New species of prawn import divides industry | Daily News

New species of prawn import divides industry

Penaeus  vannamei.

"Five of the seven diseases have been proved negative which means there are no diseases to date. Two more results are pending and we are confident that all the results will come out as negative," said NAQDA President Upali Mohotti, who was also present at the media briefing

Prawns became the centre of controversy recently as reports emerged that a certain species of prawns imported by a multinational company with the authorisation of the National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA) carried certain viruses in them.

The NAQDA and the Sri Lanka Aquatic Development Alliance (SLADA) exchanged allegations over the safety of the prawn species with each claiming that science was on their side.

A bit of history

Sri Lanka started its voyage into the prawn industry in 1982, 10 years after prawns were industrially grown in countries like USA, Japan and Western Europe. Today, Asian countries including Sri Lanka share 75 percent of the total prawn production in the world, while Latin American countries share the remaining 25 percent. Brazil happens to be the largest producer of prawns, while Thailand claims the number one position in exports.

Two types of prawns are cultivated by this industry worldwide - the Penaeus mondon and the Penaeus vannamei. In Sri Lanka, at present we only farm the Penaeus mondon variety. In the past couple of years however, the Sri Lanka prawn industry experienced many setbacks with many diseases adversely affecting the continuity of the industry in the country. The most recent disease occurred in 2004 when the ‘white spot’ disease plagued the industry and huge losses were incurred by the breeding centres.

Discussions were held during the last two years to find a solution to the continuous losses and a proposal was made to import the other type of prawn, Penaeus vannamei, into the country. Fifty couples of prawns imported from Hawaii were cleared on the morning of April 8, but this caused a stir among the prawn community regarding the safety of the imported items. The total import of prawns weighed 550 kg and the consignment was transported to a breeding centre at Nainamadama in Puttalam District.

The blame game

When the Daily News inquired into the matter with the NAQDA, they stated that a certificate was obtained by the Veterinary Authority of Hawaii stating that the prawns were free of disease. The authority accused SLADA, a non-government alliance of individuals in the fishing community, for spreading false information and stated that SLADA had always wanted to bring the imported shipment to the country.

SLADA in the meantime were the first to raise their voice against the imported shipment of Penaeus vannamei prawns. The alliance stated that the disasters relating to this type of prawns were evident in the countries of Thailand and India.

"We are not against the importing of new types of seafood into the country. We wanted to import this type of species under a specific set of guidelines and assessments. We have to be careful when we import an alien species. We have found out that these prawns carry seven diseases including a virus," said SLADA President Kamal Nanayakkara.

Addressing a media briefing in the wake of such statements, on April 10, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated that all allegations were false.

The minister asked the public not to panic and stated that NAQDA was conducting experiments to assess the disease status of the prawns.

"Five of the seven diseases have been proved negative which means there are no diseases to date. Two more results are pending and we are confident that all the results will come out as negative," said NAQDA President Upali Mohotti, who was also present at the media briefing.

Alienated from procedure

While the two aquaculture organisations exchange allegations with each other, attention should be fixed to a more serious matter at hand. Both government institutions related to this import - Sri Lanka Customs and the NAQDA - were at a loss when it came to the process of issuing permits for these imports.

Senior Lawyer and Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardena speaking to the Daily News explained that a strict legal procedure needed to be followed when importing a new alien species to the country.

"If any authority wants to introduce a specific species to the country, there is a proper procedure to be followed,” stated Gunawardena. “The authorities should follow the National Policy on Introduction of Alien Invasive Species. This policy calls for the need of a mandatory risk assessment before importing a species. The authorities responsible for the introduction should consider the problems and risks related to the new species and should formulate and present the ways to cope with and mitigate the risks."

He further said, "According to directive principles of state policies stated in the Constitution of the country, no government authority, agent, cooperation, department or ministry can bypass or overlook a national policy in taking decisions."

Thus he accused NAQDA of not following these particular protocols when importing the shipment of Penaeus vannamei prawns.

Penaueus mondon.

"Any animal should be introduced to the country by a certificate from the Wildlife Conservation Department which is the requirement under Section 37 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance which has not been complied with. They further have to get clearance from the country of import and the Department of Animal Protection has to identify that it is free from diseases, pests or other pathogens and a letter of recommendation should be provided to the import and export controller to which the permit would be given," he explained.

However, when the Daily News questioned Mohotti about this, he simply stated that the Wildlife authority had nothing to do with regard to this matter.

This particular shipment was held back and later released by Customs officials which makes matters worse when considering the subject of legality. The Customs media spokesperson stated that the Customs approved the shipment after a valid permit was given. When asked about the permit, he stated that NAQDA issued a permit named 'NQ/5/8/3/1/ of January 1, 2018' and the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Department provided a permit named '2018/3'. However, such permits would not be valid without the certificate of the Wildlife authority which is stated under Section 37 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.

Causing ripples

Gunawardena in addition noted that this species of prawns may cause some ripples in the aquaculture community,

"This type of ‘Penaeus vannamei' prawns are a naturally occurring species in the Pacific region and when introduced to other areas for aquaculture purposes, they are prone to diseases. India and Thailand too have many experiences with this species carrying diseases of other types of prawn into their industry.

This new type of shrimp is also a natural competitor of the Penaeus mondon shrimp which lives in Sri Lankan waters and this could affect the local shrimps.”

Penaeus vannamei shrimps are known for their predatory skills which would affect the other aquatic life and the new competition could have this new type of shrimp be a serious alien invasive species for years to come, explained the environmentalist further.

While the fishing community awaits the results of the assessments to determine the safety of these prawns, it is also necessary that they learn the legal matters at hand.

If not handled properly, the Penaeus vannamei prawn can spell disaster to the Sri Lankan prawn industry and the authorities need to communicate swiftly with the grassroots to avoid another alien species wreaking disaster in the island.

 


 

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