Marketing prawns alive will usually generate a better price for you but, of course, increases your costs. Marketing them successfully in this way depends on your ability to keep them alive during transport and display, and to present undamaged, healthy prawns in an attractive way. Good survival of adult freshwater prawns can be achieved during journeys of up to at least 24 hours at a density of 600 g/L with good aeration, without any visible deterioration in their quality. It is best to transport the prawns on shelves stacked vertically within the water column; this helps to avoid mortalities caused by crowding, as well as maintaining better localised water quality. Cool transport (20-22°C) minimizes water quality problems and reduces the activity of the prawns, thus lessening the likelihood that there will be injuries due to combat. The use of hard water tends to stabilize the pH, thus reducing the toxicity of any ammonia that builds up during transport.
Once the prawns arrive at the point of sale (e.g. restaurant, market) they can be maintained fairly densely packed in aquariums with a good biofilter. In some places, specialist firms collect live prawns from various farms, using small pickups with tanks and aeration devices. They may also buy, at a lower price, fresh (chilled) prawns. Another alternative is for you to join with other farmers to form a cooperative for this purpose. The key to success is to adapt to the needs of the local market in order to secure the highest income. In some places, small prawns can be sold as bait to fishermen; in others there is a recreational fee fishing (angling) market for live prawns themselves. In yet others there is an opportunity to sell live animals for home aquaria and for instructional use in schools. Caution must be used in areas where Macrobrachium rosenbergii is not indigenous, however, to ensure that they do not escape and endanger local fauna.
Prawns can be sold fresh (chilled) if they are going to be consumed within 5 (preferably 3) days. The way to ensure that your chilled prawns are of the best quality has been explained earlier in this manual.
Prawns which are not expected to be sold within 3 days should immediately be frozen. Freezing should take place when they are fresh, not after they have been on ice for several days. Frozen tails have a longer shelf life than whole prawns. Whole frozen freshwater prawns will turn ‘mushy’ if they are frozen and held above -20°C, or if they are thawed and refrozen. It is recommended that prawns to be stored for long periods be held at -30 to -35°C. Tails which are frozen in ice blocks may be stored for over a year and still be very satisfactory, although a maximum of six months is recommended. Glazing or vacuum packing significantly prolongs the useful life of frozen prawns. While vacuum packing requires elaborate processing facilities, not available to small farms, glazing is quite simple: a very thin mixture of syrup and water prevents oxidation. If you are marketing frozen prawns, whether they are sold whole or as tails, the ideal is to sell them within a three month period. This can be achieved, if your farm is geared properly to your market (when and where will the product be required, and in what quantity). Good record keeping will help you to develop an efficient farm management system, based on past experience. If you are selling prawns to restaurants you may find it useful to provide them with advice on how to ensure that they are consumed at their best quality (Table 20).
A high quality image can be established if you begin by selling at high prices to expensive and well-respected restaurants. These tend to demand high quality, which can help you to develop good products. Selling prawns to high-quality restaurants requires more effort for a new farm but it will pay off in the long term. Going for this market and establishing your quality image first enables you to obtain higher price levels when you start selling larger quantities of prawns.
You may want to sell your prawns on your farm or at your ‘farm gate’, or even along the roadside. Usually, prawns sold in this way are marketed whole and fresh (chilled). This is a particularly sensible way to market at least some of your harvest, especially if your farm is situated on a busy road or near a tourist site. You can sell prawns at lower prices than people can buy them in shops or markets but at prices greater than you would get if you sold them to a retailer. If your farm is large enough, or you can obtain prawns from neighbouring farms, it may be worth building your own prawn restaurant.
Advertize your prawns (and/or your restaurant) with roadside signs, such as flags, balloons and banners (Figure 99), and make the prawns available at times when the greatest number of people pass by your farm. You could open up every day, or advertize that you were (for example) open every Thursday. You may find it worth buying in farmed fish (or perhaps you produce these as well as freshwater prawns) for resale in order to make your roadside stand more useful to the customers. Roadside sales are the most profitable and are paid for mostly in cash. Tell people how to store and cook what they buy. The sale of other items, such as T-shirts, caps, handicrafts, etc., may provide additional income.
If your farm is large you may find it useful to offer prawns at a discounted price to your labourers; this discourages theft. However, the price must not be so far below normal market price that you end up providing your labourers with an incentive to buy larger quantities than they need, so that they can resell them!
Another marketing idea worth thinking about is to make your farm a tourist attraction. Many people are very interested in aquaculture and would enjoy visiting your farm. If you do this, make sure that visitors cannot interfere with farm operations. Several farms in the French West Indies offer tourists the opportunity to buy freshwater prawns and to visit the farms and test Caribbean traditional recipes in a restaurant located nearby.
If you do decide to sell all or part of your prawns at the farm, or by taking your own stand at a local market, it is very important that you should ensure that you do not damage the consumer image of your product. The prawns must not only be obviously clean and attractive looking but also be chilled or frozen properly. They should also be displayed in clean and hygienic conditions. Those selling the prawns must be clean and properly dressed.
General recommendations to restaurants and consumers for handling and storing freshwater prawns
Store fresh prawns in a refrigerator, covered with ice, for not more than 5 (preferably 3) days; change the ice daily and, while doing so, rinse the prawns with clean cold water
Do not thaw more prawns than you need; re-freezing thawed prawns is not good practice
Store frozen prawns in a freezer immediately you get them; keep them at minus 20°C or below until you need them
Do not take longer than 10 minutes to thaw prawns
Cook and serve prawns immediately after removing them from ice or thawing them
Do not leave prawns unprotected in the freezer; keep the container closed
Cooked prawns can be frozen
Do not ever leave prawns at room temperature
Advertise your freshwater prawns at the farm gate (Martinique)
SOURCE: DENIS LACROIX
The international marketing of freshwater prawns, which (except in the case of the largest farms) would be made through intermediary seafood processing companies, is outside the scope of this manual. When the first FAO manual on freshwater prawn farming was written there were very few opportunities for export; now, freshwater prawns are beginning to become a global commodity. Macrobrachium is commonplace in the supermarkets of Europe and the USA and is widely used in the restaurant trade. It is therefore important for you to realize that there are now significant opportunities for exporting your product, if it is of export quality (Figure 100).
Information on the global market for freshwater prawns can be obtained through the GLOBEFISH Databank run by the FAO Fish Utilization and Marketing Service (http://www.globefish.org )
Supermarkets sell Macrobrachium rosenbergii in Europe (France)
SOURCE: DENIS LACROIX
The development of marketing strategies and plans for freshwater prawns is covered in Phillips and Lacroix (2000) and a number of case studies are presented. That publication also contains many recipes for preparing meals containing Macrobrachium; good knowledge about the proper preparation of this species before consumption is thought to be very important to generate a good consumer image of the product. This is especially important in countries where Macrobrachium is not indigenous and there is no tradition in its cooking. A range of farm-gate and retail prices for freshwater prawns in several countries is provided in New (2000b).