Revival of the Shrimp Industry


This is the fourth in a five article series based on a recent World Bank (WB) report on the Sri Lanka fishery sector.

While the first article gave a broad overview of the industry,  the second focused on the depletion of the tuna stock and the threat that this deleterious development is causing to the industry as a whole,  the third in these series of articles gave a brief overview of the potentialities of the coastal fishing industry, this fourth gives a broad overview of the shrimp industry and the fifth and the last, the potentiality of the ornamental fish industry and the way forward for the industry as a whole.

Nonetheless, a glaring omission in this WB report is that it overlooks the repercussions that Indian fisher poaching is causing to the local fishery industry as a whole. This WB report which was out in September 2021 (see below) doesn’t, ipso facto, take into account Sri Lanka declaring itself insolvent on 12 April 2022 and its impact on the fishery sector, neither does it touch on the current fuel crisis besetting this sector.

Sri Lanka’s coastal aquaculture sector, reemerging after a boom-and bust cycle in the 1990s, currently focuses mainly on shrimp, the WB in a recent publication said.

The publication titled “Priorities for Sustainably Managing Sri Lanka’s Marine Fisheries, Coastal Aquaculture, and the Ecosystems that Support Them,” dated   September 2021, but released on the WB website only on 3 March2022 further said that iIn the 1990s, under the impetus of success in shrimp farming in other Asian economies, Sri Lanka’s northwestern coastal lagoon and estuary areas, which were covered by mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass beds, and mudflats, were transformed into shrimp farms, but  in a rapid and uncontrolled manner.

Production peaked in 1998, but the spread of two viral diseases caused 90 per cent of the farms to either collapse or suffer serious impairment within a short period, resulting in scores of abandoned ponds. Since 2005, however, improved farm management practices and disease control have gradually returned the industry to a sustainable trajectory.

 In 2019, total shrimp production from farms reached 6,400 metric tons (mts), of which approximately 2,100 mts were exported at a value of US$20 million. In the same year, total coastal aquaculture production amounted to 7,568 mts, employed 7,350 people, and brought in $24 million in foreign exchange earnings.. Year 2020 is discounted because of the impact Covid-19 had on the fishery industry.

 In 2018, 700 shrimp farms and 48 shrimp hatcheries were active in Puttalam, accounting for some 95 per cent of national production, with the rest in Batticaloa, the WB said.

Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has been promoting intensification of shrimp production as well as diversification into other high-value species. In Puttalam, to intensify shrimp production, the National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA) plans to enhance technological input, such as improved water reticulation and bio security in farms, and to introduce Litopeneaus vannamei, which has higher growth rates and productivity compared with Peneaus monodon.

Currently, the L. vannamei breeding technology is being piloted in Mannar. Investment in nontraditional high-value species such as sea cucumber, seaweed, sea bass, mud crab, and other finfish has been gradually increasing.


“Growing global and domestic demand for seafood offers an important opportunity for Sri Lanka to sustainably expand aquaculture production, employment, revenues for the private sector and tax income for the State,” the WB said.

 To capture this potential, Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has elaborated an ambitious programme to broaden coastal aquaculture into sea bass, seaweed, sea cucumber, mud crab, marine ornamental fish, and bait fish for the multiday fishery, it said.

 Currently, the subsector mainly focuses on shrimp in the Northwest Province, generating about seven per cent of fishery sector export earnings. It has seen a rebound since the early 2000s after a boom-and-bust cycle in the 1990s because of uncontrolled development that left behind degraded coastal ecosystems and abandoned shrimp farms.

 Modern technology and an “ecosystem approach to aquaculture” (EAA) can sustainably intensify aquaculture to increase output and revenues, while reducing environmental impacts, the WB further said. Adoption of best aquaculture practices will reduce financial and environmental risks while increasing efficiency to improve total cash flow and product quality to access more lucrative markets.  Various technical models to promote commercial-level coastal culture systems have been trialled, with NAQDA and the National Aquatic Resources, Research and Development Agency (NARA) playing key roles as technical facilitator and service provider.

Among others, they have set up hatchery technology through public-private partnerships, provided technical expertise and fingerlings to private hatcheries, and piloted pond/cage-base farming for sea bass, sea cucumber and crab fattening. The private sector is already undertaking small-scale farming of sea bass, sea cucumber, and seaweed. In 2018, around 300 people participated in sea bass farming in ponds and cages in Negombo Lagoon, Mannar, Puttalam, Batticaloa, and Galle.

 In 2013, the first large commercial marine fish farm for sea bass farming in cages commenced operation in the Trincomalee Sea as a joint venture with the Board of Investment and yielded 255 mts in 2018. Seaweed farming in the coastal zone off of North Western and Northern Provinces with community participation has been carried out at a low scale (total of 60 hectares) along with private sector marketing and buyback arrangements.

 NAQDA has begun piloting hatchery technology for milkfish farming to support a local industry that can provide a steady supply of bait fish to the tuna fishery, substituting for imported bait fish that costs Sri Lanka about Rs 250 million annually

In more recent times GoSL support for the sector has come by way of providing a suitable environment for potential investors to develop coastal aquaculture through establishing “aquaculture parks” and “crab cities.”

NAQDA plans to establish an aquaculture industrial park in Mannar covering 1,728 hectares as well as crab cities in Rekawa and Galmulla, Hambantota, covering 242 acres, and in Marnkerni, Batticaloa, covering 280 acres. These developments are expected to create around 5,500 direct and indirect jobs and a production volume of around 9,075 mts.

The sustainable intensification of an export-oriented aquaculture subsector creates opportunities for significant increases in seafood supply, employment, and revenues to both government and the private sector, the WB added.

The publication further said, to capture this potential, the government has elaborated an ambitious programme for the development and expansion of coastal and freshwater aquaculture.

NAQDA sector development plan for 2020–2025 sets yearly targets for increasing production volumes and export earnings for high-value shrimp, sea bass, mud crab, sea cucumber, seaweed and milkfish.  The plan envisages increasing annual production, export earnings and jobs in coastal aquaculture from 7,568 mts, $24 million and 7,350 in 2019, to, respectively, 60,000 mts, $450 million and 32,000 in 2025. However, realising these targets will require considerable investment from both the public and private sectors, the WB warned.

Nonetheless, the growing global demand for seafood offers an opportunity for Sri Lanka to become a global aquaculture product supplier by expanding, diversifying and intensifying its coastal aquaculture, the WB said.

 Already, over half of fish, shellfish, and seaweed consumed or used by people globally are produced on farms. Consolidation and the shift to more environmentally sustainable production systems have reduced the rapid rate of expansion witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s, but aquaculture still grew at 5.3 per cent between 2001 and 2018, while capture fisheries have continued their global decline, it said.

(Next week: Ornamental Fish Industry More Lucrative)

By Paneetha Ameresekere