The ongoing El Nino weather pattern is taking a heavy toll on the global aquaculture industry, especially in Asia. The situation will get worse before it gets better, experts warn.




El Nino wreaking havoc in Asia's aqua farms




Feared by weather experts to be the one of the most intense since 1998, the ongoing El Nino weather pattern is taking a heavy toll on the global aquaculture industry, especially in Asia.


In the Philippines, a 20-percent drop in fish farmed output is expected in the current quarter, according to local fisheries authorities.


Losses for shrimp farms, the Philippines' bureau of fisheries says, may reach 5,000 tonnes. Tilapia grow-out crop is seen to decline by 27 percent or about 70,000 tonnes, with hatchery output down by 35 percent or by 280 million fry/fingerling.


Until December last year, Thailand, once the world's top shrimp exporter, was optimistic 2016 would be the beginning of a long overdue recovery from the effects of the Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) that hit its shrimp industry since 2012. It was expecting shrimp output to increase to 300,000 this year, up 15 percent from last year, and up 30 percent from 2013's 230,000 tonnes.


But the ongoing severe drought brought by El Nino could dampen such optimism. In a radio address in mid-January, Thailand's military ruler, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, issued a strong appeal to fish farmers to "grow less produce and use less water."


There's no way shrimp farmers are going to ignore the general's wishes - without expecting any consequences. In the first place, in that same radio address, General Prayut minced no words against the local shrimp industry, especially coastal seafood growers whom he blamed for "excessive saltwater fish and shrimp farming" that contributed to the current water crisis.


"We prefer not to use law enforcement on something like this." But he had a stern warning for shrimp farmers: "You cannot grow on the land you illegally invaded on the assumption that what you grow are economic crops. You will not be able to sell your crops and you are destroying the land. The saltiness spreads widely, making impossible to grow other crops. This is the problem if saltwater is used in agricultural zones."


He didn't spare freshwater shrimp farmers from his tirades either. Saying freshwater farming "requires lots of water," he sought their help in restoring balance to the ecosystem.


The military ruler's order - or "appeal," to be technical about it - isn't going to help the Thai shrimp industry's dream of expanding production beginning this year.  Coming at a time when Thai packers appear to have oversold, the industry is, to put it mildly, in a tight bind.


In January, Thailand produced only 12,000 tonnes of shrimp. In February, production is expected to go up to 14,000 tonnes. But based on existing orders, Thai processors, according to industry insiders, needed 30,000 tonnes in January and need 35,000 tonnes in February.


In short, while El Nino continues to linger, Thai shrimp farmers can forget any hope of an immediate recovery.


Thai weather forecasters expect the El Nino-driven drought to last till June. Worst, the consensus is that the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.


A recent advisory by two international organisations concerned about climate risks, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES), the ongoing El Niño weather pattern in Asia and the Pacific is likely to be one of the strongest since 1998.


"One of the most significant impacts is on agriculture, which is a key component of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for many Pacific countries," the report warned.


"The impact of the 2015-2016 El Niño could be even more severe in certain locations, such as the uplands of Cambodia, central and southern India, eastern Indonesia, the central and southern Philippines, central and northeast Thailand..." says the advisory.


While many southeast Asian countries, particularly India and Sri Lanka, face severe flooding caused by heavy rainfalls, some Pacific islands - Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu, among others - have been experiencing serious drought that has caused water shortages and food insecurity, according to the report.

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