In April earlier this year Plus TV broke the story of a bacterial infection that had infected a couple of shrimp ponds in Stann Creek, which was causing a high mortality rate in the shrimps younglings. BAHA acted quickly to try and contain the spread of this bacteria but a month later, in June, the bacteria had spread to nearly every shrimp farm in the South. The bacteria was later learned to be a type of vibrio bacteria that occur naturally in marine waters and though it has no effect on humans, it does cause significant economic loss. In an interview today, Alvin Henderson, the president of the Belize Shrimp Growers Association, told us that the industry has already started implementing a strategy that would see this hurdle overcome.
“The strategies that we have had to develop are a little bit more complex. In this case, we are using a genetic material that we actually found was resistant to the vibrio and also biologic control. So, there are two strategies that we are going to use to better manage it in the field. From the results that we have seen in other countries – we have seen it in Mexico, in parts of Thailand, we are pretty convinced that it will work. It is just a matter of rolling it out over the next few months. The new genetic material will be available to the industry by the third week in August, but in terms of actual stocking of farms, we are hoping that will happen by September, October, November moving forward. We have a clear genetic answer to this challenge and we at the association level are very convinced that we will see this behind us.”
Emanuel Pech – Plus TV Reporter
“One of the things that I have to point out is that the original information that we got was that only a couple of ponds were infected. A few months after that we got another report saying the entire industry is affected. What went wrong there and is that something being addressed here? My concern is that although we crossed this hurdle, there will be other problems, other bacteria, other virus, mutation of the same virus, is the industry looking at ways of how to better contain a situation when it happens?”
“Emanuel, put these numbers into context. The core answer to your question is how ethicatious is our bio-security system across the industry. I would argue with you and say that it is very effective. We have not had a disease outbreak in our animal population in fourteen years. That is significant. If you look at countries like Asia during that period, they may have had as many as five. In terms of how ethicatious our bio-security has been, I would say it has been very effective. This thing sits in a marine environment and so it could happen. Will there be other diseases? Of course there will be other diseases. I think the important thing to know is that often times there are genetic solutions to this and they are biological control options that you can pursue. that is the critical answer. Let’s be real, we are involved in agriculture production and I don’t care what type of agriculture you are involved with – whether you are involved with citrus, banana, shrimp or any of the smaller items that we produce, you are always going to be exposed to some sort of diseases. The question is not whether of that they are going to happen, the question is, what are your strategic responses when they do happen. Before that, what are those strategies that you put in place to ensure that as long as you possibly can, you can preclude the entry of diseases. It is those two things that you grapple with. On a bio-security side, I am convinced as an industry that we have acted well. This is not some sort of animal that was brought in that was affected, We are very convinced with that, it sat in a marine environment. That is why the industry got exposed. In terms of why from one farm to another. that is how diseases spread. Because it sat in a marine environment, there was little latitude. It was only a matter of time before it got to the other farms. If it was something brought in from an animal then we could, through bio-security strategies, contain. It was different so these things do happen and when it happens, making sure you have some strategic responses as we have had in this case and as we did in Toura in 2001.”
The damage to the shrimp industry is estimated at some 30 to 35 percent reduction in hard currency earnings. It also had an impact on employment which is estimated at 40% reduction. If all goes as planned Henderson says we could see the shrimp industry fully restocked by the first quarter of next year.