Freshwater aquaculture began in Honduras in 1936, when the first fish culture station was built, at the time the first species for cultivation was introduced from Guatemala. The objective was to improve the nutritional level of the rural population. Afterwards, other collaborative programmes were developed, until the transfer of necessary technology to carry out the activity successfully was achieved. However, the dependency created between fish farmers and the State institution charged with executing the activity, mainly for making available high quality seeds or fingerlings and opportune technical assistance, made it impossible to maintain the initial conditions, causing the deterioration and often the abandonment of the activity, especially of the most resource-dispossessed sectors. The State’s effort and the collaboration of different countries and international organisations have resulted in a good infrastructure (almost abandoned now), trained human resources, and several state cultivation centres that have been able to continue producing aquaculture products for national consumption. Meanwhile, foreign-capital enterprises have been incorporated, whose production is exported to other countries, mainly the United States. One of these enterprises manages extensive tilapia cultures in Lake Yojoa and in the hydroelectric dam El Cajon.
Brackish water shrimp cultivation appeared in the 1970s, through the initiative of private businesses together with foreign capital, and settling in the coastal shores belonging to the State in the Honduran Gulf of Fonseca.
Towards the end of the rush for acquiring an area for shrimp cultivation, the State had given concessions for 37 012.37 ha of salt pan land, apt for developing cultivation projects. For the year 2002, estimates indicate that the production area reached 14 000 ha, occupied by 239 farms, with an approximate investment of 6 000 million Lempiras (1USD=18.75 L), generating around 21 450 direct and indirect jobs, with 25 percent of female work force, and benefiting approximately 124 410 people. Annual wages in the industry are estimated in L 190 million (USD 10 052 910) with a monthly circulating of around L 50 million in the region. The industry’s annual payments to the commercial sector are estimated at L160 million with communitarian support of around L 20 million Lempira (USD 1 058 200) for the period 1985-2001 in schools, churches, sewerage, health and hygiene, foundations and environmental projects, and formation of human resources.
Collaterally to the industry, there are eleven post-larvae production hatcheries that have substituted 99 percent of wild capture, and eight packaging plants with state-of-the-art technology for exportation processing, adding value to the export products according to clients’ prefererences (General Directorate for Fisheries and Aquaculture (DIGEPESCA) and National Association of Honduran Aquaculturists (ANDAH).
FOB exports of cultivated shrimp and tilapia for 2004 reached USD 175 621.4 thousand (Honduras Central Bank).
Freshwater aquaculture began informally in Honduras in 1936, when the first species intended for culture were introduced from the Republic of Guatemala. It was only in 1954 that, through an FAO and Honduran governmental authorities initiative, that the first aquaculture development project was established, with the objective of “improving the nutritional level of the rural population through the production of animal protein of the best quality”.
Through this activity, Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) and the common carp (Ciprinus carpio) were introduced into the country, resulting in the creation of the first fish culture station, El Picacho, located near Tegucigalpa; and in the promotion of the construction of ponds for culturing the introduced species in the project location, supplying fingerlings and technical assistance wherever possible.
The project Promotion of Aquaculture in Honduras began in 1977, with support from USAID, through the University of Auburn, Alabama, having as the national counterpart the General Directorate for Renewable Natural Resources (RENARE) of the Ministry of Natural Resources, (today: General Directorate for Fisheries and Aquaculture (DIGEPESCA) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Husbandry (SAG).
With this project, Nile tilapia (Orechromis niloticus) was introduced for cultivation, obtaining as main results:
Brackish water aquaculture
Brackish water aquaculture began in Honduras in 1973, with the establishment of the Sea Farms Company in El Jicarito, Municipality of Marcovia, Department of Choluteca. The farm had earthen ponds for the on-growth of shrimp and a research laboratory and hatchery for larvae rearing utilizing pregnant female broodstock obtained in the Gulf of Fonseca, adopting later closed cycles using captive broodstock of both sexes. Since the beginning, the cultured species were Penaeus vannamei and L. stylirostris, whose post-larvae are abundantly found in the estuary waters of the Gulf of Fonseca. In fact, during its growth period and prior to the development of hatchery technology, the industry was dependant on the capture of the abundant wild postlarvae resources.
Culture species and practices
Fresh water aquaculture is practiced under extensive, semi-intensive, and intensive systems utilizing namely the Nile tilapia and the red hybrid tilapia. Marine shrimp are also cultured under extensive, semi-intensive and intensive systems; however the extensive is only seldom practiced, most enterprises prefer semi-intensive systems, and several are implementing the intensive system. The species cultivated are whiteleg shrimp (P. vannamei) and blue shrimp (P. stylirostris), using mostly national hatchery reared post-larvae.
Development of the main professionals and technicians
The project Promotion of Aquaculture in Honduras emphasised the training of human resources, so when it finalised, the country had professionals specialised in production, research, training of aquaculture extension workers, farm managers, etc., capable of managing the country’s fish farming development projects. In turn, the alumni of the Pan-American School of Agriculture are nowadays trained to manage this type of activity.
Regarding shrimp-culture, some pioneering foreign professionals remain working actively in shrimp farms; while other farms have trained their own technicians. Although national personnel have received training abroad, in some cases foreign technicians continue to be hired to work in Honduran farms.
In 1992, the Association of Honduran Aquaculturists (ANDAH), together with the Ministry of Public Education, participated in the creation of a Bachelors Degree in Aquatic Technical Sciences, at a school located in the municipality of Nacaome, Department of Valle. This institution trains middle-level professionals who may work as technicians in the farms or may continue their university studies.
Main milestones of the sector’s development
One of the main limitations of fishfarming in Honduras, whose productive line was limited to tilapia, has been the acquisition of seed. Initially seed was donated by the State, but later on a price was assigned, which for a long time remained subsidised. This has affected the poorer farmers who operate small-scale farms with a reduced number of ponds.
The best results in productivity are obtained under feeding regimes based on high-cost pelletised concentrates. However, this is not a viable alternative for cheap protein-production programmes intended to improve the diet of rural populations with nutritional deficits.
In the initial stages of shrimp cultivation, the clearing of mangroves to expand the farms was criticised, as was the case of the capture of wild post-larvae for stocking farms, since both actions destroyed several other species to the detriment of artisanal fisheries. Aerial photography and studies carried out by competent authorities reveal that the mangrove forest areas where shrimp farms operate has improved and no semi-intensive or intensive system farms capture wild seed, since they rather utilize hatchery reared post larvae produced in national laboratories.
The depressed prices in the shrimp market, the increase of the value of production inputs, the lack of fresh financing and the indebtedness due to high interest rates, have provoked the closing of several shrimp enterprises.
Employment related to the sector or benefiting from aquaculture (Tables 1 and 2).
Table 1. Estimated data on employment-generation by tilapia culture
Table 2. Employment generation by shrimp culture
Summarising the information provided by DIGEPESCA, in Honduran aquaculture the number of people related to the activity is as follows:
The main tilapia production areas located by municipality and department, indicating their water surface area, average yearly production, and export presentation and destination are indicated in Table 3.
Table 3. Main tilapia production areas
Source : DIGIPESCA, 2002
The red tilapia is the species cultured in both ponds and floating cages. Broodstock were introduced from other countries. Other cultured species are: Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus).
For shrimp cultivation, two endemic species are used: Penaeus vannamei and L. stylirostris. Genetic improvement research of these two species is being carried out by private shrimp enterprises, although results have not yet been concluded.
Extensive tilapia culture is practiced in small ponds with very limited productions. It is undertaken by small-scale farmers in rural Honduras; however, this most-deprived sector has no access neither to the appropriate technology nor to quality seed, thus generally ends up with degenerative stocks which yield very poor crops. Often, farmers tend to abandon tilapia culture.
Extensive shrimp culture is practiced by the poorer fishermen who build their own tidal ponds. Larvae enter the pond with incoming water at high tides, but no control is exerted over the shrimp thus stocked. Towards the end of the growing season, fishermen capture their shrimp by casting their nets over the entire surface of the pond, which cannot be drained for harvesting purposes.
Semi-intensive tilapia culture is practiced in earthen ponds, owned and built by more enterprising farmers. Concentrated feeds or balanced rations are supplied and water control is exerted; production may exceed 10 000 pounds per hectare per cycle.
In semi-intensive shrimp culture, hatchery-reared larvae are stocked in ponds and shrimp are also fed concentrated feeds or balanced rations. Production may reach between 1 300 and 1 500 pounds per hectare per cycle.
The intensive tilapia cultivation system is practiced by private enterprises that utilize floating cages stocked at high densities and supply concentrated feeds. In the case of intensive shrimp culture, it is practiced in ponds stocked at high-densities, with frequent water exchanges and supplementary aeration.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Honduras according to FAO statistics:
The main national markets are:
Generally, the fish farmer sells his product to intermediaries, who place it in different selling points, modifying the price from L 4.5 (USD 0.24) (minimum price), to L 11.25 (USD 0.6) per kilo to the final consumer.
The National Animal Husbandry Health Service (SENASA), of the Ministry of Agriculture and Husbandry, is the authority responsible for guaranteeing the innocuousness of the products for both the national market and the importing countries. In the national market, the Public Health authorities supervise that products comply with the appropriate requirements for human consumption.
There is no doubt that aquaculture contributes substantially to the country’s economic and social development, especially because of the generation of foreign currency through exports. Thus, farmed shrimp has become the third largest of all goods exported by Honduras, registering values ranging from USD 127.7 million in 2000 to USD 152.0 million in 2004. Tilapia is recorded in the Balance of Payments as the main non-traditional exported product since 2000 and has increased its exports from USD 5.3 million in 2000 to USD 23.6 million in 2004 (Honduras Central Bank). Aquaculture is also an employment-generating source for university professionals, mid-level technicians and workers with full or partial primary education or even for illiterate workers but who have the abilities to participate in the activity. In this sense, over 35 thousand people, both men and women, benefit directly; this number can be multiplied by five if the dependency on one household head is taken into consideration.
From this point of view, commercial or entrepreneurial aquaculture contributes importantly to the alleviation of poverty and therefore, to the national food security too. This cannot be said of small-scale, informal or artisanal aquaculture; which, for several reasons (unavailability of seed, lack of land in appropriate places, lack of technical assistance, etc.) has not become a true alternative for the rural population, as had initially been assumed that it could constitute a means of livelihood for the generation of high-quality protein for the dispossessed classes.
In Honduras, the organism responsible for the administrative control of aquaculture is the General Directorate for Fisheries and Aquaculture (DIGEPESCA), which depends on the Ministry of Agriculture and Husbandry.
The objective of DIGEPESCA is to strengthen the execution of State responsibility in marine and inland fisheries, and in aquacultural activities in their different stages of capture, cultivation, industrialization, storage, transportation, and internal and external commercialization. This can be achieved through multi-disciplinary research with the purpose of assessing the real availability of resources to promote their sustainable exploitation and obtain the best benefits from an economic and social point of view, according to the potential of the resource and the country’s economic and social conditions.
Execute the national fisheries policy according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Agriculture and Husbandry, coordinating their actions with other relevant governmental and private organisms.
In order to achieve the proposed objective and mission, DIGIPESCA has to assume several functions covering the fisheries and aquaculture system. These functions reflect State responsibilities and the actions that must be executed. With this purpose, the areas in which State actions must be effective have been defined. They include: fisheries and aquaculture policy, multi-disciplinary research, sectarian planning, management and ordering of the exploitation of fisheries and aquaculture resources, the promotion of productive activities, enforcement and control of those activities, extension and transfer of technology, training, inter-institutional coordination, international aspects, technical assistance coordination and relations with the private sector.
Private sector associations
The Honduran Association of Aquaculturists (ANDAH) was formed since the early stages of the development of the shrimp farming industry, having made provision in its statutes for the incorporation of aquaculture producers, including freshwater fish farmers. The ANDAH has played an important role in the development and strengthening of the activity despite the opposition of a local environmental group and its international collaborators. It has also sponsored research on the proliferation and control of diseases, as well as on water quality and management in areas surrounding the farms in order to ensure the absolute sustainability of the aquaculture processes, supported by the implementation of a code of conduct for its affiliates.
The General Directorate for Fisheries and Aquaculture is still ruled by the Fisheries Law of 1959, which confers it faculties for the exploitation of aquatic resources. These faculties include the procedures and requirements for the execution of river, lake and marine fisheries; for the definition of seasonal fisheries bans, whether permanent or temporary, general or regional; the establishment of reserved zones and other conditions that guarantee a rational and methodical exploitation, from the biological, sanitary, commercial, industrial or sports point of view; the establishment of fishing methods to be used and their characteristics; and the issuing of sanitary regulations and other dispositions necessary to regulate and manage the fisheries industry. Aquaculture was not envisaged at the time and therefore was not included in the legislation. Today, after several costly efforts and the participation of foreign consultants, an Initiative for a Fisheries and Aquaculture Law has been elaborated, which now awaits its turn in the National Congress for its analysis, amendments and approval.
General Environmental Law
These law dictates that all projects, industrial installation or any other public or private activity, susceptible of polluting or degrading the environment, the natural resources or the cultural and historical heritage of the country, shall be preceded by an environmental impact assessment study, categorising each case according to the Regulations of the National Environmental Impact Assessment System, prior to issuance of an Environmental Permit.
This institution represents, administratively and judicially, the interests of the State on environmental issues.
The use of State lands for aquaculture purposes is controlled by the Attorney General of the Republic, conceding their use for predetermined periods of time, through payment of an annual canon or duty.
The innocuousness of aquaculture products is guaranteed through the implementation of the HACCP Plan by each enterprise, under the supervision of SENASA.
There is no public instance that sets research priorities on aquaculture matters.
Public institutions do not carry out any formal research activities. Research is carried out through the water quality and aquatic pathobiology laboratories of ANDAH. Industrial scale farms also carry out proprietary research according to their priority needs and objectives.
As for the practice of participative research, it is carried out on broad and general issues, such as on water quality or diseases. Other particular situations are dealt with in the farms.
Research results are publicised through the ANDAH’s Informative Bulletin, and through the Central American Aquaculture Symposium, which is held every other year.
There are no public research institutions. The Pan-American Agricultural School carries out research, and it has a PhD in Aquaculture and agronomist engineers specialized in the field.
Aquaculture has become one of the most important sectors within the Honduran economy, due to its growing contribution of foreign currency and to its social impact through the generation of both permanent and temporary employment , and as an alternative for subsistence livelihood.
The bearing of aquaculture on the economy is reflected through its contribution to exports, which increased from USD 128 002.8 thousand in 2000 to USD 175 621.4 thousand in 2004. Also, aquaculture has become an important source of permanent and temporary employment, particularly in regions where employment alternatives are rather scarce.
The internal consumption of seafood in general, and therefore of aquaculture products as well, is very limited, mainly attributed to the eating habits of the population, the deficient distribution and commercialization structure, and the population’s low purchasing power. Per capita fish consumption on average is estimated at about 1.3 kg/year, however there is no data on the internal marketing of aquatic products.
Initially, aquaculture was promoted in Honduras with the purpose of contributing to the betterment of the diet of the rural population. Thus, the State promoted the activity through the establishment of fish culture stations and the introduction of exotic freshwater species, counting with international cooperation. However, the adopted practices implied the dependency of the fish farmer on external seed availability and technical support. As budgetary limitations forced the diminution of those services, the most depressed producers gradually started to abandon the activity, in many instances ceasing its practice altogether.
As of the 1970s, export-oriented shrimp farming was initiated through the efforts of the private sector. With the approval of the environmental and administrative authorities, the State leased 37 012.37 ha, mostly saltpans and marshy lowlands.
Limited experience, the spread of diseases, scarce financial resources and the occurrence of Hurricane Mitch, restricted the expansion of shrimp farming. Despite the construction of 18 500 ha of ponds, as of 2005 only 12 500 ha belonging to 239 farms were under production. 67 percent of these farms are affiliated to the National Honduran Aquaculture Producers Association.
The total freshwater area under cultivation is difficult to estimate since due to the previously explained reasons; there have been no follow-up actions by the state. Only commercial private enterprises submit statistical information of their production.
Cultured species have been limited to the red tilapia, which is an introduced variety; and in the case of shrimp, to the endemic species Penaeus vannamei and L. stylirostris of the Gulf of Fonseca.
The industry was severely criticized by national and international environmental groups, mainly because of the clearing of mangrove forests for the construction of shrimp farms and for the capture of wild postlarve to stock the farms, with the consequent death of bycatch fauna. Studies have demonstrated that the deforestation of the mangroves by the shrimp farming industry has not been significant and the mangroves show signs of recovery. The capture of wild post-larvae has been reduced and practically eliminated with the establishment of twelve post-larvae production hatcheries in the country.
The processing of the farmed product began with the beheading of shrimp, its cleaning, tail packaging, freezing and export. At present, there are about eight packaging plants, which, in addition to conducting the processes described above, have sought to give the product an added value.
The commercialisation of the aquatic products is carried out mainly towards the United States and to some European countries, such as Spain. Internal commercialisation of shrimp is rather limited; not being so for whole farmed tilapia, which is marketed in places close to production sites.
Since its inception in 1986, the National Honduran Aquaculture Producers Association, has carried out a series of activities and projects with the interaction of its affiliates that have contributed to the sustainable development of aquaculture. The following are most noteworthy:
Additionally, the Association has undertaken various programmes which include the reforestation of mangroves, the protection of marine turtles, the training of human resources, and the maintenance of the Bachelors Degree in Aquaculture Technical Science.
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Currie, D. J. 1995 . Honduras. Ordenación y desarrollo del cultivo de camarón. PRADEPESCA / OLDEPESCA. Convenio ALA 90/09.
Dickinson, J. et al. 1985 . Estudio ambiental de las pequeñas fincas camaroneras. Proyecto de tecnologías rurales. USAID / Honduras.
Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas. 2001 . XVI Censo de Población y V de Vivienda.
Motiño, H. M. 2000 . Los manglares, la pobreza y la camaricultura en la zona sur de Honduras. Acuacultura de Honduras, 3ra. Edición, Mayo 2000.