Colombia is a tropical country with stable temperatures, comprises all thermal floors and possesses an extensive river network throughout the country. It has a continental area of 1 441 748 km2 and has coasts on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans (1 300 km and 1 600 km, respectively). It has a great amount of hydrographical basins, which confer the country an outstanding place in terms of water resources in the world. It has one of the planet’s greatest fish diversity and a high biodiversity of hydro-biological organisms. Its abundant fresh, brackish and marine waters, and appropriate lands contribute to the vast potential for the development of aquaculture.
Aquaculture has shown a fast development rate and a higher profitability than traditional agricultural activities. However, during the past few years, aquaculture returns have diminished mainly due to stable selling prices against rising costs of inputs, especially fish feeds. Aquaculture is contributing to the substitution of the declining natural supply of the continental fisheries resources due to over-fishing, environmental factors and habitat degradation, among other factors. There are in place policies and governmental instruments for its development, with state and private institutions that support and promote research, administration, ordaining and promotion programmes on a permanent basis.
Aquaculture (marine and freshwater) grew at the rate of 7.603 percent between 1985 and 2002, which indicates that it is a promising economic activity that may contribute substantially to the total national fisheries production and to food security.
Freshwater aquaculture dates since the late 1930s with the introduction of rainbow trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss) with the purpose of restocking public use waters for sports fishing. Brackish and marine aquaculture began in the 1970s, when research on the biology and cultivation of the mangrove oyster (Crassostraea rhizhophorae) was undertaken. It continued in the 1980s with the cultivation of marine shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) in the Colombian Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with export purposes (INPA, 2001), with support from the Chinese mission to the country through INDERENA (INPA, 1995). Towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000, research began on the adaptation to captivity and reproduction of the spotted rose snapper (Lutjanus guttatus) in the Pacific and later with the reproduction of the mutton snapper (Lutjanus analis) in the Caribbean and the breeding and cultivation of scallops (Argopecten sp and Nodipecten sp ) also in the Caribbean.
Aquaculture production systems essentially consist of: earthen ponds and floating cages culture for warm weather species, such as red tilapia (Oreochromis sp), and earthen ponds for the pirapating or white cachama (Piaractus brachypomus) and marine shrimp (Penaeus vannamei). For cold water species (trout), lined earthen ponds, or cement built tanks are used, as well as floating cages. There are both, semi-intensive and intensive culture systems; the latter may include water exchanges, airblowers and sometimes liquid oxygen.
Professionals and technicians dedicated to aquaculture have evolved, presently occupying posts of responsibility at the national level in state ministries, national institutes, regional autonomous corporations, Universities, research centres or within their own enterprises, both in Colombia or abroad. Their number, knowledge, and experience have continuously increased.
The main milestones in the development of aquaculture in Colombia are the support of international agencies and organisms, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Agency for Development (AID), the Inter-american development bank (IDB), Japanese JICA, ACCI and KOICA, among others. Important milestones are also, the introduction of exotic species whose culture technology was developed abroad, as is the case for trout, carp and tilapia; the reproduction of native species such as the bocachico (Prochilodus magdalenae), barred sorubim catfish (Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum), white and black cachamas (Piaractus brachypomus and Colossoma macropomum) and yamu (Brycon siebenthalae), among the most important, for restocking, extension, food security and industrial production programmes. The development of shrimp farming for export in the 1980s; the development of technologies for the culture of red tilapia in floating cages, in the 1990s; and the reproduction of the rose spotted snapper (Lutjanus guttatus) in the Pacific and the mutton snapper (Lutjanus analis) in the Atlantic in recent years, are also considered to be milestones in the development of aquaculture. Likewise is the introduction of oyster culture (Crassostrea rhizophorae) and the breeding and farming of scallops (Argopecten sp and Nodipecten sp).
By the late 1990s and early 2000, significant progress was made in the control of marine shrimp diseases (Taura syndrome and the white spot disease).
Milestones at the institutional level were: the creation of the National Institute for Renewable Resources and the Environment - INDERENA (1968–2003), which managed fisheries and aquaculture during this period, and from which sprung the National Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture (INPA) (1991–2003), which merged with other entities in the agricultural sector with the creation of the National Institute for Rural Development (INCODER).
Human resources that have to deal with aquaculture are primarily the owners or investors of fish farms and are responsible for most of the established national production capacity. These entrepreneurs have invested financial resources in their projects, having accumulated experience and knowledge as a consequence of their interest in the activity. The total number of small producers using family labour force and their production is for self-consumption is estimated at over 10 200; while the number of large and medium producers is estimated at 350, the latter have created an average of approximately 10 000 direct jobs (Minagricultura. Acuerdo Sectorial de Competitividad de la Cadena de Piscicultura en Colombia, 2005).
Some producers are advised by professionals, technicians or experts who take charge of the technical management of production (part time), post-production (occasional) and marketing. In turn, other producers create family-owned businesses whose members are in charge of managing the different activities, sometimes specializing through practice in production and post-production.
The shrimp farming industry operates nine maturation laboratories, eighteen larval culture laboratories, twenty shrimp farms and seven processing plants. All of them employ qualified labour force, made up of professionals and expert technicians in their respective field of work (Minagricultura and ACUANAL, 2002).
In the cases where aquatic projects are well designed and technified, production management is carried out by professionals and technicians with sound knowledge on aquaculture, as is the case of the experts in charge of marketing.
Regarding rural aquaculture types I and II, farms are entirely run by the family, with support from external workers whenever the need arises, such as during harvest and processing.
Another category of human resources related to aquaculture corresponds to researchers who work either in universities, state entities, or private sector research centres. This category also includes lecturers and trainers who teach at universities and extension workers who work at state entities at both the national and territorial levels. There are also human resources indirectly related to aquaculture, such as input suppliers, feed manufacturers, service providers, consultants, and advisors either self-employed or employed by consultancy companies with local and/or international coverage.
Aquaculture is practiced throughout the country, but the main production areas are species dependant. The range of cultured species allows aquaculture production in all climatic regions of Colombia.
Marine shrimp. The country’s main producing zones of marine shrimp are located in the Atlantic coast departments, such as Bolívar, Córdoba, Atlántico, Magdalena and la Guajira. In 2001, the area dedicated to shrimp culture was approximately 3 816 hectares of water surface area, which yielded a production of 13 057 tonnes. Production infrastructure is located in coastal areas, mangrove zones or salty marshlands. Water is always pumped either directly from the sea, marshes (coastal lagoons) or from fresh or brackish water drainage canals located in estuarine zones. Shrimp feed generally contains 35 percent protein and is either locally produced (eg. Purina) or imported (eg. Nicovita). Fertilisers and chemical products used as soil conditioners include: calcium hydroxide, calcium carbonates, triple superphosphate, ammonium nitrate, molasses and chicken layer pelleted feeds.
Pond productivity in shrimp farms averages 2 687 kg/ha/year, varying according to the occurrence of diseases. Production facilities include earthen ponds, rectangular in shape, measuring 5 to 10 ha, and ancillary infrastructure such as laboratories, processing plant, storage rooms and administrative areas. Hatcheries, breeding and maturation laboratories (for the production of larvae and postlarvae) are generally located in the vicinity of the farms.
Tilapia. The main production areas are located in the departments of Huila, Tolima, Antioquia, Santander, Meta and Valle del Cauca, which contribute approximately 75 percent of the national production. The area dedicated to the production of tilapia is estimated at 525 hectares. Farming methods do not only include pond culture, but also intensive cage culture. Although cage farms ocuppy between 2 and 5 ha total, but their production may be quite high. There are also tilapia farming units built in cattle ranches,with gravity-fed water flowing from rivers or gullies, although sometimes it must be pumped. Concentrated feeds with protein levels of 48 percent, 30 percent and 24 percent are used for the different stages of initiation, pre-growth and on-growthenterprise, respectively. There are several fish feed manufacturing plants. Ponds are fertilized with either organic (livestock, chicken or pig) manures or chemical fertilizers (15-15-15; 10-30-10; urea, superphosfate, agricultural calcium hydroxide, dolomite and calfos, among others). Pond productivity may vary between 30 to 50 tonnes/hectare/year, with stocking densities of up to 20 fish/m2 or 6 – 8 Kg/m2. This species is also cultivated in floating cages in artificial reservoirs, mainly in the Betania reservoir in the department of Huila. A native technology has been developed recently, whose productivity may reach up to 150 fish/m3 or 50 kg/m3.
Cachama. The main producing departments are: Santander, Meta, Cordoba, Tolima, Caquetá, Antioquia and Valle. With an area of approximately 400 hectares, a high percentage of lands used for the culture of cachama were formerly cattle graze land. Water is supplied by gravity, or sometimes by pumping from nearby surface or underground water sources. Pelleted feeds are used with 28 percent and 25 percent protein and fertilisers are similar to those used for tilapia. Stocking densities are normally of 2 to 4 fish/m2, equivalent to loads of 1 to 2 kg/m3. Polyculture with tilapia is also practised, with a reduction of the density for each species.
Trout. The main departments where trout is produced are: Antioquia, Boyacá and Cundinamarca, contributing with 78 percent of the total national production in 1999. At present, trout culture is also practiced in several other departments: Cauca, Huila, Nariño, Santander, Northern Santander and Quindío, among others. Total surface area is estimated to be 15 hectares; production methods include earthen ponds, and lined or concrete tanks. Water is generally fed by gravity in large volumes and with high exchange rates. High-protein pelleted feeds are used: starter feeds contain 48 percent and on-growth 45 percent protein, with or without pigments, and no fertilisers are used. Density is on average 60 fish/m3, equivalent to a load of 0.18 to 0.24 kg/m3 and production yields are estimated at 300 kg/m3/year. Cultivation in floating cages in natural lakes and cold water dams is also practised.
The most representative species in Colombia aquaculture are:
The cultivation of marine shrimp was promoted by the national government in the 1980s mostly for export purposes. Today, the species most commonly cultivated throughout the country is Penaeus vannamei native to the Colombian Pacific Major genetic improvements have been achieved; closed-cycle reproduction make it resistant to some diseases.
Private producers introduced red tilapia into the country in 1982, and since then it is being produced at artisanal and industrial levels. Later, under the same denomination, other red tilapia hybrids, coming from different countries, including the Stirling red tilapia (O. niloticus), were introduced. Genetic improvement work for this species began after 1995 with the participation of Cuban advisors. Thus, it has been found that some hybrids perform better than others in certain environmental conditions; this is due to the genetic composition of the hybrid and the proportion of their parental species. For the introduction of Nile tilapia into the country, environmental impact assessment studies were carried out, as requested by the environmental authorities. In the case of the introduction of the red tilapia, a tropho-dynamic research study was required; as well as, the certificates of the origin of the line and health certificates issued by the competent authorities in the country of origin, certifying that the species were free of the pathologies that most affect the species under industrial productions conditions.
White and black cachama (Piaractus brachypomus and Colossoma macropomum) are endemic species of the Orinoquian and Amazonian basins, for which reproduction and cultivation work began in the 1980s, and which included aquaculture promotion programmes. At present, production of the black cachama remains still incipient and is used in promotion programmes with small producers for food security purposes. White cachama is more accepted and is produced at an industrial scale. The importance of these species lies in their native nature and the fact that they are cultivated all over the country due to their rapid growth and their omnivorous feeding habits. No genetic improvement work has been carried out, and they are found sporadically in other basins as a result of feral escapes, though so far they have not become established populations.
Trout were introduced in the 1930s with restocking purposes and today they are found in most coldwater bodies throughout the country. Their eggs are being imported from the United States, with the corresponding permits as the source of most of the fingerlings used by the industry, due to their faster growth and other genetic improvements.
In the case of cage fish culture, technology has been developed based on foreign and local experiences. Red tilapia culture thus produced, has become a significantly important industry, whilst silver tilapia, is cultured in artificial reservoirs.
Trout cultivation is mostly intensive, using small areas and high water exchange rates and high stocking densities, depending on the amount of water entering the system. Cage culture in natural lakes and lagoons is also practised.
Their interaction with the environment is not harmful, because they use small areas lacking natural forests, and occasionally they built small ponds on marshlands or on marginal land within their farms. Adverse environmental effects may occur when culture organisms escape to the natural environment and when heavy loads of organic matter are discharged to the aquatic environment when ponds are drained for harvesting.
Occasionally, ponds or pens are built in marshlands along the coastline. In the interior of the country, the construction of earthen ponds for fish cultivation is more common.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Colombia according to FAO statistics:
The market for aquaculture products in the country is varied, and their marketing takes place according to production volumes and distance to the big cities. Small producers sell their production at a good price in the closest town, or directly at their farm gate to local neighbours. For larger volumes of production, the product is transported to the closest small cities or to the larger urban centres, such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga, where the sale price is lower due to the great volumes sold. In those cities, all aquaculture species are marketed.
Selling points for those products are the central fish-markets or commodity fish markets, thehyper-markets, supermarkets and chain stores, or in some instances, producer enterprises have their own selling points.
Species for export include: firstly, marine shrimp, destined for the United States, Europe and Japan. Secondly, the trout, which is exported to the United States and Europe. Generally products are exported fresh, as is the case for shrimp, and whole or in butterfly cut (fresh or frozen), for trout. Tilapia are exported to the United States as fresh fillet and frozen whole.
The governmental entities responsible for coordinating exports are: INCODER, as the governing body for fisheries and aquaculture, issues cultivation and marketing permits; the INVIMA is responsible for certifying the inoquity of seafood products and the implementation of HACCP systems HACCP. Sistema de análisis de peligros y puntos críticos de control. Requisito indispensable para ingresar a los mercados internacionales and good- manufacturing practices, and lastly, ICA, which issues sanitary export certificates for live organisms, mostly fish seed, shrimp post-larvae, or ornamental fish.
Colombia has four main cities: Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla, all of which are identified as national markets and where 28 percent of the Colombian population is concentrated in urban centres and development poles. They are identified also as foci for the consumption of fishery and aquaculture products, fresh, processed or canned foods (INPA and IICA, 1999). According to this study, 91 percent of households, and 90 percent of the people that belong to the researched households, consume fish products.
In general terms, the main markets for wholesale exports of Colombian fishery products for human consumption, are: Spain, the Colombian duty-free zone, Ecuador, Panama and the United States, which make up 93.1 percent of the Colombian export market; Spain and the duty-free zone make up 75.9 percent. The analysts’ forecast is that current export conditions would be maintained for 2004, estimating that total exports will amount to approximately 65 100 tonnes, indicating that exports will continue to decrease.
The marketing chain structure of fish culture, is very similar to that for aquaculture; multiple economic agents participate in the different production and marketing activities. These correspond to:
By 2005 the country had 88 processing plants with a capacity of 24 000 tonnes/year as part of the national marketing distribution network. Out of these 88 plants, only five have HACCP certificates as issued by INVIMA.
With respect to food security, aquaculture has continued to increase its contribution since 1985, by substituting capture fisheries production in continental waters. As for rural populations, the construction of small ponds has increased as part of the promotion of rural small-scale aquaculture, types I and II, to contribute to their own supply of fish (FAO/OSPESCA, 2002). Thus, they grow fish, chicken, ducks, pigs, etc., either for self-consumption pr for income generation purposes when they sell their production surplus.
As for economic development, aquaculture has contributed to the creation of rural employment, maintain the internal supply of aquatic species for national consumption, as well as to the generation of foreign currency through export products. With regards to the use of resources, farmers have farms of 5 to 10 ha on average, and depending on the area where they are located, they may have access to abundant water sources, in which case more intensive systems may be practised. Many small-scale rural farmers have built ponds for subsistence aquaculture.
In relation to poverty alleviation, aquaculture has helped to reduce the rural population’s cash expenditure by producing fish in their own farms. This possibility allows them to partially save the money they would normally have to spend in buying bovine meat. In the farms of the poorest families, small ponds are built with the support of state programmes, which also provide training and sometimes seeds for the start-up of fish culture projects. Thus, these families slightly increase their income and produce fish for self-consumption.
The entity responsible for fisheries and aquaculture administrative control is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which dictates the policies pertaining to those matters. The Colombian Institute for Rural Development - INCODER, created in 2003, executes the fisheries and aquaculture policies through the Under-management for Fisheries and Aquaculture, which administrates, researches, promotes, regulates and controls all fishing and aquatic activities at the national level.
The Colombian Institute for Rural Development – INCODER is the result of the fusion of four entities (INCORA, INAT, INPA and DRI), and which currently gathers and carries out their functions: allocation of lands, building and administration of irrigation districts, administration, research, regulation and development of fisheries and aquaculture, and implementation of productive agricultural, fishing and aquaculture projects.
The productive private sector has established trade associations in different regions, which are recognized by the national government and are taken into consideration for the establishment of policies, decision-making , agreement on means, measures and norms adopted for the development, administration and control of the activity. They are also supported by the national and regional governments through the National Policy of Productive Chains and of Research and Technological Development. Through the implementation of this policy, in each region, producers may have access to resource allocation to carry out their research or technological innovation programmes for the sector. It also contributes to the integral solution to their problems, through the participation of all stakeholders of the aquaculture production chain.
The main norms ruling fisheries and aquaculture are established in Law 13/90 and in its statutory Decree 2256/91, which deal with the issue of cultivation permits (production, processing and marketing), work licences issued by INCODER as the competent authority,through the Under-management for Fisheries and Aquaculture, through the registrar and control office.
Regarding environmental matters, the permit for the concession of waters and the submission of environmental management plans are required by the Regional Autonomous Corporations (CAR), either directly or through the fulfilment of environmental guidelines, which already exist for shrimp. At present, guidelines for fishfarming are been worked upon, with support from the regional councils of the productive chains, with the objective of carrying out the activity in harmony with the environment and in conformance with environmental sustainability.
Territorial Regulation Plans (POT) have been carried out in the country’s departments and municipalities, which determine the most important economic activities. Some of these Plans have aquaculture as an relevant activity for the region’s development.
The National Institute for Alertness of Medicines and Food – INVIMA, is the entity dependent from the Ministry of Health who looks after the innocuousness of food products in general.
For more information on aquaculture legislation in Colombia please click on the following link:
National Aquaculture Legislation Overview - Colombia
Research priorities in aquaculture are presently determined through the agreement of a single research agenda, lead by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and which collects information directly from the regions, with the participation of producers, trade associations and entities, with the purpose of detecting and determining research needs and priorities within the sector.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, together with COLCIENCIAS, contest research announcements. The required financial support is granted through contesting funds Research centres, universities, entities or trade associations demonstrating the capacity to carry the research programmes have access to these announcements. Some of them are carried out jointly with producers in their farms. Likewise, research may also be conducted at the facilities of governmental fishery stations., Private research centres also participate in these schemes. Results are made public to the sector through publications of the private or official organisms responsible for such research.
The main public research institutions are:
Titles granted by universities are:
During the past ten years, the main trends related to the development of aquaculture have been influenced by:
On the other hand, Colombian aquaculture has been influenced by the global development for the sector. Sure enough, in the light of its population increase, Colombia participates of this growth and expansion, both at the artisanal and industrial levels, thus offering aquatic products to the ever growing demand for food.
In relation to the interaction between aquaculture and the environment, Colombian legislation is quite comprehensive in its aim to avoid affecting the ecosystems. However, it is often costly to implement the necessary mitigation measures that some projects have to undertake in order to decrease their impact on nature, particularly in the aquatic environment.
Finally, the general crisis of the Colombian economy, as reflected by a decrease of 4.2 percent in the Gross National Product due to a recessive stage, was accompanied by an unemployment rate of over 20 percent (PNUD, DNP, ACCI and PDH, 2004). Consequently, the population’s purchasing power decreased, thus overall consumer demand decreased, and aquaculture was not excluded from its effects. In addition, public order problems have had a significant effect over offer, leading to the closing down and abandoning of some production centres around the country, forcing the importation of Equatorian and Argentinean products. This has adverse effects on national aquaculture products due to their lower price, causing a decrease in production, due to competition with countries such as Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. This is aggravated by the smuggling of fishery products from neighbouring countries.
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