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Status of Aquaculture in Latin America
and the

Manuel Martinez1 and M. Pedini2
Fishery Resources Officer1
Senior Adviser (Aquaculture Development)2
Fishery Resources Division

Production and production trends

Aquaculture in this region continued growing steadily during 1984-95, with an APR1 of 12.8 (Figure 1). Total production in 1995 was 499,000 mt with a value of US$1.87 thousand million, representing 1.8% and 4.4% of world production by volume and value, respectively. In the same year, aquaculture contributed 2.3% in volume to the total production in this region from capture and culture. Production from seven countries accounted for 92% in volume of the total aquaculture production in the region in 1995: Chile (41.4%) and Ecuador (18.3% ) were by far the main producers, followed by Mexico (13.8%), Colombia (7.3%), Brazil (6.1%), Cuba (4.2%) and Costa Rica (1.4%) (Figure 2).Three sub-regions can be clearly differentiated: South America,


Central America (including Mexico) and the Caribbean. All the eight countries from Central America (including Mexico), the 14 countries from South America, and 13 out of 23 in the Caribbean sub-region have reported 1995 aquaculture data to FAO.

In 1995, production in volume was 378,000 mt (75.8%) in South America, 94,000 mt (18.9%) in Central America, and 26,000 mt (5.3%) in the Caribbean. South America had a rather high APR of 21.8, typical of an emerging activity, during 1984-1988, followed by a lower APR of 15.1 over the next six years, 1990-1995 (but still above the world APR of 12.1 for the same period), as to be expected from an already consolidated sector.

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Central America had a low APR of 7.1 during the first six years and an even lower APR of 2.2 during the second period, which means that aquaculture has not yet taken off in that sub-region. The Caribbean sub-region shows a similar pattern, with an APR of 6.7 for the 1984-1989 period and an even lower APR, 0.2, for 1990-1995.




1APR = average percent rate (i.e. average annual compounded growth rate in percent)


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A specific characteristic of aquaculture in Latin America is that it is mainly export oriented, with shrimp and salmonids as the main export products. Shrimp culture in Ecuador, the main producing country, showed rapid growth during 1984-1889 (APR 16.5) followed by moderate growth during 1990-1995 (APR 3.0).

Culture of salmonids and shrimp, which are exported to the USA, Japan and Europe, accounted for 82.1% of the total value of regional aquaculture production in 1995. Salmonid production in Chile accounted for 28.4% (141,000 mt) by volume and 30.5% by

value of total aquaculture production in the region; shrimp production in Ecuador represented 18.2% (90,000 mt) of total regional aquaculture production in volume and 51.5% of total value. The growth in aquaculture production of shrimp during 1984-1995 was linear while that of salmon was exponential (Figure 3). Salmonid culture has developed almost exclusively in Chile with a growth rate superior to any other culture activity in the region (APR 1984-1989, 88.2; APR 1990-1995, 37.7). Production in 1995 (141,000 mt) represented 15.0% of world salmonid aquaculture production. The proportions by volume of production of the three cultured species in 1995 were: rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), 37%; Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), 35%; and coho salmon (O. kisutch), 28%. Salmonid cage farms are concentrated in the southern coast of the country where the lakes for smolt production are also located. The industry has benefited from numerous protected coastal areas, cheap fishmeal derived from the rich anchoveta fishery, and alternate harvesting seasons with respect to European producers. Significant foreign investment has been attracted by these conditions plus cheap labour and a sound political will to develop the sector.

Trout culture, a traditionally stagnant activity in most of the region, has had an impressive growth in Chile from 20 mt in 1988 to 40,000 mt. in 1995. Other countries seem to be following this trend: Colombia with 9,000 mt in 1995, Mexico with 1,500 mt, and Argentina with 1,400 mt.

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Shrimp production grew at an APR of 12.8 during 1984-1995. Production in 1995 (146,000 mt) represented 15.6% of world shrimp aquaculture production. The proportions by volume in 1995 of the main cultured species were: white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei), 72.0%; and blue shrimp (P. stylirostris), 6.8%. In 1995, 11 countries produced more than 1,000 mt of shrimp: Ecuador (62.4%), Mexico (11.0%), Colombia (5.6%), Panama (3.6%), Honduras (3.5%), Peru (3.2%), Guatemala (2.0%), Costa Rica (1.8)%, Nicaragua (1.7%), Brazil (1.4%), and Belize (1.2%).


Shrimp culture in Ecuador started in 1979. Colombia, Brazil, Honduras, Panama and Peru started at the beginning of the 1980s, followed by Mexico in 1985, Costa Rica 1987, Venezuela 1988, and Belize in 1989. Shrimp culture in Latin America has been from the beginning and with minor exceptions an industrial-scale activity.

Production trends of the other five main commodities for the period under review are shown in Figure 4. Gracilaria is mostly produced in Chile (49,000 mt in 1995). In 1987, growth of this activity began to accelerate. The growth curve started flattening again in 1992, and since then production has increased very

little (APR 1984-1995, 19.7; APR 1990-1995, 5.3). volume in 1995 of the main cultured species were: Oreochromis spp., 43%; O. niloticus, 37%, and O. aureus, 19.7%.

Production of carps, the main species being Hypophthalmichthys molitrix (65%) and Cyprinus carpio (21%) as well as production of colossoma (Colossoma brachypomum (79%) is the main species of the group) has shown a very moderate growth although they have been present in regional production statistics for more than 15 years. The causes of stagnation in the culture of these promising species are still not clear.

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Commercial-scale marine fish culture began in Chile in 1991, and in 1995 turbot (Psetta maxima) culture was at the pilot stage. Culture of other marine fish, such as red-drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), is entering the pilot phase (in Martinique) but has been commercialized only at the sub-regional level. Other species, still in the experimental phase of culture, include: pompano (Trachinotus spp.), snook (Centropomus spp.), snapper (Lutjanus spp.), mullets

Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) account for about 65% of mollusc production in the region. There was a decline during 1989-1993, and although production seems to be recovering, it has not yet reached previous levels (APR 1984-1995, 14.9).

Freshwater fish culture accounted for 19.8% by volume of total aquaculture production in the region in 1995. Culture of red tilapia has experienced the highest growth rate due to the high prices it fetches in export markets. In spite of the enormous existing potential, very few native freshwater fish species are being cultured in the region. Tilapia culture shows a steady increase which seems bound to continue (APR 1984-1995, 12.7). The main producing countries are Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica and Jamaica. This is the main species group cultured at the rural small-scale level. Some important cases of intensive culture are those in Jamaica (2,800 mt in 1995) and Costa Rica (3,800 mt in 1995). The proportions by

(Mugilidae), and carangids (Seriola spp.). Development of the technology to culture snook is well advanced and this activity is expected to enter the pilot stage very soon. The main problems encountered in marine aquaculture are the scarcity of technologies for local species, the fact that most of the experimental species are carnivorous, and competition with capture fisheries, the products from which are very often low priced.

Main issues

Although there are considerable areas with physical and resource potential, only industrial-scale, export-oriented aquaculture has had significant growth in the region; and this type of activity still has a moderate potential for growth. Other kinds of aquaculture, such as of molluscs, aquatic plants and freshwater fish, as well as rural aquaculture and aquaculture-based fisheries in reservoirs, have grown at a rate slower than expected,


considering their potential and the economic needs of the countries resulting from recent trade and finance conditions. Most of these forms of aquaculture are oriented toward domestic markets. The difficulties encountered in promoting aquaculture for domestic markets in the region are not linked to existing physical resources, but mainly to institutional factors, as well as to research and entrepreneurial capacity. With very few exceptions, aquaculture in the region is not properly integrated into government structure and policy frameworks. In addition, structural adjustment policies have reduced the governments' capacity to promote and develop aquaculture oriented towards the production of cheap products for the poor. Competition with inland fisheries production is sometimes a serious hindering factor for aquaculture development.

Trends towards shrimp culture intensification have decreased in recent years due to disease problems. During 1992-1995, Ecuadorian shrimp culture was affected by increased incidence of disease (mostly Taura Syndrome virus), which caused drastic production drops. Measures taken to avoid this problem have included stocking at lower densities, less feeding and less water pumping. The epidemic initially promoted diversification, because some farms that were closed by the virus started culturing Cherax spp. and finfishes such as tilapia and redfish, as well as polyculture of shrimp and tilapia. This tendency slowed down when the Taura Syndrome virus impact decreased.

Latin America has about 11 million ha of water surface in reservoirs. It is estimated that present production through fisheries and aquaculture-based fisheries in these water bodies represents only a small percentage (about 12%) of its potential. The main constraints for this development are managerial and very much linked to institutional problems.

In general, freshwater culture in the region is making little use of alternative ways to increase production such as through fertilization, polyculture and integration with other farming systems. The prevailing technology uses expensive and sophisticated high energy-consuming methods: high stocking densities, exclusive use of commercial feed, and methods to increase the carrying capacity of the ponds, such as aeration and strong water exchange. Apart from any social concern, a monoculture technology based on the stocking of fingerlings that are fed with expensive commercial feed and harvested for export markets, does not seem to be an economically sustainable activity for small-scale rural farms.

In summary, aquaculture development in the region is hindered by problems which can be grouped in the following categories:

Environmental. Problems mostly related to industrial-scale aquaculture are beginning to arise. Mangrove cutting in Ecuador, and conflicts with capture fishery activities in several countries, mainly due to alleged destruction of larval resources, are some of the consequences of culture intensification and faulty farm site selection.

Climatic. Events such as El Niņo, which has had impact on the shrimp culture industry on the Pacific coast of the region through floods and undesirable changes of temperature, and hurricanes in the Caribbean area, are important concerns for aquaculture farms.

Biological/technical. Diseases are affecting not only shrimp culture (viral) but also oyster culture (parasites), and in many cases, there is no known treatment. The reproductive cycles of several aquaculture species are also not fully understood. Seed supply is a serious limiting factor in many areas, affecting industrial, semi-commercial and rural aquaculture.

Institutional and legal framework. There has been delayed reaction to developments in the aquaculture sector.

Social. These problems are related to land tenure, conflicts on the use of certain resources, access to aquaculture products by the poor, and personnel (processing workers, larvae collectors, etc.).

Economic. Instability, frequent currency changes, high inflation rates, high commodity prices and competition with capture fisheries are some of the main economic problems.


The Latin America and Caribbean region has been characterized by macro-economic changes in the last two decades. Even in recent years, fluctuations in currencies and inflation rates in some of the major countries have created difficulties for investment in aquaculture, still a relatively new industry in the region. Mid- and long-term projections for aquaculture production are therefore particularly speculative, and this paper will only attempt to provide an outlook for the short-term scenario, 1995-2000. The more recent APRs for countries and species provide some guidance on how aquaculture production may evolve in the region.


Aquaculture growth in the Caribbean has stagnated in the last five years due to the Cuban crisis. This country strongly influences projections for the sub-region as it contributed over 78% of Caribbean production in 1995. The rest of the countries seem to have reached a situation of slow growth. The Cuban government is committed to invest in aquaculture development for food security reasons, and is investing in new stations. Growth rate of the sector may be expected to increase markedly, although the targets established in 1996 for the year 2000 appear to be too optimistic. A production of 60,000 mt per year by 2000 would be a very good result and would bring the annual total for the Caribbean to about 70,000-75,000 mt. This growth is likely to be due to culture of tilapias in more intensive systems and to the farming of Chinese carps. An expansion of crustacean culture in the Caribbean, mainly for export, will also see Cuba as the main producer.

Central America had a low APR in 1990-1995 due to the poor performance of the sector in Mexico, which contributed 72% of the production of this sub-region. The outlook for Central America is a relatively fast growth of shrimp culture on the Pacific coast due to the combined efforts of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Shrimp culture has taken off in these countries since 1990 with APRs ranging from 9 to 104 in 1990-1995, and this growth is expected to continue, disease epidemics permitting. It is likely that future growth may accelerate with a more important contribution of shrimp culture to the total production than at present. Mexico has potential for areas to be developed, already-established marketing channels for export, and investment programmes that have been recently promoted by the Government with assistance of the World Bank. All this suggests favourable growth prospects, in spite of the complex institutional situation which may be an impediment to rapid growth. A contribution of about 70,000 mt of cultured shrimp by year 2000 for Central America is not unreasonable (an APR of 15 for 1995-2000), and a similar output could be expected for other commodities (APR 4), bringing the total to 140,000 mt per year by 2000.

In South America, the major prospects for expansion of production are with salmonids, shrimp, tilapia and Gracilaria. Salmonid culture is concentrated in Chile, which produces 90% of the sub-region's total salmonid production, and has recorded APRs ranging from 27

to about 80 for the three major species. Prospects for APRs in the order of 20 in the short term may even be conservative considering the advantages of the country for salmonid production, and the fact that it is already an established industry. Projected overall annual salmonid production of the sub-region by the year 2000 would be about 350,000 mt. Shrimp production is mainly in Ecuador (84% of the total output), but the growth rate in 1990-1995 slowed down to an APR of about 3 due to the saturation of areas under culture and the incidence of diseases. Future prospects may not be very different from present rates and will be based on sustainable extensive/semi-intensive farming practices, and measures to control diseases. However, other countries of the sub-region such as Venezuela and Brazil may experience much faster growth of shrimp culture due to the availability of suitable areas and the stagnation of supply at the world level, which could encourage investment. An annual total of about 140,000 mt could be expected for year 2000 at an APR of 5. Tilapia culture is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors, pushed by the availability of export markets and the introduction of intensive production packages. Production is concentrated in Colombia and Venezuela and this situation is expected to remain stable up to year 2000. A conservative APR for these two countries of around 30 would mean an annual production level of about 67,000 mt by year 2000. Gracilaria culture is also concentrated in Chile and is expected to stabilize at about 65,000 mt annually by 2000, although the extensive nature of the production and the climatic variation in the sub-region may produce considerable variations in output from year to year.

Overall, the contribution of the major cultured groups is expected to increase the supply of aquaculture products, mainly oriented to export, from the 330,000 mt (87% of the total production) in 1995 to about 622,000 mt by 2000. Adding the rest of the species farmed, total annual regional aquaculture production could be expected to be about 690,000 mt by year 2000.

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