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On February 2, 2002, I interviewed Henry Clifford, who at the time was Technical Director of Super Shrimp, which had three mega shrimp hatcheries in Mexico, a large shrimp farm in northern Mexico and a small inland shrimp farm in Arizona, USA.
Currently, Henry is Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Aqua Bounty Technologies, a Massachusetts (USA) company that is developing advanced-hybrid salmon, trout, and tilapia designed to grow faster than traditional fish.
Shrimp News: Hi Henry. Tell me a little about your first steps into aquaculture.
Henry Clifford: I have a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the University of Virginia (1972–1976) and received a master’s degree on the nutritional physiology of Macrobrachium from Texas A&M University in 1979. My aquaculture career at A&M blossomed when Dr. Bob Brick—who later became vice president of Aquabiotics/King James, one of the first attempts to raise shrimp in closed systems in the United States—guided me into shrimp culture. While at A&M, I set my sights on getting a job with Ralston Purina because I had read great things about Purina’s shrimp farming division. Then, in December 1979, Harvey Persyn hired me to work at Purina’s Mariculture Research Center, in Crystal River, Florida, USA, a real hotbed of shrimp farming research. By the time I got started at Crystal River, Bill MacGrath, Yoshi Hirono and Padge Beasley had already left for other shrimp farming projects. And Joe Mountain, Ron Staha, David Drennan and Bill More were working at Purina’s shrimp venture in Panama, Agromarina de Panama. Harvey put me in charge of nutrition R&D and feed production. I formulated diets in Crystal River, produced them at Purina’s feed mills in St. Louis, tested them in Crystal River and then shipped them down to the farm in Panama. While at Crystal River, I also worked with Reggie Markham and Randy Aungst, who have enjoyed long, successful careers in shrimp farming.
Two years later Ralston Purina decided they no longer needed the Crystal River Research Facility and closed it down, a crushing blow to me because I had aspired to work there for many, many years. The technical staff split into two groups. Randy Aungst and Joe Mountain followed a former Purina executive into Asia and set up shrimp farming projects in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Harvey and I founded Tropical Mariculture Technology (TMT), a shrimp farming consulting company, with Reggie Markham as one of our biologists.
Shrimp News: Was it difficult to find work?
Henry Clifford: No. At the time, we had knowledge of Purina’s advanced shrimp culture technology. We had the maturation technology that Joe Mountain and Harvey Persyn developed. We had larval rearing technology. We had nutrition and pond management technology. We had the feed formulations. We really had a complete package of technology to offer investors. We started with small assignments in Ecuador, Malaysia and the Philippines. We did site surveys in Asia, Africa and South America. Among other assignments, we selected the site for the Baltek Corporation (a publicly traded U.S. corporation, which got out of the shrimp farming business in 2003) shrimp farm in Ecuador.
TMT’s first big project was the Maricultura da Bahia farm and hatchery in Brazil. At the time, Brazil’s shrimp farming industry was floundering, trying to grow native species and some Penaeus japonicus that had been imported into the northeast. No one was having much success. Using our technology, we managed to industrialize shrimp farming in Brazil, and promoted the idea of self-sufficiency in maintaining closed-cycle stocks of shrimp. We introduced P. vannamei and P. stylirostris to Brazil and began the domestication process with them. We also imported monodon and penicillatus from the Tungkang Marine Science Center in Taiwan, and used them into our domestication process. All of the shrimp stocked in the ponds at Maricultura were from our closed-cycle, domestication program. In fact, dating back to 1980, probably my proudest accomplishment in shrimp farming is the fact I have only worked with domesticated lines of shrimp. None of the farms where I worked stocked wild postlarvae.
Maricultura da Bahia was one of the first companies in the Western Hemisphere to pond-rear stylirostris and vannamei broodstock, and we might have been one of the first companies in the world to pond-rear monodon broodstock. We were growing monodon broodstock in ponds in 1984, at a time when people were saying you couldn’t grow good quality broodstock in ponds—especially monodon broodstock. When we left Brazil, the farm had third generation monodon, sixth generation vannamei, eighth generation stylirostris, and fourth generation penicillatus. As far as I know, the penicillatus that we imported into Brazil in 1984 are still there—approaching their fortieth generation of domestication, probably the oldest line of domesticated shrimp in the world, older than Super Shrimp’s stylirostris and older than the French’s SPR 43 line of stylirostris.
Shrimp News: Who is maintaining the stocks of penicillatus?
Henry Clifford: Although I’m not sure, I believe they are all in the hands of one company that continues to procreate them. Penicillatus did well in our Brazil project, but it can’t compete with vannamei.
Shrimp News: What about the monodon?
Henry Clifford: We had good success with maturation and larval rearing, but we ran into problems during growout. We didn’t have the right feeds for monodon at the time, and so we could not get the animals past 15–16 grams in a reasonable growout period.
Shrimp News: Why did it take Brazil so long to come around to vannamei?
Henry Clifford: Brazil wanted to build its industry on indigenous species. At Maricultura da Bahia, we changed all that. We closed the life cycle in captivity of seven species of penaeid shrimp: vannamei, stylirostris, monodon, penicillatus, schmitti, paulensis and aztecus. We played around with paulensis because it tolerated lower temperatures better than the other species. But of the seven species, it was the least successful on our farm. Paulensis is still being used on some farms in the temperate regions of southern Brazil, but vannamei remains the dominant species in Brazil.
Shrimp News: Did TMT have an ownership position in any of the farms it developed in Brazil?
Henry Clifford: No. We were technical advisors, providing design, construction supervision, start-up and technical management services. We had a technical services contract with Maricultura de Bahia, which was owned by a large construction company. Interestingly, the farm was built in pure, coarse-grain beach sand. Conventional wisdom dictates that you should not build ponds in sand, but we successfully built this farm on coarse beach sand without using plastic liners, and learned a lot in the process. Another interesting feature of this farm was that it had a seawater and freshwater source. Harvey engineered a structure that allowed us to mix the two sources of water so that we could control the salinity of the ponds down to 1–2 parts per thousand. The farm expanded to 600 hectares and at the time was the largest shrimp farm in Brazil. It had broodstock production facilities, the biggest hatchery in the country, nursery ponds and a processing plant, all located within the farm, and for a number of years it was the technology leader in Brazil.
Shrimp News: How did you seal the ponds?
Henry Clifford: We didn’t. They sealed themselves. During the first cycle, we were losing 10 to 12 percent of our water per day, especially in the smaller (nursery/broodstock) ponds, but due to the constant detrital rain of bacteria, algae, feces, feed and other matter on the pond bottom, the interstitial pores between the grains of sand gradually became obstructed by organic matter, and the ponds eventually sealed themselves. By the second cycle, we were only losing 5 percent or less a day. If you want to exchange 10-15 percent per day of water in the ponds, you don’t really care if 5 percent of that water loss is downward through the pond bottom. After a few production cycles, water loss through seepage in our 10-hectare growout ponds was minimal. We didn’t line any of the ponds or canals with plastic, but fortunately, we had a clay quarry nearby, which allowed us the luxury of reinforcing sections of the elevated supply canal with clay, since it had the highest hydraulic pressure of all the water transport channels. Despite our successes, there are still compelling reasons not to build ponds in sandy soils.
One of the biggest challenges is to avoid “piping”, which usually occurs along the point of contact between a solid structure (for example, a concrete inlet or outlet structure) and the earthen dike. Until we took the necessary engineering precautions, we did have problems with water seeping through the dikes around the structures, and in some cases resulting in catastrophic failure of a structure. Also, ponds built in sandy soils tend to have problems with water seeping from full ponds into adjacent empty ponds, making pond bottom drying and preparation very problematic.
Shrimp News: Is Maricultura da Bahia still operational?
Henry Clifford: Yes. It’s now part of the Valença Maricultura conglomerate, located just west of Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil. It’s been a while since I was there, but I think the company has around 1,000 hectares of ponds and two hatcheries.
When we started, there were no other shrimp farms in the area. Soon thereafter, however, Brazilian investors copied the lead of our client, and built several new shrimp farms all around us.
As our contract in Brazil was coming to an end, we signed several new technical services contracts in Colombia. By 1988, we had eight farm management contracts in Colombia: five on the Atlantic coast near Cartagena and three in Tumaco on the Pacific coast near the border with Ecuador. We designed several new farms from the ground up, including Cartagenera de Acuacultura and Agrosoledad, two of Colombia’s better known projects on the Atlantic Coast. Prior to our arrival, the existing farms on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts were struggling with poor production and a lack of technical organization. TMT implemented semi-intensive production methods and broodstock domestication programs on most of our clients’ farms, using shrimp species (stylirostris and vannamei) that were not native to Colombia’s Atlantic coast. We brought the founding stocks for our domestication program from Panama and Ecuador and never used any wild stocks from Colombia. In fact, the Super Shrimp strain of stylirostris was inaugurated at one of our Colombian projects. In Colombia, we usually stocked 80 percent vannamei and 20 percent stylirostris. Survival of the stylies was low because early on they had not yet acquired resistance to the IHHN virus, but they grew much faster than the vannamei.
Shrimp News: Were the projects in Colombia successful?
Henry Clifford: For the most part, yes. Some of the projects that we developed were extremely successful. We took over a couple of farms that were struggling and managed to increase their production by 100 to 200 percent. The farms in the Cartagena area were very successful, made money and produced record yields for Colombian farms at that time. Our projects in Tumaco were also successful, compared to the other farms around Tumaco, but for reasons intrinsic to the Pacific coast, our pond yields in Tumaco never approached the production levels achieved on the Atlantic coast, where the conditions for shrimp farming are much better. We also designed and managed a hatchery for Cartagenera de Acuacultura.
Shrimp News: When did TMT do its first work in Venezuela?
Henry Clifford: Around 1990 we signed a contract with Aquamarina de la Costa in Venezuela. I stayed in Colombia to manage the contracts there, while Harvey went on to Venezuela and designed a farm and hatchery for Aquamarina. We took some of our domesticated animals from Colombia and moved them to Venezuela, initiating what soon became a very successful domestication program. Aquamarina is now the biggest operation in Venezuela, and is very successful.
In 1991, I sold my shares in TMT to Harvey and shortly thereafter founded another technical services company, C&C Aquaculture Services, with Harry Cook, who had helped TMT with some of our projects in Colombia.
Harry has been working with shrimp longer than anyone else in the business. He began in 1959 with the National Marine Fisheries Service, identifying the larval stages of marine shrimp. After that, he developed a new hatchery methodology at the Galveston Marine Laboratory and later worked for Dow Chemical’s shrimp farming project.
C&C had several contracts in Venezuela—as technical advisor to existing farms that were having problems. We managed to increase production at those farms by 100 to 300 percent. One of the farms, Siembras Marinas, near Barcelona, had experienced a dramatic drop in production and had no idea why. As it turned out, it had two problems. Its ponds were infested with Callianassid (ghost) shrimp, which destroyed the water quality and caused survivals to drop by 50 to 60 percent. Fortunately, I was able to help them control the ghost shrimp populations. The same farm also had a disease problem, which had remained undiagnosed until I submitted some shrimp samples to Dr. Donald Lightner at the University of Arizona, and Don confirmed the first case of NHP (necrotizing hepatopancreatitis) in Venezuela. Fortunately, once detected, it was a disease that could be easily managed using medicated feed. We fixed the problems and the farm went on to be quite successful. In addition to the two farms in Venezuela, C&C also acted as technical advisor to a large integrated project in Brazil called Atlantis Aquacultura. Also, we were technical advisors to CAMPA, Nicaragua’s largest shrimp farming company, which was a project that Harry had initiated prior to joining C&C Aquaculture Services.
Shrimp News: Let’s get back to Harry Cook for a moment. He really got started early. What was he doing with shrimp in 1959?
Henry Clifford: He was working at the Galveston Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service, studying the larval cycle of penaeid shrimp. Harry was one of the first people to report on the life cycle of penaeid shrimp. He identified the different species and made drawings of the different larval stages, published the work and then went on to do some of the very early research on Lagenidium, a fungal disease that affects larval shrimp.
Contrary to the current myth, which gives Corny Mock credit for the development of the Galveston hatchery technology, it was Harry Cook and his team at the National Marine Fisheries Service who did much of the original work. Six months before he left to go to work for Dow Chemical, Harry hired Corny Mock and taught him the new Galveston methodology for rearing larval shrimp. Harry was about to give a paper on the technology at one of the first meetings of the World Aquaculture Society when he took the job with Dow Chemical. Corny ended up giving the presentation and somehow got credit for the early work. Subsequent to that, Corny did make a number of improvements to the technology, but it was not Corny who did the original work. It was Harry Cook. Harry has also developed a proprietary software program for managing shrimp farms.
Shrimp News: When did you go to work for Maritech, Mark Rosenblum’s shrimp farming operation in Mexico that’s now part of the Super Shrimp Group?
Henry Clifford: In 1994, Maritech hired me to help with strategic planning and problem solving. Mark had had a couple of sub-par production cycles because he was stocking the Hawaiian strain of SPF vannamei, and they weren’t doing well against Taura. I suggested that he try stylirostris, specifically the domesticated strain that we had initiated in Colombia and Venezuela because it was resistant to IHHNV and TSV. He mulled over the idea for about a year. At the 1996 meeting of the World Aquaculture Society in Bangkok, Thailand, I introduced him to German Dao, who had our strain of stylirostris at his hatchery in Venezuela. Mark and German got together and formed Super Shrimp. When the company was fully incorporated, Mark asked me to come on board as technical director. In 1997, a year later, when all my contracts with C&C had expired, I joined Super Shrimp full-time. Harry also went to work for Super Shrimp, and we put C&C on the back burner.
Back then, Super Shrimp was a small Mexican company. In an 18 month period, Mark grew the company from practically nothing to the world’s largest producer of disease-free, SPR postlarvae. We were producing as much as 500 million PLs a month from three hatcheries, two in Mazatlan and one in northern Mexico, all with our domesticated strain of stylirostris. At the time we had some very experienced hatchery managers—Josh Wilkenfeld, David Pavel and Alfredo Medina—running our hatcheries.
Super Shrimp industrialized the hatchery business in Mexico by convincing the farmers that lab-reared larvae could produce superior results over wild PLs. We were the first company to produce exclusively domesticated shrimp. We converted Mexico—at that time the second largest shrimp producing nation in the Americas—from an industry 100 percent dependent on vannamei to an industry in which stylirostris was the dominant culture species. We were the first supplier to deliver PLs directly to the farmer as part of our obligation. Prior to our arrival, farmers had to go to the hatcheries and take delivery of PLs at their own risk. We transported the larvae in 18–20 ton converted milk tanker trucks. We had customers that were located a thousand kilometers away from the hatchery. We could ship them six to seven million PLs at a time, chilled, in perfect condition. On some days we were shipping 15–20 million PLs to our client’s farms.
We were the first hatchery to sell only PL-15s. Prior to our arrival in Mexico, hatcheries typically sold PL-8s and PL-12s. Contrary to previous practices, we were the first PL supplier that did not offer credit to Mexican shrimp farmers. We had a premium product, a domesticated, genetically improved SPR (specific pathogen resistant) shrimp, the farms wanted it, and they paid up front for it. We also insisted on our clients signing long-term contracts, another first in Mexico. We were the first hatchery to offer comprehensive technical support to all clients at no charge. With our larvae came a team of experienced farm managers and technical advisors as part of Super Shrimp’s Technical Services Division. That was my department. Our technical services advisors were mostly former production managers at big farms. At one point we had over a 100 clients, and we taught them how to farm stylirostris. We did not just sell them larvae, we also helped them with their production problems. We were the first hatchery company to offer free pathology services to our customers from our disease diagnosis lab managed by Dr. Ken Hasson. We provided technical workshops on a large scale. Sometimes two hundred people would attend our workshops. We provided our customers with a monthly technical newsletter and a proprietary manual that I wrote on how to grow stylirostris.
Shrimp News: Are the hatcheries still producing stylirostris?
Henry Clifford: They produce whatever species mix the farmers want. Right now, the two hatcheries in Mazatlan produce mostly vannamei. The hatchery in northern Mexico produces stylirostris almost exclusively. We also produced small amounts of SPF vannamei at that hatchery for stocking the company’s freshwater inland farm in Arizona.
Information: Henry Clifford, Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Aqua Bounty Technologies, 8395 Camino Santa Fe, Suite E, San Diego, California 92121, USA (phone 1-858-450-9487, fax 1-858-450-9519, email email@example.com, webpage http://www.aquabounty.com/products/products-295.aspx).