Have you ever wondered what exactly was going on in the large containment structures on the way to the airport? They are farming shrimp! Over a billion dollars of farm raised shrimp are marketed each year, mostly from Thailand and Brazil. But Mexico has a thriving farm shrimp industry. If you have a window seat next time you fly out, take a look at the extensive farm ponds that stretchalmost all the way to Isla Piedra in the estuary. Most of the farmed shrimp are Pacific white shrimp, Penaeus vannamei . These industrial aquacultures have, in the past, been very susceptible to diseases which caused several regional wipe-outs of farm shrimp populations, mostly farms raising the formerly popular species, the giant Tiger prawn Penaeus monodon. Increasing ecological problems, repeated disease outbreaks, and pressure and criticism from both non governmental organizations and consumer countries led to changes in the industry in the late 1990s and generally stronger regulation by governments (Wikipedia). While Mazatlan used to boast of having the largest shrimp fleet on the west coast of the Pacific, overfishing has caused a dramatic depletion of wild shrimp populations. The boats you see off-shore are purse seiners, dredging the barren bottom for anything edible. What you eat in the restaurants are probably farm-raised shrimp. Here in Mazatlan, shrimp larvae, called naupili, are hatched in ponds down near El Caimanero. These larvae quickly morph into zoeae and feed primarily on algae. In a few days they morph again, this time into something called a myses, which looks like a teeny tiny shrimp. These are sold to the producers for placement in the ponds like the ones you see by the road. It takes between 3 and 6 months to grow into marketable adults. The growing shrimp are fed soy and fish meal based pelleted food. Here in Mazatlan, they get two harvests per year, draining the ponds to let the sunshine disinfect the bottom sludge in between crops. A pond that is 80 meters square (approximately 3 Olympic sized swimming pools) can hold up to 600,000 shrimp. Because of the demand for fresh salt water (as in not stale, salt water) shrimp ponds are always located near the sea. And because the waste water is so rich in nitrates and organics, the mangrove swamps, which were probably cleared to make way for the ponds, seem to thrive near the wastewater outfall of the farm. This is a good thing because mangroves will filter and purify the waste water and in turn provide the absolutely critical habitat for young fishes and wild shrimp. So watch those ponds. They may be growing your next plate of cameron! You can always tell a farm raised shrimp because it is not that pretty pink color and the flesh is somewhat soft. But they still taste great.
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