Why Ecuador’s aquaculture operators have created “business class for shrimp”

Rodrigo Laniado is hosting an info session
Rodrigo Laniado is CEO of Songa, the original shrimp farming company in Latin America

Under Laniado’s management, Songa now produces 8,000 tons of shrimp per year on 21,000 hectares of ponds

© PSB Photography

This was one of the central themes of a presentation on the philosophy of shrimp farming in Ecuador by one of the industry’s pioneers, Rodrigo Laniado. After the presentation, Rabobank’s Gorjan Nikolik quipped that the country had created a “business class for shrimp.”

Laniado is CEO of Songa, the original shrimp farming company in Latin America that his father founded in 1967. Since joining the company in 1984, Laniado Jnr has helped the company grow and now produces 8,000 tons of shrimp per year on 21,000 acres of ponds.

According to Laniado, his father’s enduring philosophy — one that Laniado Jr. is trying to perpetuate — is that farms “must resemble the ocean, because that’s what these animals need.”

“Ecuador did that, but it took us over 40 years to learn that lesson,” Laniado added.

Shrimp larviculture
Larviculture of shrimp

Songa has invested in genetics and breeding to become resilient to disease challenges


While Ecuador’s shrimp sector has never been more productive, Laniado recalled the 2000 whitespot epidemic that led to the collapse of two-thirds of production. It took nearly a decade and improvements, particularly in genetics, for the industry to become profitable again.

“When Whitespot hit us it wiped us out so we had to look for a more sophisticated system to stock up on seeds – we had people from the US, Europe and Asia coming and helping us, the hatchery industry in Ecuador and of course Each country brought its own magic and specifications,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, according to Laniado, the most important development over the ensuing decade was the improvement of feeds – thanks in part to investments from companies like Skretting, BioMar and Cargill, all of which started feed mills in the 2010s.

“This has led to improvements and efficiencies. Basically it was the improvement of feed and competition, before that it was poor quality and very little competition. We know that from macroeconomics you need competition to improve and that’s exactly what happened,” Laniado explained.

Feeder for shrimp
Feeders in Songa’s crab ponds

Ecuador’s shrimp sector received a boost from investments in nutrition and farm technology such as automatic feeders


“Then we had the magic of automatic feeders,” he added, noting that they were “probably the best invention in aquaculture today.”

The Songa experience

Improvements in genetics, health management and feeding tripled the productivity of Songa’s ponds – based on a stocking density of 8 wild-caught PLs per m2 1967 to store 25 shrimp produced in the hatchery per m2 today, which corresponds to harvests of 40 kg per hectare per day.

“In 2010 it was a dream to harvest 20 kg per hectare per day, like going to Disneyland, but now we’re at 40,” he explains.

It remains to be seen how far this could go up – while Laniado thinks 50 kg per ha per day is possible, he admits that he cannot be sure.

“One of the challenges we have in our industry is that we have to find the sustainable point of efficient production per unit area in Ecuador,” he explained.

harvest shrimp
harvest shrimp

Songa can harvest 40 kg of shrimp per hectare every day


The Songa method

Laniado noted that Songa has been producing shrimp continuously for 45 years – no easy feat – and listed some of the key developments to make it possible.

“To produce in a healthy way in a healthy environment, you need probiotics, biosecurity, disease control, sanitation, not antibiotics,” he recommended.

While Songa used antibiotics for a time, they found that stopping their use improved their shrimp’s performance, and he was pleased to see their use banned in the late 1990s.

Laniado says these factors combined have improved feed conversion ratios from 2.5 to 1.6 over the past 10 years while tripling productivity. And he pointed out that Ecuador hasn’t had a shrimp epidemic since 2010, survival rates are now close to 75 percent, and shrimp growth rates are averaging nearly 2.5 g per week, and 4 g per week in the future week could achieve.

Meanwhile, on the environmental side, Songa has managed mangroves and wetlands, not destroyed them.

“We need harmony in the pond, we need a system where the soil, sediment and water are treated as one, not as individual entities. The shrimp lives there, the shrimp eats there, and if you want to produce a healthy shrimp and have a shrimp that tastes good, you have to have this,” Laniado pointed out.

Future Developments

Looking ahead, Laniado highlighted the need to improve training programs as the sector becomes more technical. He is also committed to ensuring products are fully traceable to meet ever-increasing consumer expectations.

He also suggested the potential of using liquid feeds instead of pellets for both hatching and afterlarvae. And he pointed out that more attention needs to be paid to reducing carbon emissions, the opportunities to become more circular and – most importantly – the need to keep an eye on pathogen control.

Rodrigo Laniado gives a lecture
Rodrigo Laniado speaks at the Global Shrimp Forum in Utrecht, The Netherlands

Songa is working to find the optimal sustainable stocking density for his farms

© PSB Photography

“The only risk I think the industry has is the risk of new pathogens,” he argued. But he added that genetic programs developed since 2010 have greatly reduced that risk. “We used to have epidemics every 5-8 years, but since 2010 we haven’t had one,” Laniado added.

As a result, he is wary of over-inflating stocking densities, although he has suggested it might be possible without exceeding the carrying capacity of their ponds.

“We have to find out in Ecuador what our optimal stock level is. I don’t know today, I don’t even know it on my farms – it thought 3 tons [per ha] was fine, now we’re at 6 tons and we’re still fine, and all the environmental and sustainability parameters are pretty much the same. We’ve changed a few things in management, but basically things are balanced and happy,” he noted.

Shrimp Specimens
farmed shrimp


investment opportunities

Laniado’s final point related to where investment is most needed to grow the sector.

“Ecuador is a country where the areas for shrimp farming are fully developed. It’s a mature industry … there are no places to go and build new farms, but there is another way to capitalize on investments in Ecuador,” he mused.

“Over 90 percent of businesses are privately owned and over 50 percent of farms and medium and small businesses. It would take just a little effort to set up a management fund or investment fund together to try to capitalize on this and create a new shrimp processing cluster,” he noted.

Since Ecuador’s economy is dollar-pegged, risk is minimal, he added, while new tax breaks are also available. This combination could fuel the investments needed to ensure Ecuador’s shrimp sector can continue to fulfill its potential to feed the growing world population.

“In conclusion, we must continue to innovate to achieve higher standards of sustainable production to be able to supply healthy and cost-effective protein to become one of the leading proteins for world nutrition,” Laniado signed.

Rob Fletcher

Senior Editor at The Fish Site

Rob Fletcher has been writing about aquaculture as editor of since 2007 fish farmer, Fish farming expert and The Fish Side. He has an MA in History from the University of Edinburgh and an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture from the University of St Andrews. He currently lives and works in Scotland.

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