November 12, 2003



Banned Disease-Prone Shrimp Species Smuggled Into Philippines

A banned shrimp species continues to be smuggled into the country.

Ironically, the prohibited crustacean, Litopenaeus vannamei, has the potential of reviving Philippines' moribund shrimp industry.

The main reason why its importation is being opposed is that its entry might result in the possible spread of exotic diseases and transmission to the local shrimp stock.

The usual source of the L. vannamei seed stock is Taiwan and the port of entry is reportedly the Subic Freeport in Zambales. Some shipments come in through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Since 1993, the government has banned the import of all species of live shrimps and prawns, including L. vannamei, in all their stages, except for scientific and educational purposes. This is done so as to prevent the introduction and spread of exotic disease agents that may endanger the prawn industry.

Though prohibited, L. vannamei has been known to proliferate in the Philippines due to smuggling.

L. vannamei was first introduced in the Philippines sometime in 1978 or 1979, according to Wilfredo Yap of the Tigbauan, Iloilo-based Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center-Aquaculture Department (SEAFDEC-AQD).


Import from Panama

It was imported from a Panamanian company by a shrimp farm and hatchery operator and stocked in a brackishwater pond in Dumangas, Iloilo.

"The exact number imported cannot be ascertained but it was believed to be less than 100,000 postlarvae (PL)," said Yap, who heads SEAFDEC-AQD¡¯s Technology Verification and Commercialization Division.

The importer, a pioneering Penaeus monodon (tiger prawn) shrimp hatchery operator, has since passed away. His was a one-time importation.

The next introduction was in 1997, and this time regularly but illegally. The shrimps were brought in at PL-2 to PL-3 stages and nurtured for two to three weeks to older postlarval stage in a hatchery presumably in Zambales where most of the L. vannamei farms were located.

Yap said several typhoons between 1997 and 2002 caused the overflowing or breaching of dikes of brackishwater ponds in Central Luzon, including some known to have stocks of L. vannamei.

"There is a real possibility of the species having established itself in natural waters," he said.

As stipulated in Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 189 series of 1993, it is illegal to import live shrimps and prawns of any stage without a prior permit from the agriculture secretary with appropriate recommendation from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).


Special Permits


Special permits are granted only for research purposes with the importer having to show capability to institute bio-security measures.

"The regulation was promulgated to prevent the entry of shrimp diseases which were then ravaging many shrimp-producing countries in Southeast Asia," said Yap in his report entitled "Philippine Perspective on the Introduction of Litopenaeus vannamei."

Yap prepared the report as part of the United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) Regional Study on the Introduction of Exotic Species in Asia.

He said local companies, which have Taiwanese partners, have attempted several times to lobby with the Department of Agriculture for the lifting of the import ban but to no avail.

"At the department level," Yap said, "it was clear that the sentiment was for allowing the imports since (they were) seen as a means to increase investments in aquaculture and export revenues."

When the import license applications were routed to BFAR for appropriate action, the bureau held its ground; none was approved.

Undaunted, some growers surreptitiously brought in L. vannamei from Taiwan. The shrimp fry smuggling went on unabated until the presence of fresh L. vannamei in Metro Manila markets and restaurants became noticeable.

In early 2001, BFAR officials attempted to close down a shrimp farm suspected of culturing L. vannamei. However, their attempt to obtain a search and seizure warrant for violation of the existing regulation was not even entertained by a local court since the regulation banned only the import of live shrimps but not their culture.


Increased Penalties

To straighten out the regulation¡¯s infirmities, BFAR promulgated FAO No. 207 on May 17, 2001.

Under the new FAO, the ban was expanded to include the culture of imported shrimps, except for scientific purposes. Penalties for violations were also increased from a fine of P500 to P5,000 and/imprisonment of six months to four years upon the discretion of the court, to a fine of P80,000 and/or imprisonment of eight years.

To raise public awareness on the issue, the BFAR conducted at least three confiscations of illegal shrimp fry imports with full media coverage.

The first occurred on Sept. 22, 2002, and the second and the third last March 3 and May 8. In these incidents, the shrimp fry was misdeclared as milkfish fry.

To tighten monitoring and control over such surreptitious entry, the BFAR issued an order restricting entry of all live fish imports from China and Taiwan via the NAIA. This, as most fry imports were reportedly coming in through the Subic Freeport.