Aquaculture in Guatemala is divided into two main areas: marine shrimp cultivation - of industrial importance- and tilapia cultivation, commercially important for internal consumption. Shrimp farming is currently growing at a slow rate due to the dwindling prices at the international level and to the incidence of diseases that has affected the principal cultivation of the country. However, at the productive level there are also bright perspectives for the future since its cultivation is already underway with increasing production volumes and a trend towards intensification. The presence of diseases and the strive for solutions have spurred the improvement of the culture techniques, the implementation of bio-security measures, the search for new production alternatives, and the opening up of the local market. It is noteworthy mentioning that the two largest shrimp producer groups have implemented aquaculture quality control measures supervised by their specialised technical staff and well established programs are being carried out.
Fish farming has grown quickly with tilapia cultivation; however, due to the disordered growth since year 2001, there is not an updated record neither of the number of productive units nor of the volumes produced. Tilapia farming is of great relevance at the community level due to: the pressing nutritional needs of rural populations; the depressed prices of other agricultural production systems such as coffee plantations; and the promotion that the Government has carried out through the creation of a demonstration training and production fish farming centre. The cultivation of other species has been initiated by private investors, including trout, American bullfrog, and freshwater lobster, though they have not yet reached the commercial stage. Until present, the government has not implemented sectorial development and regulation programmes.
Aquaculture in Guatemala started in 1954 with the launching of the FAO sponsored Rural Fish Farming Programme and the technical assistance of Dr. Shu Yen Lin. The construction of the first fish station, the Barcenas Aquaculture Centre was initiated in 1956 and completed in 1958; it had 23 ponds with a total surface are of 18 787 m2. Public aquaculture sector programmes have focused on the cultivation of fresh water species (tilapia, carp, jaguar guapote and snails) under extensive systems at the family (subsistence) level; aimed at fulfilling the basic nutritional needs of rural populations. Parallel to the execution of freshwater aquaculture public schemes, since 1982 the private sector has embarked on brackish water aquaculture based on the experience of countries such as Panama, Honduras and United States of America. This activity has allowed the exploitation of otherwise unutilized lowlands which became redundant after the price depression of several agricultural produce.
In relation to the freshwater prawn, specifically giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), its culture was started in Guatemala by the private sector at the end of the 70’s with the support of the Technical Agricultural Mission of Taiwan and the Central Government.
Cultivation of the American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) was started in 1995 but it didn’t prosper because appropriate marketing channels were not established. At present its production is yet incipient and for local consumption only.
The cultivation of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is practiced for the local market and at a low scale. The marketing of species has proved to be difficult due to its relatively high price within indigenous communities with very limited purchasing power. Unsuccessful experimental culture trials with other species, such as the mangrove oyster (Crassostrea rizophorae), were carried out in the 80’s.
There is no statistic information reflecting the educational level of the human resources who work in shrimp or tilapia farms; but knowledge about the sector, indicates that: field labourers (feeding, screen cleansing, etc.) have not completed primary school or are illiterate; support personal (record keeping, harvesters) have generally completed primary school; and production assistance staff (supervisors, field biologists) have diverse academic qualifications (technical agronomist, secondary school or lower technicians) or university studies (aquaculture technicians). In 2001, a total of 18 588 people, both men and women, worked in the artisanal fisheries sector, 3 825 in the industrial fisheries sector, 1 394 in shrimp farming, and 6 636 in fish farming. The last two correspond to the aquaculture sector and represent 26.4 percent of the total national fisheries sector labour force. In 2003, records showed that 1 044 men and 350 women worked in shrimp farming (75 percent and 25 percent, respectively). It is worth mentioning that women work mainly in shrimp processing plants.
There is no updated information on productivity or yields per unit area for tilapia (Oreochromis sp). The latest reports show that in 2001 there were 400 hectares of constructed pond infrastructure which produced approximately 75 tonnes. A graph with yearly production information is shown in annexes. Marine shrimp Penaeus vannameii is produced only in the Pacific coast of the country and the average yield per unit area is estimated at 3 114.3 lb/ha/cycle. There are 34 shrimp farms of which 22 are active and 12 inactive. The total constructed surface area for shrimp cultivation reaches 1 986.5 ha, of which approximately 738.8 ha correspond to the 12 inactive farms. In summary, of the total production infrastructure, only 62.7 percent was under operation in 2001. Most infrastructure consists of earthen ponds which are irregular in shape; only 26.9 ha (2.15 percent) are cement-covered tanks.
As previously mentioned, freshwater aquaculture in Guatemala has included the cultivation of fish, crustacea, molluscs, reptiles and amphibians. It is not known exactly which species are still being currently cultured. The most updated record is appended at the end of this document. The value and production volume of farmed shrimp – which is the only aquaculture species for export and that generated foreign currency in 2004-, was US$18.21 million and 8.79 million pounds, respectively.
Attempts to cultivate native species of cichlids such as the blackbelt cichlid (Cichlasoma maculicauda) allowed the production 78 tonnes in 1996. However, its culture ceased because it is an abundant species which is captured in the main lake of the country.
All species included in table 1 are exotic species that were introduced into the country; only the tilapia is cultured commercially, although there are no updated records of its production. The culture of other species such as trout, freshwater prawn, American bullfrog, etc. is only starting and there are no production statistics. The following is a list of genetically improved species that were also introduced:
Until present, 15 operation permits have been issued through Commercial Aquaculture licences; of which only 8 are currently valid (53 percent), 4 are in the process of revalidation (27 percent) and 3 have expired and arenvalid (20 percent). It is important to mention that there is only one operation permit licence for post larvae production (6,6 percent), while 10 shrimp farms and one hatchery are not in the possession of Commercial Aquaculture licences.
Fish farming is carried out in 2 778 m3 of floating cages systems and in 400 ha of earthen ponds which produce 75 tonnes (2001). Since 2004, interest has grown around tilapia cultivation spurred by the construction of the Sabana Grande training and fish breeding station. There are few industrial scale farms, while most production units belong to peasants. The interest of intensifying cultivation to obtain more profits really shows.
There is no precise record of the total production of the shrimp farming sector. However, considering the cultivation systems and areas, it can be estimated in a total of 15 million pounds (5 454.55 tonnes). This figure is not officially recorded because much of this production is consumed locally and for fear of taxation, producer do not always report their total output; thus statistics are not totally reliable. The total aquaculture production in 2003 was estimated at 6 343 tonnes.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Guatemala according to FAO statistics:
There are no records about the national consumption markets; however, local sales of farmed shrimp have increased markedly due to the diminishing prices at international levels. It is estimated that in 2004 6 818 tonnes were produced and 3 995.45 tonnes were exported, thus it can be inferred that the internal consumption was 2 823 tonnes (National Fisheries Office UNIPESCA). Farmed shrimp production goes mainly to the North American and European markets. In 1997 and 1998 China began receiving part of the country’s exports. The presentation of the product varies according to the market demand. Commonly, the United States demands peeled, headed and deveined shrimp and the European and Asian markets demand whole, head-on shrimp. According to their value, the Guatemalan shrimp exports in 2003 were distributed as follows: United States, 54 percent; Europe (Spain and France), 44 percent; other, 2 percent.
Currently there are no labelling or certification systems for aquaculture production; although aquaculture and fisheries products processing plants are subject to certification by the Food Inoquity Area of the Unit of Norms and Regulations of the Ministry of Agriculture. A certification registry number is assigned to processing plants that have been approved.
Food security has been bolstered through the restocking of two major inland water bodies with Oreochromis sp.: Guija Lake with 37 000 fingerlings and Amatitlan Lake with 25 000 fingerlings during 2004 that sustain important aquaculture-based fisheries. The livelihood of 202 and 385 licenced fishermen, respectively. These activities have been carried out as part of the Guatemalan Aquaculture Development Programme, implemented by the National Fisheries Office – Ministry of Agriculture, Husbandry and Food (UNIPESCA-MAGA) with financial support of the Under-Ministry of Food Security of the MAGA. Cage culture projects in Lake Atitlán have also been implemented, totalling a volume of 960 m3. 5 projects are distributed along the lake’s shoreline. As of yet, there is no information on the impact of this activity on the local economy, on poverty alleviation, national food security, economic development, and on their relationship with the environment.
Per capita fish consumption during the period of 1967-1969 was 0.5 kg; by 1990 it was estimated in 0.9 kg. The most recent data indicate that in 2000 fish consumption per person was 2.0 kg. There is no precise information on its contribution to family nutrition but it is evident that consumption and supply have risen considerable over the last five years. Although there are no government-coordinated programmes or schemes for developing rural aquaculture, isolated actions have induced small agricultural producers formerly dedicated to growing coffee, to undertake fish farming. Tilapia cultivation has greatly expanded in the Pacific coastal zone of Guatemala.
The Fisheries and Aquaculture Management Unit (UNIPESCA) is a governmental entity which has evolved through the years according to the demands by the fisheries sector. Initially, the Special Unit for the Execution of Fisheries and Aquaculture (UNEPA) was created as the result of regional efforts in support of fisheries and aquaculture (Workshop: “Institutional Reconversion of the Technical Directorate for Fisheries and Aquaculture – DITEPESCA-“). and which was sponsored by the PRADEPESCA Programme.
Participants in this Workshop included: small, medium and large scale fishery representatives and investors of both littorals, the tuna fisheries sub-sector, the Marine and Aquaculture Studies Center (CEMA), the Non-traditional Agricultural Exports Trade Association (AGEXPRONT), the Shrimp Producers Association (ACRICON), Managers of the Ministry of Agriculture, Husbandry and Food (MAGA) and the Regional Programme for the Support of Fisheries Development in the Central American Isthmus (PRADEPESCA). The Workshop attendants convened to elaborate a proposal on the structure of the new Guatemalan regulatory entity for fisheries and aquaculture.
According to Ministerial Agreement Nº 25 of 10 January 2000, the attributions and faculties of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Management Unit are:
The General Law of Fisheries and Aquaculture – Decree Nº 80-2002 of the Congress of the Republic- is the capital rule in matters of fisheries and aquaculture; its regulations were authorized recently through the Governmental Agreement Nº 223-2005, 27 June 2005. This rule is related to the following regulations:
The National Council for Science and Technology (CONCYT) and the National Secretariat for Science and Technology (SENACYT), through the Agricultural Commission (AGROGYT) are currently preparing the Plan for Technological Development 2005-2010. This commission has within its responsibilities, the management of research projects related to aquaculture. The plan does not contemplate a specific research guideline on aquaculture. Research projects financed by this commission are undertaken according to actual needs, and according to the significance of the specific resource. This entity finances research projects undertaken by universities and by UNIPESCA.
The only professional training centre related to aquaculture is the Centre for Marine and Aquaculture Studies (CEMA) which is a Regional Centre belonging to the San Carlos National University of Guatemala affiliated to the Regional University Centres Network.
The Technical Institute for Training and Productivity (INTECAP) is another relevant training centre whose creation was approved in 1972 by the honourable Congress of the Republic based on the following precept: “It is declared of social benefit, national interest, need and public utility to train human resources and to increase productivity in all fields of economic endeavour”.
Aquaculture in Guatemala has developed centred on two culture species: from the commercial and exportation points of view, marine shrimp farming; and as a product for local/internal consumption, tilapia farming. In the 90’s the aquaculture export industry suffered a serious drawback with the spread of viral diseases which caused severe mortalities. Later on, towards the end of the decade, hurricane Mitch severely damaged the main productive farms provoking the loss of significant amounts of harvestable product.
Due to these factors and to non-existent lines of credit, the small-scale producer sector could not recover from such losses, being gradually absorbed by producers with greater economic capacity. Non-the-less, production levels recorded similar volumes to those achieved at the beginning of the decade.
Since 1995, the industry projects itself towards better cultivation practices and management techniques on water exchange, feeding, and stress reduction. Recently, improved post larvae have been introduced from Panama, Honduras, Ecuador, United States and Mexico, thus renewing interest on the development of shrimp farming. The availability of improved genetic material and reproduction methodologies previously implemented in Colombia and Ecuador induced industrial pioneers to set up larvae production. Due to the high cost of land, the need to produce greater volumes in order to achieve profitability, and low international market prices of shrimp, industry trends are being oriented towards the adoption of intensive culture systems with increasing stocking densities from 25 organisms per square meter to 75, or even reaching 100; the implementation of supplementary aeration; and the adoption of bio-security measures to prevent the introduction of diseases.
The industry has also faced the need to modify its productive cycles, varying from 2,5 cycles per year to only one cycle which produce sizes bigger than 25 grams and making partial harvests throughout the cycle with the aim of obtaining better market prices. It should be mentioned that in the case of marine shrimp culture, private enterprise has been the thriving force for the development of this activity maintaining itself at the top on technological issues and in cultivation systems. The role of the Fisheries Office has been limited to regulations regarding the capture of wild post larvae in natural environments as well as to the registry and the issuance of commercial aquaculture licences required for exportation. It may be asserted that the surge and consolidation of shrimp farming has been based on two fundamental pillars: the availability of genetically improved material (post larvae and broodstock), and the adoption of updated cultivation technology (feeding and stress management).
Initially, tilapia fishfarming was implemented with the so-called backyard model under polyculture with carp, snails, farm animals and poultry and agricultural by-products. However, the expected yields were not achieved, and therefore this aquaculture model did not prosper. Tilapia has been the most successfully cultured species, partly because the first aquaculture station was built for the breeding of this species and of cyprinids, although the latter was not well accepted by consumers due to the large amount of intramuscular bones. Tilapia has been under cultivation in Guatemala for approximately 50 years; consolidating itself as a viable activity during the 1990s with the genetic refreshening that occurred with the introduction of new varieties amenable to different environments and with the establishment of new fingerling production centres. Cultivation of this species has awakened interest among rural populations as a means of diversifying cropping systems, mainly in depressed coffee producing areas, due to the impact of international coffee price falls. This species has been the one mostly supported by the Fisheries Office due to its beneficial social impact. The Under-Ministry of Food Security, with technical support of UNIPESCA, has promoted tilapia culture due to its impact in hunger reduction and contribution to food security.
Currently, the Hydric Resources Policy is being planned jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Public Health. This policy also constitutes the legal framework for the General Law of Water. Amongst other industries, aquaculture is considered as a water consumption industry that utilises the vital liquid; therefore this law aims to establish a duty rate for its usage. This regulation measure might be considered as a strength from the sustainable use and protection of the resource point of view. Yet, it is to be determined how to regulate its use by small-scale fish farmers, who have a lower capacity to pay for this resource; thus, this proposal will imminently have a determining influence in the development of this activity.
Another regulation measure that shall affect aquaculture activities will be the Law for the Protection of Bio-diversity, which is currently being planned and subjected to consultation by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Environment.This law aims to protect native species, regulate the use of genetically modified organisms, and the introduction of exotic species. From the contextual point of view, it is a measure for protection of natural resources with valuable potential for aquaculture, and for protection of the existing cultures. Therefore the appropriate measures shall have to be selected for the diversification of the aquaculture sector, since it clearly attempts to regulate aquaculture itself.
Although this law aims at protecting bio-diversity, it is well known that there is a lack of control on the introduction of exotic species; some of which are imported as ornamental. Sometimes organisms are imported at the post-hatching stage, under the generic category of cichlids; however some of these species might in fact be ichthyophagous.
The prevailing Regulations on Residual Water Discharges into Receptor Bodies (Government AgreementNº 66-2005 issued by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources) determines permissible limits for discharges into receptor water bodies. Due to its nature, aquaculture is subject to such regulations, although the corresponding regulatory programme has not yet been implemented.
Although this regulation is not specifically aimed at regulating aquaculture per se, the general trend of policies and regulations is oriented towards reducing pollution levels generated by the various industrial activities; including aquaculture which is a productive activity that requires water as an ever more scarce resource, and that uses genetically improved organisms which generate dischargeable nutrients through the metabolic activity of the organisms under cultivation.
FAO . 2005 . Aquaculture production, 2004. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
AGEXPRONT Asociación Gremial de Exportadores de Productos No Tradicionales. 2004 . Data Export Volumen 144/2004. 31 pp.
DITEPESCA Dirección Técnica de Pesca y Acuicultura. 1996 . Registro y Control Estadístico Documentos varios 1996.
Instituto Nacional de Estadística. 2002 . Informe Final Censo 2002, XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación 2002. INE, 64 pp.
MAGA Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganadería y Alimentación. 2005 . Enero/Febrero 2005. Magactual, Año 2 Nº 008 pp. 18-21.
PNUD. 2004 . Desarrollo Humano y Ruralidad: Compendio Estadístico 2004. Guatemala: Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, 2004.
UNIPESCA-MAGA. 2001 . Censo de la Camaronicultura en Guatemala 2001. Informe Final.
UNIPESCA-MAGA. 2005 . Unidad de Manejo de la Pesca y Acuicultura. Archivos, registros y documentos varios.