by Cassidy Armbruster
Shrimp farming is a risky business, but an important one in Vietnam! This is because shrimp provides close to half of the country’s revenue from seafood. The shrimp doesn’t stay domestically either- it’s exported all over the globe. In fact, 70% of shrimp consumption in the United States and Western Europe comes from shrimp farms in South East Asia.
As you can see, these shrimp farms are large, but you may be shocked to find out just how large. These farms generally start off with 100,000 shrimp, then grow to one ton of shrimp after just one month. These are obviously some hungry and productive shrimp. My tour guide during the Mekong Delta day tour explained that the shrimp farmers feed the fish four times a day. The farmers use cheap feeding techniques by relying on industrial feed made with a mixture of ingredients like fishmeal, flour, and/or rice.
Shrimp growth is also affected by the turbines shown in the photos below. These turbines spin and release dissolved oxygen into the lakes, ensuring the shrimp will grow healthily and quickly. During feeding time, the turbines are turned off so the shrimp can swim to the top of the water for food. However, when the shrimp are not feeding, they remain at the bottom of the lake. Although some shrimp farms throughout Vietnam have begun generating electricity to run the farms more sustainably with pond waste, this particular farm’s electricity is transmitted through Ho Chi Minh City.
You may have assumed this is a freshwater shrimp farm, and you’re not completely off with that guess. The Mekong Delta is very near to the sea, therefore salt water is pumped in to fill the lakes. Although the shrimp farms consist primarily of salt water, the lake is a mixture of the two. Too much freshwater, however, could kill the shrimp, which is one reason why the fish farmers do not harvest their crops during the rainy season. Much like rice farmers, shrimp farmers raise two crops a year, which are harvested after three to three and a half months.
These farms are extremely expensive in Vietnamese terms, costing from $5,000 to $6,000 USD to build. As I said earlier, shrimp farming is a risky business, but a profitable one. If everything runs smoothly, the shrimp farmers should make the startup expenses back within the first month. There has been an increase in shrimp farming in the Mekong Delta, which has benefited the economy, but also caused serious problems for farmers and the shrimp. When shrimp growth is too rapid and the farmers use poor infrastructure, the farms are at a high risk for disease, which could ultimately destroy the crop. My tour guide explained that farmers have become more aware of this, thus they have begun using precautions, such as introducing limestone to the pond before the pond is filled for sanitation. Fish farmers also mix limestone into the water after the pond has been filled. Much like children depend on calcium to strengthen their bones, the shrimp farmers integrate limestone into the ponds to provide calcium to strengthen the shells of the shrimp.
These farmer’s livelihoods as well as Vietnam’s economy depend greatly on shrimp farming, so research and time is being put into farming more sustainably, efficiently, and profitably. If you are interested in seeing a large scale shrimp farm, but would also like to get off the beaten path to get a glimpse of Vietnamese daily life in the countryside, I recommend you join our Mekong Delta day tour. We relax under the shade on the edge of a family fish farm filled with catfish for some hot tea and conversation before taking a local ferry boat ride. Then we take a long adventurous Vespa ride through dirt paths in the Mekong Delta until we arrive at a home where Vietnamese rice wine and incense is made.