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Yosuke Hirono, one of the founding fathers of shrimp farming in the Western Hemisphere, has returned to aquaculture after an absence of about five years. Shrimp News submitted a long list of questions to “Yoshi” to find out what he was up to.
Shrimp News: Who are you working for now?
Yosuke Hirono: In May 2006, I came out of retirement and went to work for Aquatic Eco-Systems, the world’s largest aquatic equipment supplier. I work in the International Division and provide sales and technical service to customers worldwide.
Shrimp News: How many languages do you speak?
Yosuke Hirono: I read, write and speak Japanese, English and Spanish, but my Japanese is getting a little rusty because I don’t get to use it very often.
Shrimp News: What does Aquatic Eco-Systems do?
Yosuke Hirono: Aquatic Eco-Systems, Inc., started out as a catalog sales company in 1978. Now it’s a big company with the following divisions: Lakes and Fountains, Water Life Design, Aquatic Habitat, and Design and Engineering Services. Founder and President Robert Heideman, says: “Our approach is to favor function over fluff. We figure that equipment is expensive enough, so we stretch your hard-earned dollars by offering a selection of good, better and best—with efficiency, affordability and service always part of the equation.” Aquatic Eco-Systems has more than 12,000 products in stock, all available for same-day shipping.
Shrimp News: What products do you sell to shrimp hatcheries and shrimp farms?
Yosuke Hirono: Pumps, blowers, compressors, diffusers, mechanical and biological filters, UV and ozone sterilizers, heaters and chillers, tanks, lab equipment, water quality meters, aeration systems, feeds and feeders. We offer one-stop shopping and ship worldwide.
Shrimp News: Where did you go to college?
Yosuke Hirono: Tokyo University of Fisheries in Japan, graduating in 1965 with a major in aquaculture.
Shrimp News: As a young man, what was your first contact with aquaculture?
Yosuke Hirono: In high school, I got my best grades in biology. In college, as a part of my aquaculture coursework, I had a lot of hands-on training with eel, trout, carp, flounder and seaweeds. Japan farmed a wide range of aquatic species at the time, and I became aware of Dr. Motosaku Fujinaga’s research on shrimp farming in the Seto Inland Sea and visited him after graduating. I was attracted to shrimp farming and intensive carp culture, but did not have the capital to start my own venture and thought of my own shrimp farm as an impossible dream.
Shrimp News: What did you do after graduation?
Yosuke Hirono: I wanted to do something different and decided to go overseas and look for a job in the fishing industry. I turned down my first job offer, on a tuna boat out of Hawaii, because I get seasick. I was hoping to get a job at the Fraser River Salmon Hatchery in Canada, but that did not work out, so I took a job as an aquaculture biologist with a tropical fish grower/retailer in Miami, Florida, USA. The Japanese owner of the company advised me to come to the USA as a tourist, which I did, never guessing that I’d get trapped into a situation that allowed me to work only for him, for 70 plus hours a week at 25¢ an hour. My only option was to give up my dream of working overseas and go home, so I worked for him for two-and-a-half years until 1967. Coincidentally, I was befriended by an inspector at the Immigration and Naturalization office in Miami who helped me become a resident alien. My boss did not know I was working on my immigration visa. Once I obtained it, I quit.
In 1967, after leaving the tropical fish company, I was offered two jobs, one at Sea Aquarium in Miami and the other at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Miami. I took the latter, it was the turning point of my life, literally. The University of Miami was launching a shrimp project under Dr. Clarence P. Idyll, Dr. Durbin C. Tabb and Dr. Won Tack Yang, who had received special training under Dr. Motosaku Fujinaga at his Prawn Institute in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. The project was set up at Florida Power and Light Company’s nuclear power plant. We raised Atlantic pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) from egg to marketable size in the plant’s thermal effluent and worked on hatchery technology using 5-ton indoor and 20-ton outdoor tanks. Dr. Yang taught me everything he knew about raising shrimp larvae. I started as a resident technician and eventually became resident manager of the project. My assistants included: Dr. John Heinen, Jerry Thompson, Neil Kenny and Bob Kader. During this period, I maintained contact with Dr. Richard Neil and Corny Mock at the National Marine Fisheries Service Galveston Laboratory, where the development of shrimp hatcheries had already started.
Shrimp News: What did you do next?
Yosuke Hirono: In 1971, I went to work for Ralston Purina. Dennis Zensen, vice president of new venture management, hired me to design and construct a shrimp hatchery that would take advantage of Florida Power’s thermal effluent. That hatchery went on to become Purina’s famed Crystal River research center, an incubator for some of the first shrimp farmers in the Western Hemisphere.
Shrimp News: What was your job and who did you work with?
Yosuke Hirono: Dr. Bill MacGrath and Bill More joined the Purina team ahead of me. MacGrath was director of mariculture research and development at Purina’s headquarters in St. Louis and More was general manager of the Crystal River project. I was the first hatchery manager at the facility, which combined the best of American and Japanese shrimp hatchery technology. As the project grew, Mel McKey was hired for construction, and Padge Beasley and Randy Aungst, for growout. I hired Harvey Persyn and Ron Staha for the hatchery. Later, Ron Wulff, Durwood Dugger, Joe Mountain, Henry Clifford and Dr. Roland Laramore joined the team. During and after completion of the hatchery, my job was to find the best species of shrimp for farming. We sourced gravid females from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and Brazil, hoping to find a year-round supply of gravid females, eggs or nauplii.
In Crystal River, we cultivated the following species: Penaeus duorarum, P. aztecus, P. setiferus, P. schmitti, P. brasiliensis, P. occidentalis, P. stylirostris, P. vannamei, P. californiensis, P. paulensis and P. monodon. Vannamei out-performed all the other species in growth and survival trials.
In 1973, in collaborated with the Universidad de Pernambuco in Brazil, we conducted growout trials with all of these species on a prison island off the coast of Recife. The postlarvae were shipped from Florida to Recife, which took more than 40 hours.
Padge Beasley and I took turns managing the growout trials in Brazil. Adriano Guerra, a Brazilian, was the local technician. I traveled with Adriano from Florianópolis in southern Brazil all the way to Belém in the north in search of the best species for farming. We would rent small oceanfront facilities from the government or local yacht club and set up temporary hatcheries as we went up the Brazilian coast, from fishing village to fishing village, looking for gravid females. We shipped the nauplii from these primitive hatcheries back to Crystal River for growout tests. As a result of the sourcing efforts, I helped developed two USA patents, one for shipping shrimp nauplii and the other for shipping shrimp eggs.
Our fishing and export permits were authorized by the central government of Brazil. Once, in the state of Minas Gerais, we chartered a shrimp boat, caught some gravid females and spawned them at the local yacht club. Since it was a prestigious yacht club, our activities became public and the local newspaper ran a story on what we were doing. Adriano accompanied the boxes of nauplii to the Rio de Janeiro airport, so they would get to Crystal River as quickly as possible. After getting Adriano off to the airport, I returned to the yacht club to clean up the temporary hatchery, where I discovered a great commotion. As I approached the site, I identified myself and explained my mission. I was told in Portuguese, which I understood well enough, that I was being arrested for smuggling natural resources out of the country. The federal police had an old version of our permit, so I showed them the newest version of it, but it didn’t make any difference. I was arrested. Guessing at my ancestry, the arresting officer was afraid I might use marshal arts on him, so he approached me from behind, grabbed my belt and handcuffed me. Because I had a valid permit and because they found out who I was through the FBI, they held me under house arrest at the local hotel, but took all my travel documents, including my passport and the permit. Adriano was also arrested by the federal police en route to Rio de Janeiro. I called Dennis Zensen, our mentor at Ralston Purina in St. Louis, who called Purina’s lawyer in Sao Paulo, who got me out of house arrest and cleared my name.
Meanwhile, David Drennan had been collecting gravid shrimp in Panama since 1973, utilizing the Smithsonian Institute’s dock facility as a spawning facility and hatchery. The Panamanian vannamei performed best among all the species we tested in Brazil. We never dreamed that it would become the most sought after shrimp in the world some 30 years later. In 1974, Purina decided to move its shrimp farming resources from Florida to Panama. Harvey Persyn and Henry Clifford were among the personnel that remained in Florida. In Panama, Agromarina de Panama, S.A., was created as a wholly owned subsidiary of Ralston Purina. The Purina team identified hatchery and growout sites in Veracruz and Aguadulce. After I designed and helped construct a hatchery with Ron Staha, Ron became hatchery manager, and I became coordinator of hatchery and growout operations. Padge Beasley was the first production manager at Aguadulce. After Padge’s departure in 1976, I became production manager for the growout operation. We had 33 hectares of nursery and growout ponds. David Flushing, head of nursery operations, and Mel McKey began construction of a 250-hectare farm on the nearby salt flats.
In 1977, we had two visitors from Ecuador, Dr. Boanagre Ugarte and Sr. Enrique Grunauer. They were impressed with our semi-intensive farm and invited us to visit the shrimp farms in Ecuador. At the time, Ecuador had approximately 3,000 hectares of extensive shrimp farms. Dr. Ugarte owned and operated Frimar, S.A., a processing plant, and Enrique Grunauer owned and operated a shrimp farm in Santa Rosa, El Oro Province. My assistant, Alberto Ciniglio, was dispatched to investigate possible shrimp farming ventures in Ecuador. His assessment was positive, so Purina started feeding trials there with Peter Shane of Empacadora Shane to demonstrate the benefits of feed in semi-intensive farming.
In 1978, when I was transferred to Purina’s headquarters in St. Louis as manager of mariculture development under Dr. Bill MacGrath, I named Frank Follet as my successor as production manager in the growout operation and Paul Maugle to assist him. From St. Louis, I conducted feeding experiments at various shrimp farms in Ecuador and trained three USA technicians (one of whom was Russ Allen), one Colombian and one Ecuadorian. I visited Ecuador for two weeks a month for a year to maintain our standard operating procedures and record keeping. The feeding experiments were a success, and all the participating shrimp farms were impressed with the growth, survival and production that they got with Purina feeds. Purina had the potential for becoming the major supplier of seedstock, feed and technical assistance in Ecuador.
Shrimp News: When and why did you leave Purina?
Yosuke Hirono: Repeatedly, orally, and in writing, I recommended that Purina take advantage of its expertise in shrimp farming by moving into Ecuador. Purina’s management saw the potential there, but wanted the Panama operation to start paying for itself before opening up on another front. I was frustrated. I discussed it with my boss, Dr. Bill MacGrath, telling him that we should take advantages of the favorable results from the feeding trials. Furthermore, I met my future wife while working on a feeding trial at one of the shrimp farms. Since Purina didn’t want to take on Ecuador, I decided to tackle the job myself.
Shrimp News: How did you do that?
Yosuke Hirono: I resigned from Ralston Purina in 1979, went to Ecuador without a job, and tried to start a company called Penaeid Tecnology Internacional, S.A. (PENTEC, S.A.) with Francisco Sola, an Ecuadorian businessman, and two other notable individuals. We had a meeting with Swiss financiers at the office of Arthur Anderson in Houston, Texas, USA. Unfortunately, we could not come to terms. Later, Francisco introduced me to the Maspons brothers, Santiago and Alberto, and together we created El Rosario, S.A. I became technical manager of the company.
El Rosario (ERSA) was one of the very first semi-intensive shrimp farms in Ecuador, a copy of Purina’s farm in Panama. With the help of Hernan Maruri, a local civil engineer, I designed and built the ponds. After the first year, I became a full partner in El Rosario and continued as technical manager with my assistant, Diego Buenaventura, and two Colombian biologists. Later, Alexander deBeausset joined my technical team to handle one of our shrimp farms. ERSA became the model shrimp farm in Ecuador, and all the other farms compared their results with ours. The farm grew from 168 hectares of ponds in the first year to nearly 2,000 hectares of ponds by 1988.
A hatchery wasn’t a necessity in the early days of shrimp farming in Ecuador because of the abundant, inexpensive supply of wild seed that grew fast with excellent survival rates. Understanding the benefits of hatchery-produced seedstock, ERSA decided to build a hatchery with Shrimp Culture, Inc., of Miami, headed by Dr. Bill MacGrath and Jim Norris. When that did not work out, we hired Franklin Kwei Ben from Panama to head our hatchery project near Salinas, Ecuador, and Mark High, a hatchery biologist, to assist him. ERSA developed another gigantic hatchery in late 1980s to satisfy its growing demand for seedstock. In 1983, I presented a paper, Preliminary Report on Shrimp Culture Activities in Ecuador, at the 13th annual meeting of the World Aquaculture Society Meeting (Washington D.C., USA), which was published in the Journal of the World Mariculture Society (Volume-14, Page-451).
Initially, Vigor, S.A., manufactured our shrimp feed. Then, in the late 1980s, we established a feed mill in Ecuador with Rangen, Inc. (USA), that filled our needs and those of the surrounding shrimp farms. Santiago Maspons established sales offices in the USA and Europe. In 1988, ERSA became the number one producer of shrimp in Ecuador, and Ecuador became the number one producer of farmed shrimp in the world. My personal goals were fulfilled, and I sold my shares in ERSA.
Shrimp News: What did you do after leaving El Rosario?
Yosuke Hirono: This time, I successfully established a consulting company named Penaeid Tecnologia Internacional, S.A. (PENTEC, S.A.). We worked for shrimp farms in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Belize, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Fritz Jaenike, Robert Kanna, Takuji Fujimura, myself and others gave presentations on shrimp culture methods in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand by invitation of Dr. Dean Akiyama of the American Soybean Association.
In Ecuador, PENTEC did work for Rodrigo Laniado, Estevan Quirola, Arturo Vanoni, the Morrison Group and many other notable shrimp farmers. I was executive president of PENTEC and Dr. Luis Ayala was technical director. We also had several biologists, Xivier Chan, Patricio Bucheli, and Jorge Cordova, working for us. PENTEC helped organize conferences for other companies and seeded them with international scientists like Dr. Claude Boyd (water quality and soil management), Dr. Addison Lawrence (feed and feed management) and Dr. Patrick Sorgeloos (hatchery technology and larval rearing).
PENTEC, S.A., provided a full range of services: site selection, hatchery and farm design, feasibility studies and business planning for financial institutions and investors. We also offered technical assistance to shrimp farms. Our technicians would visit the farms once a week to collect data and help the farmers resolve problems.
In Brazil, Maricultura de Bahia, the largest shrimp farm in the country, headed by Luigi Petti, who was President of ABCC (Asociacao Brasileira de Criadores de Camarao), was one of PENTEC’s first clients. Leonardo Klabin, a businessman, and Luigi Petti, organized a tour for me of shrimp farms throughout Brazil. In addition, I often traveled to northeast Brazil with Leonardo who had a shrimp farm near São Luis.
Shrimp News: How long were you in Ecuador?
Yosuke Hirono: I lived and worked in Ecuador for a quarter of a century from 1979 through 2003. I truly enjoyed my work and life there. All my kids are fluent in Spanish and English, but have little knowledge of my native tongue, Japanese.
Upon returning to Ecuador from Tanzania, Africa, in 1998, I audited two shrimp farms in Costa Rica and Ecuador and then retired. This was the year whitespot hit Central America and Ecuador. In 1999, it had disastrous effects on the Ecuadorian shrimp farming industry and production dropped by over 70%. Shrimp farms started to cut costs, and I lost most of my consulting contracts. Whitespot really hurt my business and the entire Ecuadorian economy, with the shrimp farming city of Guayaquil getting hit the hardest. In 2002, after two assaults at gunpoint in less than a year, I decided to retire from consulting and leave Ecuador. The security of my family was my first concern wherever I resided. We moved to Central Florida, not that far from Crystal River, where I got started 33 years earlier.
Shrimp News: You mentioned returning from Tanzania in East Africa. What were you doing there?
Yosuke Hirono: In 1995, Capt. George Kotsovillis asked me to join his Tannol Holdings, Ltd., to develop a 3,000-hectare, integrated shrimp farm in Tanzania, so I closed PENTEC down and took a job managing that project. In December, Hernan Maruri and I surveyed the entire coast of Tanzania, from the northern border with Kenya to the southern border with Mozambique, by air and on foot using aerial charts developed by NASA. When we were working on the ground, we tried to get things done before sunset—because that’s when the big predators came out to eat. Their tracks were everywhere. Lions and hyenas. The sites were huge, and the shrimp farming potential was probably greater than that of Ecuador. Tanzania has a climate and weather patterns that are very similar to Ecuador’s. During the rainy season, its estuaries get great flows of freshwater and nutrients from the interior, and there are many large salt flats within the mangroves that could be converted to shrimp farms. We chose the Rufiji Delta area for our farm and Mafia Island for our hatchery. The initial concept of a 3,000-hectare shrimp farm grew to 6,000 hectares at the insistence of the Chairman of the Board of Tannol Holdings in Ireland.
In 1995, I moved to Tanzania to set up the farm, which was named the African Fishing Company. I became general manager, and because the project was in an environmentally sensitive area, I hired internationally recognized scientists Drs. Claude Boyd and Ed Scura of the United States and Dr. Sidthi Boonyaratpalin of Thailand to defend us from attacks from the environmental community. We provided a complete environmental impact assessment to the government and held public meetings and town meetings with communities near the site.
Nonetheless, the project was bombarded with protests from Greenpeace and the Mangrove Action Project. At public meetings, we gave presentations to let the public know that the project was well-conceived and environmentally friendly. The project planned to hire thousands of needy people. After an environmental impact assessment was completed by a group of international and national scientists, the Government of Tanzania approved the project. Unfortunately, the European development banks sided with the environmentalists and that frightened our investors away. It was a shame because the farm would have had a positive economic impact on the region and the country, a country dependent on donor nations for almost everything. With regret, in 1998, I returned to Ecuador.
Information: Yosuke Hirono, International Division, Aquatic Eco-Systems, Inc., 2395 Apopka Blvd., Apopka, Florida 32703 USA (phone 407-886-3939 ext.186, phone 407-886-4884, fax 407-886-4884, email firstname.lastname@example.org, webpage http://www.aquaticeco.com).
Source: Yoshi Hirono. Email interview by Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International. May 23, 2007.