White Leg Prawn – Litopenaeus vannamei

White Leg Prawns (widely known as "vannamei") are native to the warm marine waters of the Eastern Pacific.

The availability of hatchery-reared seed has enabled vannamei to be farmed across the globe.

Vannamei dominates warm water prawn aquaculture, accounting for around 75% of the world’s annual farmed prawn production. Global production in 2016 equated to some 4.15 million tonnes.

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Profile last updated: 27th Nov 2019

Sources, Quantities and Cultivation Methods

Sources and Quantities
The terms shrimp and prawn are used interchangeably however in this profile the term prawn is used. The two warm water prawns that dominate world markets are farmed penaeids (i.e. species from the Penaeidae family); namely the white leg prawn (Litopenaeus vannamei) and the Asian, black or giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon known as “monodon”). Vannamei is found in tropical marine waters. It is native to the east Pacific coastal regions (from Mexico to Ecuador) but it is also farmed outside its native range1 and across the globe, as the map illustrates.

Today warm water prawns are cultured in over 60 countries, and the industry is an important source of jobs worldwide2. Asia (China, SE Asia and India) is by far the largest prawn production region with over 80% aquaculture production, followed by Latin America with over 10%. Other nations, such as Madagascar, Australia and some Middle Eastern countries, make up the remaining production3. Farmed warm water prawns are the most valuable of all aquaculture sectors.

Vannamei dominates warm water prawn aquaculture, with over 75% of the world’s annual production (the remaining 30% is made up of monodon (15%) and minor species (10%))3. Globally vannamei farming was worth some US$24 billion from a 2016 production total of some 4.15 million tonnes4.

Europe is a major market for warm water prawns, with Spain, France, Italy, the UK, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands accounting for 90% (€3.3 billion) of the total frozen prawn import value in 20145, 6.

Domestic Market Information7, 8
Warm water prawns are the number one shellfish species in Great British retail (i.e. in England, Scotland and Wales). Although consumers often see all types of prawns as the same, over the past 20 years the consumption of warm water prawns has significantly increased and overtaken that of wild captured cold water North Atlantic prawns such as Pandalus borealis. Warm water prawns such as vannamei and monodon are favoured for their size and meatiness, and perceived to offer better value than smaller prawns.

Warm water prawns were one of the few shellfish products to see market growth during recent periods of financial austerity in the UK.  Over the past ten years (from 2008 to 2018), they grew in value and volume by 48.2% and 25% respectively from a base of £185 million and 14,788 tonnes in 2008.

In June 2018, UK retail sales of warm water prawns were worth £307 million (+1.1% compared to the previous year) with a volume of 21,135 tonnes (-2.3%), and an average price £14.52 per kg; ranking as the 4th most popular species by value in the 52 weeks up to 16/06/2018 (including discounters).

In 2018, the UK imported 38,252 tonnes of warm water prawns; the vast majority being frozen.

Note: the difference between the volume of warm water prawns sold in UK retail and that which is imported is due to its use in the foodservice industry (e.g. restaurants) (no data available) and that which is re-exported.

Production Method
Modern warm water prawn farming began in the 1960s, became a significant industry in the 1990s, and has since grown rapidly across the world. Farms are generally located on or near the coast, and use brackish water in their ponds.

Wild vannamei spend their post-larval and juvenile stages in coastal estuaries, lagoons or mangrove areas, migrating to deeper water when they become adolescent and moving to spawning grounds as adults. Females produce as many as 100,000-250,000 eggs. Larval stages remain planktonic while tidal currents carry them towards the shore, at which point the young vannamei post-larvae become benthic, feeding on detritus, worms and small crustaceans.

Traditional pond culture of warm water prawn involved trapping and holding wild post-larvae occurring naturally in coastal zones and this practice continues9.

During the 1970s prawn breeding techniques were developed enabling hatcheries to supply on-growing farmers. The life cycle of vannamei has been fully closed and the vannamei industry worldwide relies upon domesticated broodstock as a source of post-larvae2. Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) and Specific Pathogen Resistant (SPR) vannamei are available. Suppliers can be found across the world – including the US, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, shipping broodstock and post-larvae to where they are needed10, 11.

Quality and health status of post-larvae is extremely important as farmed prawns can suffer from several diseases, which can cause massive losses, both in production and value. This is perhaps best illustrated by the recent outbreak of Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) (or Acute Hepatopancreatic Necrosis Syndrome (AHPNS)) and the subsequent slump in global production between 2012 and 201312.

Shrimp farms typically are characterised by their intensity level i.e. production per unit area. There are three basic practices: extensive, semi-intensive and intensive pond culture, which represent low, medium and high stocking densities respectively. Generally vannamei farming is more intensive in SE Asia, as shown in the production schematic, compared to Latin America9.

  • Extensive and Improved-extensive cultivation is carried out using wild post-larvae either entering the ponds on the tide or purchased from collectors, or cultured post-larvae from hatcheries. Extensive ponds are large and fertilised with organic and inorganic fertilisers with a daily water exchange of 10-15%. Stocking density is low and the prawns feed on natural foods (enhanced by pond fertilisation) which are supplemented by artificial diets. Prawn yields are relatively low.
  • Semi-intensive cultivation ponds are stocked at moderate densities with hatchery produced post-larvae. Water exchange is regularly carried out by pumping and aerators are used to maintain dissolved oxygen levels. Supplementary feed is provided by the farmer.
  • Intensive cultivation ponds are generally small and they are stocked at higher densities. There is vigorous aeration, and regular feeding. Water exchange is limited, especially where there is risk of disease. When such closed systems are used, careful monitoring and management of water quality is required. High production harvest volumes can be achieved.

Vannamei often commands a lower market price than monodon, but advantages of farming vannamei can be larger yields produced more quickly and in less saline water, as well as better disease resistance.

Research and development is on-going to super-intensively cultivate vannamei in RAS (recirculating aquaculture systems) to enable very high production levels13. Prawns are cultivated in enclosed raceways or ponds housed in greenhouses where the water is treated and re-used. There is no effluent stream and only evaporative losses are replaced. It is claimed that these systems are cost effective and have low ecological impacts but have generally to prove themselves commercially. Vannamei are currently being cultured on a small-scale in England in this kind of system15.

  1. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/species/3404/en)
  2. SFP (http://cmsdevelopment.sustainablefish.org.s3.amazonaws.com/2016/04/07/Asian%20shrimp_long%20form-05098e04.pdf)
  3. GOAL (https://www.aquaculturealliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/GOAL2016_Global-Shrimp-Survey.pdf)
  4. FAO FishstatJ (http://www.fao.org/fishery/statistics/software/fishstatj/en)
  5. CBI (https://www.cbi.eu/sites/default/files/market_information/researches/product-factsheet-europe-frozen-cultured-vannamei-shrimp-2015.pdf)
  6. CBI (https://www.cbi.eu/market-information/fish-seafood/shrimp-products/black-tiger-shrimp/)
  7. AC Nielson (http://www.nielsen.com/uk/en.html)
  8. HMRC (https://www.uktradeinfo.com/tradetools/importersdetails/Pages/ImportersSearch.aspx)
  9. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/culturedspecies/Litopenaeus_vannamei/en)
  10. Kona Bay (http://www.konabaymarine.com/index.html)
  11. State of Hawaii (http://nelha.hawaii.gov/main/aquaculture/hawaii-is-the-worlds-shrimp-breeding-capital/)
  12. FAO (http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3422e/i3422e.pdf)
  13. GAA (http://media.dhweb.com.s3.amazonaws.com/aes/GAA_articles/Samocha_Nov-Dec-2012.pdf)
  14. Cocker, L.M., 2014. Farmed marine Shrimp in Vietnam. Seafood Watch (in prep)
  15. FloGro Systems Limited UK (https://flogrosystems.com/)

Governance and Outlook

Vannamei are farmed in many nations but predominately those in Asia and Latin America. Governance systems play an important part in ensuring environmental sustainability and whilst these have evolved rapidly with the growth of the industry, there are differences between countries. Poor governance can result in industry stagnation, the spread of preventable diseases, environmental damage and opposition to aquaculture by local communities and groups1, and can lead to the ‘boom and bust’ cycles seen in warm water prawn farming.

Four principles – accountability, effectiveness and efficiency of governments, equity, and predictability of the rule of law – are necessary for effective aquaculture governance. These principles should guide the administration, legislative and regulatory framework of aquaculture. In addition to governments, other stakeholders such as communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and producers should also be involved in the governance of the industry.

Many countries in Asia-Pacific have made efforts to set up policies, administrative, legal and regulatory frameworks to develop and manage aquaculture. Overall, Asia-Pacific regional countries enjoy established strong aquaculture governance structures (policies, institutions, regulations, etc.) in support of sustainable development and management of aquaculture at all levels.

In some of the countries that have made conducive policies, implementation is delayed by the lack of financial and skilled human resources. Policies and regulations may be enacted, but unless there are sufficient government personnel with adequate skills and financial resources to monitor and enforce them, they will remain ineffective. Almost all countries in the region now require licensing to practice aquaculture. All commercial aquaculture establishments must undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) or Initial Environmental Examinations (IEEs) and register with the authorities before starting to farm. As aquaculture governance has improved and production increased in the region, many products have found markets internationally.

Whilst regulations have been created or tightened, the most important development has been the increasing uptake of Best Management Practices (BMPs), codes of conduct or practices3 and certification schemes.

Certification is a voluntary process by which suppliers demonstrate environmental protection, responsible sourcing and production practices that minimise impacts and comply with national legislation. The use of independent third party international certification schemes within warm water prawn aquaculture has been growing4, 5, 6; seeking to promote and instil responsible aquaculture practices in the industry via individual farm certification.

Latin America7
As many wild fish stocks are already exploited at their maximum or have been overfished in Latin America, the significance and contribution of aquaculture will continue to grow. In order to fully realise this potentially valuable contribution to food security and economic growth, Latin America faces a number of challenges in the development and implementation of sound aquaculture governance through policy and planning. In some cases, aquaculture is considered an extension of fisheries, this being a failure to recognise that management strategies for fisheries and aquaculture are different. There is however, a recent recognition in the region of the imperative to create proper management and governance approaches to accommodate aquaculture’s circumstances and the need for governments and industry to work more closely together.

Between 2008 and 2011 annual global production of farmed penaeids was 3.5-4 million tonnes8, 9. Latest production forecasts show that global output is expected to increase in 2016 and 201710, 11, 12. Overall, global production is expected to grow by a compound annual rate of 7.7% in the period from 2013 to 2017, to over 4.5 million tonnes per year. Production is poised to double in the next decade to 8 million tonnes13.

Several strong inter-governmental agencies have been established in support of prawn farming/general aquaculture development in Asia-Pacific. Dedicated international and regional agencies provide technical and financial assistance for the development and better management of the aquaculture sector in the region. Many countries in Asia-Pacific have also established private or semi-private aquaculture associations/partnerships focussing on overall aquaculture development and/or specific aspects such as trade (e.g. the Vietnam Association for Sea Food Exports or VASEP). Many bilaterally assisted programmes have also contributed to this endeavour and these efforts are continuing.

NGOs have also contributed. The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership14 for example, implement Aquaculture Improvement Partnerships (AIPs) aiming to reduce or mitigate the potential cumulative impacts of warm water prawn farming practices at a zonal level; with producers, suppliers and buyers working together to address sustainability issues. The sector is likely to develop further with greater adoption of certification schemes which require adherence to governance regimes.

Intensification of warm water prawn aquaculture is likely to be the only means to continue to increase prawn production and maintain profitability15, and there may continue to be further consolidation of the industry, with increasing larger, more efficient farms

Latin America7
It has been recognized that improved governance to facilitate aquaculture sustainability and development is now a high-ranking priority in this region. Increasing market demand, natural conditions suitable for culture, the need to contribute to food security, as well as social and economic development, should enable producers, workers and public/private administrators to strive for a wider and more successful aquaculture industry; exchanging experiences and cooperating on complex problems. Steps are being taken to address this; for instance, the FAOs Blue Growth Initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean has been initiated to improve sustainable management of aquaculture (and fishery) resources16. Also a national initiative in Ecuador called the Sustainable Shrimp Partnership or SSP has recently been launched. SSP is a certification based on ASC standards, but with augmentations for water quality, traceability, and antibiotic usage17.

  1. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i7797e.pdf)
  2. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6875e.pdf)
  3. Corsin, F., et al, 2008. Codes of practice and better management: a solution for shrimp health management? (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228400321_Codes_of_practice_and_better_management_a_solution_for_shrimp_health_management)
  4. ASC (http://www.asc-aqua.org/)
  5. Global G.A.P. (http://www.globalgap.org/uk_en/)
  6. GAA (http://www.gaalliance.org/)
  7. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6867e.pdf)
  8. FAO FishstatJ (http://www.fao.org/fishery/statistics/en)
  9. GOAL (https://www.aquaculturealliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/GOAL2016_Global-Shrimp-Survey.pdf)
  10. GAA (https://www.aquaculturealliance.org/advocate/goal-shrimp-production-survey-recovery-coming/)
  11. FAO (http://www.fao.org/in-action/globefish/market-reports/resource-detail/en/c/383163/)
  12. Undercurrent News (https://www.undercurrentnews.com/2016/08/31/global-farmed-shrimp-output-could-grow-significantly-in-2017/)
  13. Seafood Source (https://www.seafoodsource.com/news/aquaculture/goal-2014-global-shrimp-production-to-double-in-next-decade)
  14. SFP (https://www.sustainablefish.org/)
  15. WWF (https://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/a-business-case-for-improved-environmental-performance-in-southeast-asian-shrimp-aquaculture)
  16. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/i9200en/I9200EN.pdf)
  17. SeafoodSource (https://www.seafoodsource.com/seafood-expo-north-america-2018/with-an-eye-on-india-ecuador-launches-sustainable-shrimp-partnership)

Farm Siting

Good management of farm siting can help to mitigate such negative impacts as: the impingement on natural ecosystems (such as mangrove and wetlands) and the species that live within them, the discharge of sediment into natural waters, over-abstraction of freshwater supplies and the salinisation of surrounding land and freshwater1, 2. Because inappropriate siting, design and construction of warm water prawn farm ponds can have negative impacts on resources and the environment, buyers should seek assurances from their suppliers that all national and local laws are adhered to, and that all farms have the required licences, permits and registrations in regards to their site and its operations, and that documentation is kept as evidence of compliance.

New farms should be located within appropriately identified aquaculture zones3 and ideally in areas where aquaculture development plans exist. Farm/pond developments should take place on land that has previously been used for agriculture or aquaculture (e.g. for at least 10 years).  Existing and new farmers should consider carrying out assessments such as Biodiversity Environmental Impact Assessments (B-EIA) which are participatory and open in terms of results and outcomes.  Where B-EIAs require rehabilitation of affected ecosystems then procedures should follow approved restoration guidelines.

New farms should not be situated in mangrove ecosystems or other natural wetlands of ecological importance, although allowance can be made for pumping stations and inlet / outlet canals providing they are permitted. Farms should ensure that ecological buffers, barriers and corridors are maintained through farms as required either by legislation or if identified by a B-EIA, or they work closely with the natural environment, e.g. integrated shrimp and mangrove farms4. Contribution to environmental and social restoration funds may be possible where farms fall outside the above criteria.

To prevent salinisation of freshwater and soil, ponds should be lined, and there should be no discharge of saline water into natural freshwater bodies. Farms should also monitor and use appropriate testing methods to check salinity levels in resources such as freshwater wells, adjacent ecosystems and agricultural land, and in pond sludge for disposal outside the farm.

As warm water prawn farms are often located in coastal areas with relatively rich wildlife, species that prey on fish can be attracted to them. This can potentially become a problem for a farmer due to stock losses as a direct result of predation, and to the wider impacts of stress and injuries. Warm water prawn farmers should ensure all possible management measures are taken to protect stocks from predators. This might be via netting of smaller ponds or fencing of site perimeters. Deterrents, scarers and increased on-site activity may be effective and are preferable to lethal methods of predator control, which should only be resorted to when other methods have failed, and then only when appropriate licences are in place. Care should be taken to ensure that predator prevention does not potentially damage threatened, endangered or protected species.

Warm water prawn farms can apply for certification which ensures they address issues such as siting of the farm to avoid impacts in protected areas, discharge of earth into water bodies, negative impacts on endangered species and compliance with water abstraction limits.  As many warm water prawn farms are small-scale, concerns exist that certification may lead to a polarisation of larger farms from smaller ones, with the latter being unable to access export markets such as Europe. To address this issue various programmes are supporting small-scale farmer cooperation, with the potential for cluster certification5, 6, 7.

  1. WWF (https://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/a-business-case-for-improved-environmental-performance-in-southeast-asian-shrimp-aquaculture)
  2. Nila Rekha, P. et al, 2015. Assessment of impact of shrimp farming on coastal groundwater using Geographical Information System based Analytical Hierarchy Process. Aquaculture, Vol 448, 2015 p491-506 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2015.06.025)
  3. FAO/World Bank (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6834e.pdf)
  4. FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/i9200en/I9200EN.pdf)
  5. FAO (http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/i2275e/i2275e.pdf)
  6. The Fish Site (https://thefishsite.com/articles/small-scale-shrimp-farmers-and-global-markets)
  7. The Fish Site (https://thefishsite.com/articles/improving-market-access-and-farm-standards-for-smallscale-shrimp-farmers)

Nutrient Pollution

Vannamei farmers continually seek to improve the efficiency of feeding methods in order to reduce operational costs and to minimise wasted feed settling on the bottom of the pond1, 2. Waste feed, along with other organic discharges from farming operations, can potentially lead to pollution of receiving waters and adversely affect aquatic life through de-oxygenation and algal blooms which can be associated with nutrient increase. Organic matter can also be deposited and accumulate around discharge points. The key nutrients likely to cause problems for receiving water bodies are nitrogen and phosphorus3.

The type and quality of feed used will affect the discharge of nutrients. To improve their performance farms should monitor feed utilisation efficiency, the quality of the pond effluents and water quality in the receiving water body. Monitoring methods are documented within certification standards.

Farms should also document and record how they dispose of pond sludge and any other solid wastes. The use of sedimentation basins or dedicated ponds to capture particulates is effective but more work is required to remove dissolved nutrients4. One area of growing interest is the use of clean-up technologies such as constructed wetlands which allow plants to remove dissolved nutrients1, 5, 6, 7. These plants can then be harvested giving the farmer an alternative income stream.

  1. Anh, P.T. et al, 2010. Water pollution by intensive brackish shrimp farming in south-east Vietnam: Causes and options for control, Agricultural Water Management, Vol97, Iss 6, 2010 p872-882 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2010.01.018)
  2. FAO (http://www.fao.org/docrep/019/i3481e/i3481e.pdf)
  3. Herath, S.S. and Satoh, S., 2015. Environmental impact of phosphorus and nitrogen from aquaculture. InTechnology and Nutrition, edited by Allen Davis, D., 2015, p369-386, Feed and Feeding Practices in Aquaculture (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-100506-4.00015-5)
  4. Jackson, C.J. et al, 2003. Managing the development of sustainable shrimp farming in Australia: the role of sedimentation ponds in treatment of farm discharge water, Aquaculture, Vol 226, Iss1–4, 31, 2003 p23-34 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0044-8486(03)00464-2)
  5. Santos, A.A.O. et al, 2015. Comparing environmental impacts of native and introduced freshwater prawn farming in Brazil and the influence of better effluent management using LCA, Aquaculture, Volume 444, 2015 p151-159 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2015.03.006)
  6. Jegatheesan, V. et al, 2007. Technological advances in aquaculture farms for minimal effluent discharge to oceans, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol 15, Iss16, 2007 p1535-1544 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.07.043)
  7. Castine, S. A. et al, 2013, Wastewater treatment for land-based aquaculture: improvements and value-adding alternatives in model systems from Australia. Aquaculture Environment Interactions, Vol. 4, 2013 p285-300 (http://www.int-res.com/articles/aei2013/4/q004p285.pdf)


Fish Meal and Fish Oil
Marine ingredients such as Fishmeal (FM) and Fish Oil (FO) provide nutrients that often cannot be found in other feed materials (e.g. particular amino acids, vitamins and minerals), and they are essential constituents of many aquafeeds. FM and FO are a finite resource and are seen by the aquaculture industry as a strategic ingredient to be used efficiently and replaced where possible1.

Globally the FM and FO used in aquafeeds is increasingly derived from fishery and aquaculture processing by-product; the utilisation of these by-products as a raw material for FM and FO production is in the region of 25%-35% and this trend will continue; it is expected to rise to 49% by 20221, 2, 3.

IFFO The Marine Ingredients Organisation4 (formerly known as The International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation or IFFO) estimate that if aquaculture is taken as a whole, producing one tonne of fed farmed fish (excluding filter feeding species) now takes 0.22 tonnes of whole wild fish. This essentially means that for every 0.22kg of whole wild fish used in FM production, a kilo of farmed fish is produced; in other words, for every 1 kg of wild fish used 4.5 kg of farmed fish is produced5.

FM in East and SE Asia is often (but not always) derived from local reduction or ‘trash fish fisheries’, which are sometimes unregulated6, 7. Consequently, traceability and origin of aquatic ingredients is an important factor in the sustainability of warm water prawn operations. Perhaps the most important mitigation measure is to ensure that products such as FM and FO used to manufacture aquafeed come from legal, reported and regulated fisheries. Such fishery products can demonstrate their sourcing adheres to the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) “Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries”8, known as CCRF, through several mechanisms:

  • The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)9 which certifies fisheries to an international standard based on FAO best-practice requirements
  • IFFO RS Global Standard for Responsible Supply (IFFO RS)10 which certifies FM and FO through a process which includes the assessment of source fisheries against a set of CCRF-based requirements
  • Information platforms such as FishSource11 or FisheryProgress12 which provide information and analysis without a certification or approval rating

Currently around 1.9 million tonnes of FM production is certified as either IFFO RS or MSC – representing about 40% of global production; most of this comes from South America, but Europe and North America are providing significant volumes, and North Africa currently has certified production. Currently there is no certified FM product produced in China and only very small quantities (less than 10,000 tonnes) are produced in the rest of Asia (and this is from by-products)2.

Aquaculture certification schemes also require that fish products used in feeds are not on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red lists13 of threatened species or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)14 lists of endangered species.

GM Feed Ingredients
The use of genetically modified (GM) vegetable ingredients in animal feedstuffs (including aquafeed) is an ongoing area of debate15. Whilst some contend that GM soy can help support current levels of aquaculture, global attitudes and consumer perceptions about the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) vary in different parts of the world, with North American markets being far less averse than European ones. However, their use in all livestock feed is widespread, and in the EU food from animals fed on authorised GM crops is considered to be as safe as food from animals fed on non-GM crops16. Current ASC shrimp standards17 allow inclusion of GM ingredients in aquafeed only when information is made available to retailers and consumers.

Vannamei Feed
Careful management of food and feeding regimes are important to the success of aquaculture. To reduce wasting aquafeed on farms, efficient feed use can be monitored and should comply with levels set in certification standards. The indicators used can include the Feed Conversion Rate or FCR (the amount of feed an animal requires to gain a kilogram of body weight), economic feed conversion ratio (eFCR), maximum fish feed equivalence ratio (FFER), or protein efficiency ratio (PER).

Warm water prawns reared in systems other than extensive are given commercial feed. The composition of feeds used for vannamei and monodon are not identical. Vannamei are less carnivorous than monodon, so their protein requirements are lower.

The table illustrates how a ‘typical’ vannamei grow-out feed contains more plant ingredients and less aquatic animal materials in comparison to a monodon feed18.

In terms of feeding efficiency, FCR figures for warm water prawn range between 1 and 219.Typical vannamei grow-out feed has inclusion rate around 27% FM and up to 5% FO. In terms of feeding efficiency, the average FCR figure for vannamei in SE Asia is around 1.2518, 19. IFFO The Marine Ingredients Organisation estimate that in 2015 for every 0.46 kg of whole wild fish used in FM production for all crustacean (which includes warm water prawn) aquafeeds, a kilo of farmed crustacean is produced5.

As feed companies constantly develop their aquafeed formulations the decreasing inclusion of marine ingredients will not only continue in warm water prawn feeds but in those for a number of other aquaculture species.

  1. IFFO (http://www.seafish.org/media/1689782/acig_apr17_fm_fo_iffo.pdf)
  2. IFFO (http://www.iffo.net/system/files/Report%20IoA%20IFFO%20project%20Final_0.pdf)
  3. Seafish (http://www.seafish.org/media/publications/SeafishFishmealandFishOilFactsandFigures_201612.pdf)
  4. IFFO (http://www.iffo.net/)
  5. IFFO (http://www.iffo.net/fish-fish-out-fifo-ratios-conversion-wild-feed)
  6. SFP (http://media.sustainablefish.org/SFP_Brief_FS_Reduc.pdf)
  7. REBYC-II CTI (http://www.rebyc-cti.org/)
  8. FAO (http://www.fao.org/fishery/code/en)
  9. MSC (https://www.msc.org/)
  10. IFFO RS (http://www.iffo.net/iffo-rs)
  11. FishSource (https://www.fishsource.org/)
  12. FisheryProgress (https://fisheryprogress.org/)
  13. IUCN (http://www.iucnredlist.org/)
  14. CITES (https://www.cites.org/)
  15. Sissener, N.H. et al, 2011. Genetically modified plants as fish feed ingredients. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2011, 68(3) p563-574 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235762978_Genetically_modified_plants_as_fish_feed_ingredients)
  16. FSA (https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/gm-in-animal-feed)
  17. ASC (https://www.asc-aqua.org/what-we-do/our-standards/farm-standards/the-shrimp-standard/)
  18. Cocker, L.M., 2014. Farmed marine Shrimp in Vietnam. Seafood Watch (in prep)
  19. WWF (https://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/a-business-case-for-improved-environmental-performance-in-southeast-asian-shrimp-aquaculture)

Disease, Medicines and Chemicals

Health management measures aimed at disease prevention and avoiding the costs of disease are becoming essential for the farmed prawn industry to maintain its sustainable and profitable growth1, 2.

In broad terms, the farmed prawn industry has experienced a number of challenges related to pathogens, disease emergence and spread. In recent years the industry has been impacted by various pathogens such as White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) and Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS)3. Disease can be introduced into a pond via water intake or from stocked animals. Aquaculture can potentially introduce diseases that are exotic to a region or can enhance the levels of naturally occurring diseases within a given area. Disease can reduce profit for farmers and prevention is a priority for this sector, to protect its own stocks and susceptible wild ones and ensure sustainability for the industry as a whole.

In regions such as Asia-Pacific there has been increasing uptake of Best Management Practices (BMPs)4, codes of conduct or practices, and certification schemes in warm water prawn aquaculture which help in tackling disease issues. The primary defence against outbreaks of disease is the continued maintenance of optimal health conditions, as is ensuring that maximum stocking densities are not exceeded at each of the various stages of the production cycle. Monitoring and achieving target growth ensures that the stock is performing well and recording of annual average farm survival rate indicates the health of the systems.

Veterinary medicines and chemicals can play an important role in maintaining aquatic animal health, but incorrect use can have environmental, as well as human health, impacts. Misuse of chemical products for disease control can lead to food safety scares and is linked to the development of food safety assessment schemes such as the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)5, 6.

Vannamei farms should only use veterinary medicines and chemicals that are approved by national authorities and these should be prescribed by an aquatic animal health specialist. Farmers should follow the instructions of the aquatic animal health specialist regarding storage and medicines or chemicals should be used as per directions. Stock should not be harvested before completion of the withdrawal period specified for the medicine.  Records of medicine and chemical stocks and their usage should be kept and made available for inspection or audit.

The following veterinary medicines should not be used7, 8:

  • Antibiotics critical for human medicine, as categorised by the World Health Organisation9
  • Veterinary medicines (excluding vaccines) used prophylactically prior to evidence of a specific disease problem
  • Veterinary medicines (excluding vaccines) to serve as growth promoters

These prohibitions are frequently part of regulation and specified in warm water prawn certification programmes.

Biosecurity is very important10, as is having a biosecurity plan in place at individual farm and area level11, 12. The key elements of biosecurity include: practical and appropriate legislative controls; adequate diagnostic and detection methods for infectious diseases; disinfection and pathogen eradication methods (e.g. appropriate pond preparation and cleaning); reliable high quality sources of stock; and best management practices. These plans should reflect that the farm will only stock or introduce Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) or Specific Pathogen Resistant (SPR) prawns13.

Regular health checks and screening allow for rapid action to be taken if problems begin to develop. Certification schemes set targets for maximum average real percentage mortality rates. Maintenance of good daily records of mortalities facilitates future management by highlighting when in the production cycle disease problems are likely to occur.

The development of a written health plan updated annually and approved by an aquatic animal health specialist is recommended and is often a certification requirement. The farmer should follow the instructions of aquatic animal health specialists as to who to inform and how to stop the spread of any disease.

Functional aquafeeds for farmed crustacean are developing. These feeds include a range of additives used to improve growth and feed utilisation, but also to support the health and stress resistance. Additives, such as probiotics, prebiotics, phytogenics, and immune-stimulants may help improve disease resistance, and effectively reduce disease incidences14, 15.

  1. The Aquaculture Roundtable Series/TARS (http://tarsaquaculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/TARS2016_23TARS-Report_FA.pdf)
  2. Stentiford, G. et al, 2012. Disease will limit future food supply from the global crustacean fishery and aquaculture sectors. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 110, 2012 p141–157 (http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1349&context=usdeptcommercepub)
  3. FAO (fao.org/news/story/en/item/175416/icode/)
  4. MPEDA/NACA (http://library.enaca.org/Shrimp/manual/ShrimpHealthManual.pdf)
  5. Little, D. and Murray, F., 2012. Pangasius and Europe the unparalleled growth of a farmed tropical whitefish in European markets. Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling (http://www.seafish.org/media/572923/acig_pangasiusandeurope_universityofstirling.pdf)
  6. European Commission (http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/rasff/index_en.htm)
  7. Seafish (http://www.seafish.org/industry-support/legislation/veterinary-residues)
  8. ASC (https://www.asc-aqua.org/what-we-do/our-standards/farm-standards/the-shrimp-standard/)
  9. WHO (http://www.who.int/en/)
  10. Fish Vet Group (http://www.virasure.com/biosecurity/biosecurity-in-aquaculture-part-3/)
  11. Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (http://aciar.gov.au/files/node/737/Australian%20prawnfarming%20manual%20final.pdf)
  12. Fish Health Inspectorate (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/278580/Shellfish_biosecurity_measures_plan.pdf)
  13. Encarnacao, P., 2016. Functional feed additives in aquaculture feeds. Aquafeed Formulation, 2016 p217-237 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128008737000051)
  14. International Aquafeed Magazine (https://issuu.com/international_aquafeed/docs/iaf1701_w1/28)
  15. Lightner, D.V. and R.M. Redman, R.M., 2012. Development of specific pathogen-free (SPF) shrimp stocks and their application to sustainable shrimp farming. Food Science, Technology and Nutrition, edited by Austin, B., 2012 p277-317, Infectious Disease in Aquaculture (http://dx.doi.org/10.1533/9780857095732.3.277)

Escapes and Introductions

Escapees from aquaculture facilities can potentially impact on habitats and species in the receiving waters. may affect the genetics of local populations in its native range via interbreeding and the introduction of disease to wild stocks. Where farmed as a non-native species, escaped vannamei may potentially establish themselves in the wild and compete with native prawn species.

Authorities can ensure that new warm water prawn farms locate in areas where the species farmed is either indigenous or where self-recruiting populations have already established. If neither of these conditions applies then the licence or permit should require evidence that escapees will not establish or farm containment systems will prevent escape.

The contribution of non-native species to the growth of the global aquaculture industry and the economic benefits that it has brought to many countries is large, but minimising escapes of non-native aquaculture species must be a high priority for resource managers, conservationists and the aquaculture industry1.

Although there have been numerous escapes from prawn farms into non-native waters, and this species is regularly caught in the wild around Asia, it is unproven whether breeding populations have established outside its natural range2.

Losses due to escapes also represent a considerable financial loss to a farm, so it is in their interest to prevent escapes as much as possible.

There has been increasing regulation, uptake of Best Management Practices (BMPs), codes of conduct or practices and certification schemes in warm water prawn aquaculture which help in tackling escape issues. To reduce escape risks farms should have trapping devices such as screens and grills on all water inlets, outlets and drainage channels that are suitably sized to match the size of the stock. These screens should be regularly inspected, maintained and such actions recorded.  Pond embankments, bunds, and levees should be of adequate height and standard to retain stocks during periods of flood and regularly inspected and maintained. There should be no intentional release of stock from the farm.

Importation and movements of vannamei broodstock or post-larvae should be from trusted and registered sources, disease free and meet all appropriate requirements and guidelines.

  1. Cook, E.J et al, 2007. Non-Native Aquaculture Species Releases: Implications for Aquatic. Chapter 5 Aquaculture in the Ecosystem, p155-184 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225989929_Non-Native_Aquaculture_Species_Releases_Implications_for_Aquatic_Ecosystems)
  2. CABI (http://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/71097)


Aquaculture (and fisheries) certification and labelling programmes have become a primary tool to address sustainability issues of farmed seafood, and the development of third party assessment and certification has provided new forms of governance traditionally dominated by state-based regulation1, 2. The growth in the number of certification schemes has led to confusion surrounding the myriad of them out there. To try and combat this, the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)1 has developed its global benchmarking tool to measure and compare certification schemes and standards performance across seafood production.

Given the prominence of environmental issues as the driver for the development of aquaculture standards, there is an understandably strong emphasis on environmental criteria within them3. Certification enables aquaculture producers to voluntarily demonstrate their responsible farming practices by: complying with national legislation; minimising impact on habitats and wildlife; making the best use of locally available resources; and ensuring the best use of feed and therapeutic products.

Aquaculture certification currently has moderate to high coverage of labour standards (e.g. minimum wage)3, however, increased social and economic requirements related to human rights, gender and sustainable livelihoods are being developed.

Since 2011, a partnership of UK businesses called the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC)4 have been working to ensure all fish and seafood sold in the UK comes from sustainable sources, and aquaculture certification plays a pivotal role. All members need to ensure that the aquaculture source (considering feed mills, hatcheries, and farm sites) is certified under a third party standard, or audited to a members own good aquaculture standard or code of practice5.

The table below looks at some of the major aquaculture certification schemes, including those for shrimp/prawns, and if they address the Key Considerations highlighted throughout the profiles. It also highlights which scheme has a standard/s successfully benchmarked by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)1.

Read more on aquaculture certification, including that of shrimp/prawns, after the table.

Certification Scheme: Description and Links Governance Farm Siting Nutrient Pollution Feed Disease, Medicines & Chemicals Escapes & Introductions Wild Seed GSSI Benchmarked

Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

Founded in 2010 by WWF and IDH (Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative) the ASC is an independent not for profit organisation with global influence. ASC aims to be the world’s leading certification and labelling programme for responsibly farmed seafood.

The ASC consumer label demonstrates the integrity of the seafood product.

Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practice (GAA BAP)

GAA BAP has been certifying aquaculture since 2004, and is administered by the GAA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy, education and leadership in responsible aquaculture. Aquaculture Facility Certification:

The BAP program employs a star system to signify the integration levels of BAP certification along the aquaculture production chain. These stars are displayed on the BAP logo and appear on packaging for a variety of farmed seafood products worldwide.


GG offers 16 standards for 3 scopes: Crops, Livestock, and Aquaculture. GG has been one of the most widely accepted private sector food safety certification in the world since 2007.

GG Aquaculture certified producers have now the option to use the consumer facing  GGN Certified Aquaculture label.

Friend of the Sea (FoS)

FoS is a non-profit NGO, whose mission is the conservation of the marine habitat. FoS is now a leading international certification project for products originated from both sustainable fisheries and aquaculture:

EU Organic Aquaculture

All aquaculture products sold as “organic” in the European Union (EU) have to fulfil the requirements that are laid down by the EU regulations:

This includes products certified according to private organic standards. The EU Organic logo makes organic products easily identifiable by consumers.


Naturland was founded in 1982 when organic agriculture was regarded as a marginal issue. Since the mid-1990s, Naturland has developed standards for different species and production systems in aquaculture:

The Naturland label is intended as a guide for consumers.

Soil Association

The Soil Association was formed in 1946 and champions organic principles and practice.

The Soil Association logo sends a message to consumers that the product is organically produced.

Indicates the Certification Scheme addresses the Key Consideration

 – Indicates the Certification Scheme has had one or more of its Standards benchmarked against the Global Benchmark Tool Version 1 and recognised by the GSSI Steering Board

Certified Aquaculture Production
Production of certified seafood, both aquaculture and wild catch, has grown rapidly over the past decade and now represents a significant portion of global seafood production. Certified sustainable seafood in 2003 equated to some 500,000 tonnes (0.5% of global production); in 2015 this figure had risen to 23 million tonnes (14% of global production). Some 80% of certified seafood is wild catch, but certified aquaculture is growing twice as fast and is set to dominate growth in certified seafood for the foreseeable future3.

In 2015, certified aquaculture accounted for 6.3% of world aquaculture production. Of this 6.3%, seven species groups were dominant (i.e. salmon, pangasius, mussels, tilapia, prawns, trout and sea bream) and accounted for 97%3. This relatively low global level of certified aquaculture and the narrow range of species groups, is largely due to:

  • China’s dominance in global aquaculture but its relative absence in certified production
  • 70% of all global production coming from small-scale producers

Certification of small-scale aquaculture continues to be an issue, mainly due to the cost and difficulties in complying with standards; key challenges include finance, technical knowledge and organisational capacity. Educating small-scale farmers on how to comply, as well as identifying national policy and regulatory gaps supporting small-scale aquaculture certification, is becoming ever more necessary6. Multiple-farm or ‘cluster’ certification may be a way forward for small-scale producers.

Four schemes are responsible for the majority of certified aquaculture production, namely the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practice (GAA BAP), GlobalG.A.P. (GG), and Friend of the Sea (FoS)3.

Certified Shrimp/Prawn Production
In 2015, farmed shrimp/prawns accounted for 6% of certified aquaculture globally3.

Figures provided by the certification schemes themselves and relating to their totals of certified farmed vannamei, or shrimp/prawns break down into:

  • 386,012 tonnes of ‘shrimp’ (which includes vannamei) under the GAA BAP Farm Standard (as of June 2019)7
  • 205,195 tonnes of ‘shrimp’ (which includes vannamei) under ASC (as of July 2019)8
  • At least 40,567 tonnes of vannamei  under GG (as of April 2019)9
  • ~5,700 tonnes of ‘shrimp/prawns’ (which may include vannamei) under FoS (as of June 2019)10

(It is important to note that certification under one scheme does not preclude certification under another, and gathering accurate data on rates of multiple certification is very difficult. As a result simply adding the production volumes of individual schemes can result in double counting and overestimation. The authors of the aggregate data referred to above make no adjustment for multiple certification.)

  1. GSSI (http://www.ourgssi.org)
  2. Vince, J. and Haward, M., 2017. Hybrid governance of aquaculture: Opportunities and challenges. Journal of Environmental Management 201, (2017) p138-144
  3. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2016. State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the Blue Economy’ 2016. International Institute for Sustainable Development (http://www.iisd.org/ssi/standards-and-the-blue-economy/)
  4. SSC (https://www.sustainableseafoodcoalition.org/)
  5. SSC Guidance Voluntary Codes of Conduct (https://www.documents.clientearth.org/wp-content/uploads/library/2015-12-16-guidance-for-the-sustainable-seafood-coalition-ssc-voluntary-codes-of-conduct-ssc-en.pdf)
  6. FAO (http://www.fao.org/cofi/30797-0a436c88813a66cf4a752efb95d6be1e2.pdf)
  7. GAA BAP, pers. comm., 2019
  8. ASC (https://www.asc-aqua.org/news/certification-update/)
  9. GG, pers. comm., 2019
  10. FoS, pers. comm., 2019