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Adriano Guerra

Starting at the Ralston Purina shrimp farming project in northeast Brazil in the early 1970s, Adriano Guerra has been farming shrimp for almost thirty-five years.  When Purina closed the project in Brazil, he went to work for them in Panama, sourcing wild broodstock for Purina’s hatchery, Agromarina de Panama, one of the world’s first modern shrimp hatcheries.  In 1975, he moved back to Brazil for a few years and then, in 1978, went to work for Sea Farms in Choluteca, Honduras, again sourcing broodstock.  He later worked for Shrimp Culture, Inc., in Guatemala, capturing wild postlarvae for pond stocking.


In 1988, he moved back to Brazil again and helped start Marine–Maricultura do Nordeste S/A and became its technical director.  In 1991, the farm was sold and he began working as a consultant, selling paddlewheel aerators on the side.  Most recently, he has developed a new aeration system that’s currently being tested on some farms in Brazil.


The Purina Project


In the early 1970s, shrimp farming got started in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte with research carried out under the supervision of Tupã Ferreira de Souza.  Another project got started in the southern state of Santa Catarina at about the same time.  Both projects used local shrimp species, growing them extensively, without feed, because there were no shrimp feed mills in Brazil at the time.


On December 26, 1972, Purina do Brasil Alimentos and the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, through its Laboratório de Ciências do Mar, signed an agreement to undertake research on semi-intensive shrimp farming in northeast Brazil.  Dennis Zensen and William More represented Ralston Purina and Raul Cunha Freire represented Purina do Brasil Alimentos.


Guerra first met Bill More and Raul Cunha in Recife at the beginning of 1972, in a restaurant on Boa Viagem Beach named “Barril 1800”.  At the time he was a student, studying fisheries engineering.  Since he spoke English, not very common in northeastern Brazil, they spent some time together that day and developed a nice relationship.  For the next two days, they toured around Boa Viagem in a dune buggy and did some fishing.  On the following day, they met at Guerra’s apartment to say goodbye and briefly talked about the possibility of starting a shrimp project.  Three months later, More returned to Brazil and hired Guerra to help source broodstock for a new Purina project on Itamaracá Island, about 40 kilometers north of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco.


The plan was to capture gravid (with eggs) shrimp, spawn them and then ship the nauplii to Purina’s facility in Crystal River, Florida, USA, where they would be grown to postlarvae and then shipped back to Brazil for stocking in 19 ponds (1,200 square meters each) on Itamaracá Island.  The pond construction was supervised by Padge Beasley and Mel McKey.  The ponds had wooden gates and depended on tidal flow to circulate the water.  They were constructed with labor from a local prison, where the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco taught some aquaculture classes.  Padge Beasley, known as “Mr. Pepsi” because he drank so much Canadian Club and 7UP, supervised the construction and “did an excellent job”, according to Guerra.  Prior to stocking, the ponds were treated with rotenone, imported from the United States, to eliminate fish.


Many different species of postlarvae were shipped from Purina’s shrimp hatchery in Crystal River to Rio de Janeiro and then to Recife, where they were picked up and transferred to the ponds on Itamaracá Island.  The total shipping time, from Crystal River, Florida, to the pond site in Recife was around 30 to 40 hours.


The farm’s only equipment was a refractometer to check salinity and a small gasoline pump to do quick water exchanges on an emergency basis.  Oxygen levels were checked with the Winkler method, a chemical test for determining the amount of O2 in water.


After setting up the ponds, the second stage of the project began with the arrival of Yosuke Hirono (“Yoshi”), who became Guerra’s boss.  Their assignment was to capture wild, gravid P.brasiliensis andP. schmitti, spawn them and ship the nauplii to Crystal, River Florida, USA, for growout.  With no idea where to find the gravid shrimp, they started by visiting fish markets in all the Brazilian ports from Belém in the north to Santa Catarina in the south.  From February through June 1973, they visited nearly every Brazilian port that had a fishing fleet.


In Vitória, the capital of the state of Espirito Santo (on the south-central coast), they decided to charter a trawler to capture gravid shrimp.  They caught around 15 females with eggs and were able to spawn a few of them in a makeshift spawning facility at a local yacht club.  They packed them in two boxes with oxygen for shipment to Crystal River.


Then everything went haywire.


Guerra Tells the Story


On the day that we caught the gravid females, we met a journalist—a friend of the boat owner.  We made it clear that we had no intention of making our work public and that we didn’t want any press coverage, but we could not prevent him from getting on the boat because he was the guest of the owner.  He swore that any information that he collected or photographs that he took would be for his own records.


As usual, we started fishing in the early evening and worked all night.  The journalist bombarded us with basic questions about shrimp farming like: “How many eggs does one female produce?”  “How big do the shrimp get?”  “How much do they sell for in Japan?”  He got a little annoying after a while, so we just gave him basic answers: “One female could spawn a million eggs.”  “An adult shrimp could weigh over 100 grams.”  “The cost of a kilo of shrimp in Japan could be as much $10.”  That night we caught 10-15 gravid females and brought them back to our improvised laboratory at the Vitória Yacht Club.  We were able to spawn three of the females and produced around 200,000 nauplii.


After packing them, I drove the two boxes full of nauplii to the Vitória airport and then traveled with them to Rio de Janeiro to make sure they got on the plane to Florida.  We paid the freight in advance so that we could deliver the boxes directly to the airplane minutes prior to departure.  Yoshi stayed in Vitória to clean up the lab and finish the paperwork.


When the plane arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the two men sitting next to me grabbed me by the arms and presented me with a warrant for my arrest.  I thought that it was a practical joke and got a little angry.  Then the men identified themselves as Federal Police and showed me their IDs.  I knew that something was terribly wrong, but I had no idea what it was.  They took me to their station at the airport.


When we arrived at their office, the two boxes of nauplii were already there, along with some journalists who were taking pictures and asking questions.  The chief officer at the station asked for the cargo documents and wanted to know what was inside the boxes.  After telling him about the project and showing him all the documents, signed by high authorities, and the export permits, they still did not believe me.  I told them they could open the boxes, but if oxygen escaped and the temperature changed the animals would die, and they would be responsible.  So the chief decided to call his superior, and after a few more minutes I had to explain everything again.  By that time, the flight to Florida was due to depart.  The officials called the control tower and put a hold on its departure.


After going through my story with another official, I told them that I was not going to do it again, and that if they did not release the cargo, I would call a company lawyer and let them be responsible for whatever happened to the animals.  At that moment, they decided to make a phone call to the Superintendência do Desenvolvimento da Pesca, a very important official, the official who had signed the export permits, at his house, late at night.  Everybody was very tense because they were about to wake up a very important person.


The superintendent confirmed my story and had some words for the local officials that I didn’t hear.  Suddenly there was a big change in their demeanor.  The chief turned pale and apologized, saying that everything had been a terrible misunderstanding.  Immediately after hanging up the phone, he ordered a couple of policemen to deliver the nauplii directly to the plane.


It was almost midnight when they set me free.  All the taxi drivers had gone home for the night, so they gave me a ride in one of their vehicles and got me a room at the Savoy Hotel in Copacabana Beach.  They understood how serious the situation was and did not want Purina to file a complaint.  I called Yoshi and told him what had happened.


Yoshi, who did not speak Portuguese, was also arrested by the Federal Police and kept under house arrest at his hotel.  Without being able to communicate with me, he had no idea what was going on.  He tried to call the local Purina staff, but had no success, so he made a long-distance call to Purina’s headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which called the authorities in Brazil, and the police eventually released him.


What caused all this turmoil?  The journalist who joined us on the sourcing trip had made some quickie calculations, based on the information that we gave him, and figured the shrimp must be worth $15,000,000.  He probably thought we were big time smugglers and decided to report us to the Federal Police.


I never did find out what the superintendent said to the officials at the airport, but for sure he was not happy because it jeopardized one of his pet projects.  In fact, after that incident, Purina decided to terminate the project, but the main reason that Purina pulled out of Brazil was because the government denied its request for a permit for a large operation using a nonindigenous species like Penaeus vannamei.  Purina then decided to locate the project in Panama.


The harvest from the ponds was given to the penitentiary and the ponds were donated to the Universidade Federal of Pernambuco, and I went to work for David Drennan and Ron Staha at Purina’s hatchery in Vera Cruz, Panamá.


After all ponds were harvested, the results were put in a final report and submitted to the Brazilian Department of Fisheries and the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco.  To sum it up, the results were very good, especially for the nonindigenous species, P. vannamei and P. stylirostris.  At low densities, the stylies really performed well.  All the other species did not do well, including the local species, P. brasiliensis and P. occidentalis.  We did not have a chance to try P. schmitti.


In 1986, P. vannamei was brought into the state of Bahia by two private sector shrimp farms Maricultura da Bahia and Camanor, and, as they say, the rest is history.  Brazil’s farmed shrimp production eventually soared to 90,000 metric tons a year.


Sources: 1.  Notes received from Adriano Guerra on October 29, 2007. 2. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, January 4, 2008.