Aquaculture in NicaraguaNicaragua is a popular tourist destination but also the second most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. The resource-rich country has potential for significant economic growth but a long history of colonization, autocratic governments and neglect of human capital create barriers to economic growth. Agriculture is the main form of industry in Nicaragua as there are large expanses of level, fertile ground in the eastern part of the country. Fishing is also traditional to the area, especially shrimping. In the last few decades, the government began prioritizing the development of infrastructure to support aquaculture in Nicaragua in order to help fisherfolk and reduce poverty.

What is Aquaculture?

Nicaragua is one of the many coastal countries undergoing what is referred to as a “blue revolution.” Nicaragua is testing the capacity of the surrounding waters to bring significant income into the economy. This often means updating a traditional industry such as capture fishing and applying that knowledge with new technology. Furthermore, it means utilizing more environmentally sustainable practices. Aquaculture in Nicaragua was a natural step forward, as its land-based version, agriculture, is already a prolific industry. Learning how to farm the ocean is a relatively new concept but one that is gaining ground quickly in global agricultural circles.

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition released a brief in February 2021 detailing the benefits of aquaculture. These benefits range from increased nutrition and food security to a higher national GDP. The panel asserts that aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing aspects of the greater agricultural industry. Additionally, worldwide fish consumption is growing, creating a demand that traditional capture fisheries cannot support sustainably.

Aquaculture Potential in Nicaragua

Aquaculture programs supported by the Nicaraguan Government gained traction in the 1980s. Since then, shrimp farming has become the major export of the fishing industry. While many shrimp farms are owned by large corporations, small farmers are supported by the government and programs like the Nicaraguan Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INPESCA). In 2018, INPESCA helped residents of the Palo Grande community to form fishing cooperatives and provided the necessary training to learn shrimp farming. Along with the municipal government, INPESCA then gave each of the eight fishing cooperatives, including more than 250 cooperative members, licenses to farm shrimp in designated areas in northwestern Nicaragua.

Not only does this opportunity provide people with the means of creating a steady income and access to a nutritional food source, but, many women who previously relied on their husband’s income are now able to be involved in the work. Instead of working for large companies that underpay workers, people can work for themselves earning the full price of the sold shrimp.

Looking Forward

There are serious challenges to the industry that created major setbacks. Hurricane Mitch devastated coastal properties in 1998, causing flooding and almost 4,000 total deaths in Nicaragua. Just one year later, with shrimp farms still struggling to recover, outbreaks of the fatal white spot syndrome in Nicaragua wiped out large quantities of shrimp.

In spite of past challenges, there are many exciting reasons to support aquaculture in Nicaragua. Offering stable income to uneducated citizens, economic growth for the country, affordable sources of nutritious food and a sustainable form of farming, aquaculture has an impressive array of possible benefits. The Government of Nicaragua and various international organizations continue to pursue further development of aquaculture technologies, hoping to facilitate economic growth and decrease overall poverty.

Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

Shrimp FarmingLong condemned by environmentalists and many others as a significant contributor to the loss and destruction of mangroves and subsequent damages to coastal communities and the environment, shrimp farming has developed the economies of many countries and is depended on by many. A difficult problem has been addressed by Selva Shrimp and can mean the conservation of mangroves as well as the shrimp farming industry, and thus, the livelihoods of many communities.

The Importance of Mangroves

Mangroves are found along coastlines and have adapted to live in salty and brackish waters with their own filtration systems that allow them to filter out the salt in their environment. They help prevent coastline erosion and are a vital part of ecosystems, serving as habitats and food sources for many organisms. In addition to water filtration and prevention of erosion, mangroves also serve as protection from storms and provide resources valuable to coastal communities such as food and timber. Mangroves are also highly effective carbon stores, making them an increasingly important shrub in the fight against climate change.

According to the Global Mangrove Alliance, to date, 67% of mangroves have deteriorated or been altogether eradicated. Already a rare tree, they are at risk of disappearing entirely.

Shrimp Farming and Mangroves

While aquaculture, specifically shrimp farming, is not the only threat to mangroves, it is one that, without sustainable alternatives will only continue to grow in the future as the demand for and consumption of shrimp increases. Shrimp farming, which is primarily practiced in South and Southeast Asia, requires the use of coastal lowlands which are then converted into shrimp ponds. Often, these areas are rife with mangroves which have to be destroyed for the creation of shrimp ponds or are left depleted and damaged as a result of the growing shrimp. The removal of these mangroves leaves these coastal zones vulnerable to erosion and damage from storms, which can endanger the livelihoods of coastal communities as well as destroy habitats for many fish and marine life. In fact, in 1991, a cyclone moved onto land in Bangladesh where a large area of mangroves had been destroyed. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean also served as a wake-up call as the damage was intensified by the fact that many coastlines were left exposed after the removal of mangroves.

Shrimp farming is a billion-dollar industry and there are many who rely on it as a livelihood and source of income. The reality is that it is not a practice that can be stopped without harsh economic and social impacts to many. On the other hand, it can be practiced sustainably in a way that does not harm mangroves and ecosystems that are valuable to coastal communities and the greater environment. That is exactly what Selva Shrimp intends to do.

Selva Shrimp Program

Using nature-based solutions (NbS), Selva Shrimp, a program developed by Blueyou Consulting and initially established in Vietnam, is working to create jobs and protect the livelihoods of those who depend on shrimp farming and mangroves. While the initiative still relies on mangroves to assist the growth of the shrimp and provide them with necessary nutrients, it also allows farmers to harvest some of the trees, sell them for wood and other uses and then promptly reforest those areas. The shrimp are not provided with any other feed or chemicals beyond what is naturally available through the mangroves, including small organisms. Thus, the production of shrimp relies on the upkeep and maintenance of healthy mangrove forests and incentivizes the small-scale farmers that Selva Shrimp works with to preserve these forests rather than leave them destroyed and move on to other areas for shrimp ponds. Additionally, this sustainable approach to shrimp farming means that prices for shrimp will increase and so will the incomes of these farmers, providing shrimp farmers with an incentive to practice sustainable shrimp farming and addressing the growing demand for shrimp while also conserving mangroves.

The Future of Shrimp Farming

Selva Shrimp comes at a time when mangroves are at dangerously low levels in many areas and global demand for shrimp is at an all-time high. While still a fairly recent initiative, it is able to tackle several issues at once, including creating jobs in the shrimp farming industry that can alleviate poverty in the many countries where shrimp farming is a prominent practice. This could mean a future where the growing consumption of shrimp and increasing need for mangroves are no longer mutually exclusive.

– Manika Ajmani
Photo Flickr