The government is expected to allow experimental cultivation of non-native vannamei species of shrimp in the face of demand from exporters, said industry insiders.
The move comes against the backdrop of intense competition faced by the locally grown black tiger shrimp and prawn in the world market from the cheaper and widely produced vannamei, commonly known as whiteleg shrimp.
Insiders said the initial plan was to cultivate the native of the Eastern Pacific coast in isolated facilities in Khulna and Cox's Bazar.
Ponds of the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute will be used in the southwestern division of Khulna, said Abu Sayed Md Rashedul Haque, director general of the Department of Fisheries (DoF).
“We are going to take steps on a pilot basis based on the recommendations of a technical committee,” he said. The piloting is for the species to acclimatise to the new surroundings, he explained.
The DoF formed the expert panel in August 2018 to assess the feasibility of vannamei culture and gather opinion on bringing over the exotic species.
The committee, among others, suggested formulation of a comprehensive protocol incorporating issues such as quarantine, disease surveillance, bio-security, hatchery management and brood import, production and supply for culture of vannamei.
It recommended expansion of culture of the species on the basis of results of the experimental farming. The panel also suggested taking steps to allow a couple of local hatcheries to import pathogen-free broodstock to facilitate production of post larvae.
Whiteleg shrimp was introduced in the US in the 1970s. Commercial cultivation started to expand in the 1980s, reaching many Asian countries such as China, Thailand, Indonesia and India over time.
However, many Asian nations have been unwilling to promote the farming of vannamei due to fears over importation of exotic diseases, according to an article of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Locally, the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) has long been demanding that the government allow vannamei culture to cater to the global market and sustain trade with the aid of higher demand.
The BFFEA said one hectare of land in Bangladesh yields 300-400 kilogrammes of black tiger and prawn. In contrast, much larger quantities of whiteleg shrimp can be obtained from the same area.
So, farming of vannamei will enable frozen food exporters to get raw materials in higher quantity, utilise their unused processing capacity and compete in the world market, according to exporters.
However, fisheries officials and some other stakeholders have been showing reservations owing to vannamei being highly susceptible to diseases.
“Who will compensate farmers if they suffer losses in case of a disease outbreak?” asked an official of the DoF who did not want to be identified.
Industry stakeholders said there was a dearth of infrastructure focusing on shrimp farming. Moreover, bio-security should be ensured before any permission for commercial cultivation is granted, they added.
Syed Mahmudul Huq, chairman of the Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation (BSFF), said vannamei farming was capital-intensive and required scientific management.
Proper infrastructure and trained workforce are prerequisites for vannamei farming, he said.
Huq suggested intensification of black tiger production and branding it in the international market as a premium product. At the same time, possibilities of vannamei should be explored, he said.
MA Hasan Panna, president of the Bangladesh Intensive Culture Association, said Bangladesh was already late in introducing vannamei.
Soaring production has pushed down prices and many growers in India are cutting back on vannamei farming to narrow down losses, he said.
Panna, who also carries out intensive culture of black tiger shrimp, suggested expansion of intensive cultivation of black tiger to increase production.
Kazi Belayet Hossain, senior vice-president of the BFFEA, said production cost of black tiger was higher than of vannamei, even when intensive farming was applied.
“And we are unable to cater to the global market at this price. People want shrimp at cheaper prices,” he said.
He said vannamei was produced in 67 countries and accounted for 77 percent of the total global production of shrimp in 2017.
“If this is the scenario, why won't we go for vannamei?” he asks.