoted police reports. 3. Past issues of Shrimp News International. 4. Full disclosure: About fifty years ago, I worked as a waiter in a restaurant where the most popular appetizer was a shrimp cocktail, assembled by the waiters in a walk-in refrigerator with the lettuce, lemons, crushed ice, sauce, cocktail glass—and the all important shrimp tails, big ones, five to a glass—within easy reach. During each preparation, I ate a couple of shrimp to make sure they were okay for the customers. 5. Updated September 16, 2011. 6. Mail OnLine News. Amazing Picture of Acrobat Seagull Stealing a Shrimp Dinner by Flying Upside Down! November 10, 2011.1. 7. FIS United States. Shrimp Producers Require Measures to Curb Thefts. Silvina Corniola (firstname.lastname@example.org). December 17, 2010. 8. FIS United States. Shrimp Industry Experiences Considerable Growth. Silvina Corniola (email@example.com). December 15, 2010.
Seagull Stealing a Shrimp from the Mouth of an Egret