How to control the spread of Shrimp Aquaculture Pandemics
By Aditya Dash
“New Zealanders did something remarkable in our fight to beat COVID-19. We united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus.” – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Soon, it will be a year since the world has been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The shrimp aquaculture sector has been fighting its own pandemics since its inception. There was the devastating White Spot Virus (WSSV) pandemic of the late 90s. Then the Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) outbreak in 2012s and the latest DINV pandemic, currently in China. As a feed manufacturer once pointed out, while there was a huge increase in areas devoted to shrimp aquaculture, there wasn’t a proportional increase in shrimp supply. The decrease in shrimp supply as a result of the disease further exacerbates problems of overcapacity in the shrimp feed mills and shrimp processing units. In 2015, Andy Shin, senior scientist at the Fish Vet Group, estimated that the Asian Shrimp industry has lost over $20 billion USD due to diseases. This was highlighted by Lauren Kramer in an article for the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) where she mentioned a letter by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) urging governments and the private sector to improve their shrimp disease management protocols.
The major pain is suffered by the smallholder shrimp farmer, who is most likely to fall into a debt trap. Assuming that we implement a proper aquatic disease control mechanism and increase exports (due to increased production) by roughly 20%, that would be almost Rs 10,000 crore in additional export revenue. This is a huge amount, and it will be of immense help to the country during this time. While the private sector has been addressing the issue, with active Government intervention, we can see some really great results.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has established the National Surveillance Programme for Aquatic Animal Disease (NSPAAD). This is a step in the right direction. The solution to the COVID-19 and other shrimp pandemic involves the key words that should be common to all concerned citizens by now – test, trace and isolate.
We need a nationwide network of labs equipped with PCR machines and technicians so that we can implement the mantra of test, trace and isolate. It should be realistic to assume that with the current COVID-19 pandemic, PCR technicians are in short supply. The Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) continues to build a network of labs across the coastline, which is of huge help to the farmers. The existing PCR testing technology would require a separate test to check for each shrimp virus; there are currently 14 shrimp pathogens to watch out for. What is also of use is the early detection of these diseases, so that the farmer doesn’t keep wasting money on feed and other inputs.
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has developed a novel technology called MultiPath. This has been commercialised by a very promising startup company Genics headed by Dr Melony Sellars. This new technology can detect up to 14 shrimp pathogens in one go and meets the current gold standard as far as specificity and sensitivity are concerned. Apart from that, the turnaround time is really fast. As of now, if Indian shrimp farmers want to avail this new technology, they need to ship out their samples via DHL all the way to Australia. The MPEDA should look into a possible collaboration opportunities with a company like Genics. It would be more suitable to outsource the operations of labs to the private sector and MPEDA and other Government agencies should focus on building such labs so that they can be leased out.
Apart from detecting the disease, we also need to implement a plan to identify and contain outbreaks. This means monitoring farms and ponds which test positive and to help farmers in the disinfection process in order to stop the disease from spreading. When a pond is detected with a specific pathogen, a certain protocol needs to be followed to prevent the spread of the disease. This is where the Government’s boots in the ground approach will work best.
While prevention is the best strategy, we must acknowledge that for the most part eradication will remain a distant dream. Farmers need to adapt to new farming methods and technologies which ensure that disease outbreaks do not result in huge crop losses. A possible solution could be something like the “Synbiotic” approach by Dr David Kawahigashi, of Hawaii. Through a combination of probiotics and prebiotics, they take a natural approach which focuses on enhancing the health of the shrimp, so that the shrimp does not succumb to viruses. We should also look into bacteriophages as a technological solution. This has been developed by the Central Institute of Brackish Water Aquaculture (CIBA) and also by Poland-based Proteon Pharmaceuticals.
The MPEDA should be credited with their foresight. In order to reduce India’s dependence on imported broodstock, which could also be a source of importing diseases, they have built their own broodstock multiplication centre and are also building their own Nucleus Breeding Centre. This will give a big boost to domestic production of broodstock and it will further reduce the risk of importing viruses from other countries.
A stable supply chain is in the interest of everyone. A more holistic approach towards disease management is needed. It is high time that we all get together and tackle the diseases in the aquaculture sector.
__ The author is an “Authority Member” of Marine Products Export Development Authority. He is also Managing Director of Ram’s Assorted Cold Storage Ltd, the seafood exports division of Suryo Group. He is passionate about aquaculture and writes frequently on it.