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Cultured shrimp production and trade in China and Thailand

Less than 20 years ago, almost the entire Asian output of shrimp was from capture fisheries, mostly landed by shrimp trawlers introduced by the Japanese into Southeast Asian waters in the mid1960s. The production of shrimp in coastal or inland ponds was minimal. However, as world shrimp landings reached or exceeded maximum sustainable yields, increasing attention was given to shrimp aquaculture. While accounting for only 6% of total world shrimp production in 1980, cultured shrimp production grew to account for 26% of total production by 1990. While marine shrimp landings grew only modestly during the 1980s, world cultured shrimp production grew from about 100,000 Mt in 1980 to 690,000 Mt in 1991. The impetus to such development was very favorable world demand. Over the 197088 period, the annual growth rate in world shrimp consumption was estimated to be 3.7%, with significant growth occurring both within the Asian region and elsewhere. The two countries which have experienced the most rapid development of cultured shrimp production and trade in recent years are China and Thailand.


While China has a centuries-long tradition of aquaculture and has been one of the world leaders in the management of fisheries in inland lakes and reservoirs, until the 1980s, the country's shrimp industry was based almost entirely on capture fisheries. With off-shore shrimp resources fully exploited by the 1970s, Chinese shrimp production, consumption, and trade stagnated.

During the 1980s, substantial private and public sector investment in cultured shrimp production and processing led China to become the world's largest cultured shrimp producer and shrimp exporter. During the decade, cultured shrimp production increased from only 2600 tons to nearly 200,000 tons, and Chinese shrimp exports increase six-fold from 21,700 tons to 122,700 tons. 1989, the value of Chinese shrimp exports was $740 million. China's world market share for frozen shrimp increased from only 6% in 1980 to 14.2% in 1989. As Table A1 indicates, this remarkable growth was due to large increases in both the area of shrimp ponds and shrimp yields.

Table A1: Chinese Cultured Shrimp Production, Yields, and Exports


Area (000Ha)

Production (000Tons)

Average Yield(kg/ha)

Total Shrimp Exportsa (000 Tons)









































a Includes both capture and cultured shrimp.

N.A. Data not available.

Sources: Ferdouse (1990); Infofish International (3116/92); FAO Fisheries Commodity Statistics

China's long coastline, numerous large river deltas, and thousands of kilometers of anti-flood and saltwater intrusion dikes provides for a mixture of fresh and brackish water suitable for shrimp culture and provides an infrastructure which makes pond construction relatively inexpensive in many areas. China's enormous manpower resources, very low labor costs, and multiple forms of agricultural and fish byproducts for use as feed provide additional bases for a competitive cultured shrimp industry. Due to low labor costs and the types of technologies employed, China's shrimp production and processing costs are said to be among the lowest in the world.

Set against such advantages is the cool weather and cold water temperatures in the central and northern parts of the country. For most of the country, shrimp can be cultured only for 4-5 months, allowing just one crop, and concentrating harvests over just a two-month period. This places China at a disadvantage vis-a-vis other major shrimp producing countries in Asia. It also places enormous stress on the processing and marketing infrastructure at one time of the year, increasing inventory costs and adversely affecting quality.

The primary impetus behind the industry's development came from the Chinese government. A transition from formerly experimental production to commercial production came with the establishment of a government shrimp culture enterprise (in Lianyungang) in the late 1970s. This was followed by several support measures and economic incentives to develop aquaculture, including the provision of some $20 million in grants and development loans at low interest rates to shrimp producers and processors, the development of a very effective aquaculture research and extension system, the granting of tax exempt status (from 1979-84) to shrimp production and trade, and the development of hatcheries for the supply of seedstock. Unlike in many other areas of agriculture, shrimp growers were permitted to obtain inputs from whatever sources they wanted and shrimp exporters were allowed to retain a share of the foreign exchange earnings. While there were initially state controls on shrimp procurement and marketing, such controls were abolished in 1985, leading to a surge in domestic market activities.''

A major international market opportunity was provided to China by the failure of traditional Latin American exporters to meet the growing U.S. demand in the mid-1980s and by the subsequent collapse of the Taiwanese shrimp industry due to technical problems. China is now the largest exporter of shrimp to the United States, the second largest exporter to Japan, and has recently penetrated the European market. For the most part, China has served as a low cost supplier of non-differentiated products--its exports consist almost exclusively of block frozen shrimp with sometimes uneven quality. The industry has yet to make headway in the production of higher value or customer-specialized products.


By the early 1970s, the shrimp resources in the Gulf of Thailand and other areas within Thailand's EEZ were fully exploited. Still, marine shrimp landings by Thai vessels continued to expand until the early 1980s with larger catches being made outside of Thai waters. With Thai vessels being increasingly excluded from fishing in the neighboring country waters, attention by local entrepreneurs turned to the development of shrimp aquaculture.

Thailand had favorable conditions for the development of a competitive and profitable cultured shrimp industry: substantial resources of fresh and brackish water, a location near the equator (allowing all-year production), and a large and relatively skilled labor force. A well developed agricultural sector provided many by-products which could be used as feed, although eventually a specialized feed industry developed. The industry benefits from a large well-established infrastructure of processing plants and cold storage units which catered to the marine fisheries industry, including captured shrimp, tuna, and other commodities. Hence, cultured shrimp were simply added to the product mix of existing processing and marketing companies. The industry could cater not only to growing international demand, but to large and rapidly growing domestic demand, both within the tourist industry and among the general population.

Thailand Shrimp Exports

Sources: Ferdouse (1990); Infofish (3/92)

Initially, cultured shrimp production mostly involved extensive methods. However, with rising land costs more intensive production methods (patterned on those developed in Taiwan (China) were adopted by the mid-1980s. This, together with the adoption of a new larger-sized species, had a dramatic impact on average yields, which increased from 328 kg/Ha. in 1982 to 800 kg/Ha. in 1988. Total cultured shrimp production increased from only 3300 tons in 1975 to 10,371 tons in 1982 to 110,000 tons in 1991. With marine shrimp landings declining, this expanded cultured shrimp production has underpinned a large increase in Thailand's exports of fresh, frozen, and canned shrimp during the past decade. While fresh shrimp are largely sent to nearby countries (e.g. Malaysia, Singapore), value-added canned, frozen, and specialty products have been very competitive in Japan, the U.S., and Western Europe. Thailand has developed the most diversified shrimp product mix and market outlets of any of the Asian shrimp-exporting countries.