Aquaculture in Brazil The $1 billion industry
by Patricia Moraes-Valenti, International Aquafeed
The article entitled Aquaculture in Brazil: past, present and future¹ is published in the journal Aquaculture Reports, which is available on open access, so it is open to everyone who wants to access it.
By combining the data yielded from five official databases with a wealth of information contributed by 77 stakeholders located across Brazil and employed throughout all stages of the production chain, this article provides an in-depth examination of Brazil’s aquaculture sector.
Not only serving as an invaluable resource for academics, this journal article also provides very useful insights for those in a wide variety of occupations including public sector managers and the business leaders.
The article discusses all areas of the aquaculture sector in Brazil, from its humble beginnings in the middle of the 17th century in the country’s Northeast region, right up to its recent emergence as a serious contender on the global aquaculture production stage.
However, as a professional activity, Brazilian aquaculture is only half a century old and started with the culture of carps in rural areas and ornamental fish species in urban areas.
In fact, it was only during the second half of the 20th century, that the culture of edible aquatic organisms such as fishes, molluscs, marine and freshwater shrimps, had attracted the attention of Brazil’s policy-makers, water-reservoir managers, hydropower companies, researchers and farmers.
These initial experiences leveraged aquaculture in Brazil, with the activity experiencing great development and diversification throughout the 1990s and 2000s. During this period, thousands of aquaculture farms have been installed across Brazil. In fact, of the 5570 Brazilian municipalities, 4198 report some form of aquaculture production.
As the aquaculture industry has continued to expand throughout the country, it has also diversified and there are currently more than 60 species of fish and shellfish produced for food, whilst more than 250 varieties of ornamental fish and invertebrates are also widely farmed. The annual production figure currently sits at approximately 0.8 million tons, which amounts to in excess of US$1 billion in trade.
The market for small native fish species for use as bait is also significant. Lambari (Astyanax lacustris) is the main species that is produced in order to cater for this market. Although it is grown throughout the country, production is concentrated in the southern and southeastern regions, mainly in the state of São Paulo.
Lambari is farmed in small ponds in small farms, although two large farms are currently operating. Production is estimated above 1,000 tonnes per year and is mostly traded as baitfish, although it is also be found in restaurants as an appetiser.
Their market size ranges from six to eight centimetres, but some sport fishermen prefer smaller lambaris that are between three and five centimetres.
Regardless of size, the farm gate price is about US$ 50 per thousand, whilst the authors state that a dedicated processing plant pays about US$ 3.00/kg and sells frozen gutted and scaled lambari for human consumption.
Given its tolerance to saline waters, the Atlantic forest lambari (Deuterodon iguape) is being considered for use as bait for tuna fishery, state the authors, who also believe that its production may be an important tool for the sustainable development of rural populations and an alternative income source for communities who reside within forest conservation areas.
Brazil’s different aquaculture systems
The article also shines a spotlight on Brazil’s various different aquaculture systems, as well as examining the different cultivated species and production methods.
Traditionally, aquaculture farms in Brazil are classified according to the impounded area, with much of it depending on small-scale units, with 95 percent of them considered to be very small, whilst only 0.1 percent are large.
The few large farms produce marine shrimp, tambaqui/tambatinga or tilapia, with a similar structure used by small farms also found in the leading aquaculture producing countries in Asia.
This criterion may be suitable for pond production systems, which correspond to most Brazilian production systems, but not for other culture systems, such as net-cage culture, widely used to produce tilapia.
Net cage and other open water farms may be classified according to the effective volume used to raise the organisms or include the water volume to dilute wastes.
Still, as the authors point out that, although aquaculture is strengthened as an economic activity for several producers, subsistence aquaculture is still maintained in the country, mainly based on carp, a fish group that makes little or no use of inputs.
This production is not always included in the statistics and, therefore, can be ‘invisible’ to the eyes of academia, industry, and decision-makers responsible for public policies in the country.
Brazilian aquaculture is predominantly freshwater
Currently, aquaculture in Brazil is predominantly based in fresh water, with more than 200 thousand fish farms and three thousand marine shrimp production facilities located throughout the South American nation, whilst somewhere in the region of 100 aquaculture Research & Development institutions also operate in the country.
Because of the existence of such a wealth of resources, the authors believe that Brazil possesses excellent potential for developing mariculture, which they believe is still only marginally explored at present.
They also claim that this is at least partly due to the questionable accuracy of fisheries and aquaculture statistics, that were very poor in Brazil until recently, due to what the authors describe as being an inefficient data collection system. The information on marine fisheries’ production was fragmented and outdated, while the figures on inland catches were also widely underestimated.
Since 2016 however, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) has provided official statistical data on aquaculture, which the authors consider to be much more consistent and accurate.
In parallel to this initiative, the Shrimp Farmers’ Association (ABCCAssociaça ̃o Brasileira de Criadores de, 2019) and the Brazilian Association of Fish Farming (Peixe BR, 2020) have also begun to present estimates of their specific sectors, although figures differ slightly from the official IBGE data.
Considering data provided by producer associations and interviews with various stakeholders, the authors estimate that production in 2019 was over 800,000 tons, with almost half of the country’s aquaculture production coming from the southern and southeastern regions, despite the prevailing colder temperatures. Brazilian aquaculture’s two most commonly produced groups are freshwater fish species, followed by marine shrimp.
Aquaculture production of freshwater fish for human consumption totalled around 760,000 tonnes in 2019, while the official data (IBGE – Instituto Brasileiro de Geografa e Esta- tística, 2020) indicates that it was approximately 530,000 tonnes.
In the past five years, the estimated increase in Brazil’s freshwater fish production was around 25 percent, whilst the freshwater fish sector represents almost 90 percent of the country’s aquaculture production and 95 percent of the total number of farmed fish.
With producers that number in excess of three thousand, the farming of penaeid shrimp is a well-organised sector in Brazil. The production is based on the monoculture of the Pacific white leg shrimp, L. vannamei, normally farmed in IFM systems in large ponds, with the majority produced on farms in the estuarine regions in the Northeast, mainly in Rio Grande do Norte and Cear ́a, where semi-intensive systems are commonly used.
Several inland farms have low salinity waters and obtain a survival rate of 60–80 percent and attempts to produce shrimp integrated with Nile tilapia, algae and filtering mollusks have also yielded promising results.
In recent years, there has also been a growing interest in intensification which has run in parallel with a trend towards the production in inland areas, which is widely hoped will minimise environmental impact.
Prawn aquaculture initiatives
A further species considered by the authors to have a minimal environmental impact are freshwater prawns. Freshwater prawns are believed to possess great potential because they dwell in the bottom of ponds and may feed on the wastes of other cultured species.
This means that no supplementary feeding is required, with the only additional costs being those related to the acquisition, harvest management and pre-processing.
The farming of freshwater prawns started in Brazil in the 1980s, with a few traditional farmers active to this day, with the state of Espírito Santo is widely considered to be the main centre of freshwater prawn farming.
The production relies on small farms scattered across the country that primarily produce the giant river prawn, M. rosenbergii, an Asian species. In Brazil, this species is popularly known as Malaysian prawn.
However, after years of severe droughts, production decreased drastically. Nowadays, Brazil has at least ten commercial hatcheries that distribute PL all over the country, with grow-out performed in 0.1 to 0.5 ha earthen ponds.
The total overall production is estimated to be around 150 tons, which is sold to wholesalers, retailers, or directly to the final consumer. Some farmers even sell their harvests at the farm gate, whilst others deliver directly to restaurants or households in different parts of the country.
According to the authors, Brazil has always had a tradition in R & D initiatives that relate to freshwater prawn aquaculture. The large group of experts has provided the necessary support to establish a solid base that has allowed the production of freshwater prawns in all farming phases.
The hatcheries are also small but are widely considered to be highly profitable and they operate with the assistance of recirculating systems.
Facing an uncertain future
However, the authors suggest that these small hatcheries do face an uncertain future as the market has fluctuated wildly over the past year. This turbulence has not only been caused by the disconnection of the production chain however, but also by the climatic limitations brought about by the South and Southeast during winter.
The article also mentions that approximately 20 percent of all fish consumed in Brazil is imported, generating a commercial deficit of about US$ 1.2 million. Most of the imported fish are marine fish.
That said Brazil also has a vast consumer market for fish used for food and live bait for fishing, juveniles for restocking natural environments and ornamental organisms.
To get a more complete picture of aquaculture in Brazil, we recommend reading the full article, which is available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352513421000272) to prospect about the possibilities of interaction with Brazilian researchers, farms and other stakeholders of the sector.
First published on International Aquafeed (aquafeed.co.uk)