When teaching the fundamentals of aquaculture operation and commercial success, it is common to emphasize three essential factors: Feed, Need, and Seed.

Feed: Without the proper, regular, and reliable supply of feed to ensure optimal growth, health, and water quality, commercial aquaculture is doomed to failure. Need: Without a market that needs and wants the product supplied at proper qualities, quantities, and times, any commercial production will fail. Seed: Without proper, regular, and viable supply of high‐quality juveniles, an industry will struggle to reach production goals and will not meet commercial targets.

This editorial focuses on the third fundamental, seed, and a recent example of the logistics, regulatory, and commercial challenges that a high‐tech and globally linked industry can face, using marine shrimp production in Europe as an example, and offers some considerations to stimulate future solutions to this challenge.

The shrimp farming industry in Europe is in its infancy. No more than 100 tons of marine shrimp are produced annually, almost exclusively in closed recirculating aquaculture systems (RASs) with the use of waste heat from industrial processes and/or seasonal ambient heat to maintain water temperatures. During the past 5 year, the industry has expanded rapidly and clearly understands the concept of need. It services a strong niche market for fresh, never frozen, locally and sustainably produced shrimp. Access to market is diversified, with sales secured through direct marketing including online and farm‐gate retailing as well as through high‐end fresh produce fishmongers in local cities. Prices are set at a high premium to cover significant capital and operational costs, and product is well received. Feed is, despite strict import limitations imposed by the European Union, available from reliable local producers of varying business sizes, prices, and qualities, with feed mills actively adapting their products to customer needs and demands. Feed development is, of course, never complete and challenges still prevail relative to feeds and feeding practices applied in the RAS itself and maintaining optimal water and biofilter integrity. Nonetheless, the available feeds meet the current demands.

The shrimp industry in Europe is not diversified to multiple postlarvae (PL) suppliers and has been fully reliant on a single specific pathogen‐free (SPF) PL supplier exporting to the European Union from the USA. This long‐standing situation can be attributed to the favorable nature of the seed supply from the USA and to regulatory limitations within the legislature effectively negating the other options for alternative imports. The USA is the only nation that may legally export live crustacean larvae to the European Union.

PL supply from the USA is favorable because, in comparison to overall capital and labor costs for a European RAS operation, the import cost for PLs remained relatively low. While still a significant cost to the operation, there has been little commercial pressure to find a local alternative. The logistics of PL delivery by plane have been acceptable, and the system for importation is well established. Overall, the industry across Europe has realized that the bottleneck in the supply of PLs could dramatically affect production. If PL deliveries were to stop from the single supplier, no alternatives would be readily available. Despite this obvious possibility, the lack of pressing need, a lack of commercial incentive for European PL production, regulatory constraints, and a lack of coordination have created a crisis.

The first warning signs about PL supply to European shrimp producers came with frequent hurricanes that impacted PL production in the USA, most notably Hurricane Irma, in September 2017, which resulted in disruption of PL supplies. Seasonal conditions in Europe, in particular harsh winters, caused difficulty in maintaining PL physicochemical parameters during transport and disruptions to road and air transport, and raised further concerns. At the beginning of this year, the announcement came from the USA that supplies to the European Union would cease from May 2018 onwards. Growing demand from local RAS in the USA and/or other commercial factors have driven this decision. Despite a recent reprieve with PL supplies extended to October, the PL bottleneck has become an impasse, and any delay in finding a viable alternative is likely to have severe consequences for RAS shrimp producers across the continent.

The shrimp industry in Europe has tried to react rapidly. Numerous firms are attempting to establish PL production in Europe. Commensurately alternative US suppliers are being sought and test imports are being initiated. Achieving viable and reliable PL production capable of meeting the demand from European Union customers within the next 4 months is, of course, an incredibly tall order for startup hatcheries. Each of these hatchery firms attempting first production will also be aware that despite the pressing demand from shrimp farms, if a reliable US supply route becomes reestablished, they will be severely commercially disadvantaged. A classic catch 22 situation arises whereby hatcheries are desperately needed in times of adversity and worthless as soon as a simpler alternative arises. Parallels can be easily drawn to other aquaculture industries, for example, the Greenlipped mussel, Perna canaliculus, where hatcheries designed to respond to periodic failures in natural spatfall were commercially unviable in years when natural seed was available. In this case, hatcheries have attained commercial success through industry buy‐in, industry growth, and added value seed. The main hatchery succeeded in establishing close industry collaboration and industry investment to guarantee cover in years of low spat availability. Hatchery operators have benefited from a strongly expanding industry outstripping natural supply. However, above all, the ability to offer selected and genetically improved spat has aided hatchery commercial success.

Hatcheries for shrimp PLs in Europe must also identify the advantages they can offer to ensure commercial success. Producing PLs alone will almost certainly not be enough. Questions to be asked should include global industry considerations. These may include:

  1. What challenges could Europe help to address for SPF PLs and broodstock—particularly for the much larger Asian and American industries?
  2. Are there global partners interested in developing a distinct European SPF lineage that can be periodically used as a genotypic prop for Asian and American hatcheries?
  3. Is there a health advantage in an isolated European population?
  4. At what times and under what conditions could Europe supply PLs to overseas customers?

Equally, European industry considerations will be important. Here producers must ask:

  1. How do hatcheries obtain industry buy‐in to ensure that target customers do not evaporate when easier options arise?
  2. How important is selection to optimize production performance in RAS and what other selected breeding or seed optimization is possible
  3. How important is the role of genetic resistance in PLs in an industry with closed operating facilities free of all external biotic influences?
  4. What role can small‐scale research hatcheries play, with government support, if upscaling is needed in the future?

Asking these and I am sure many other fundamental questions during this exciting but disruptive period for European shrimp production will be key to European hatchery success. Equally, given the threat posed by continued reliance on PL imports alone, a concerted industry attempt at finding the right responses will be essential for future seed supply, and hence commercial survival of European shrimp farms.

It is important to recognize that the fundamental things apply everywhere. Beyond the lessons for the shrimp industry in Europe, this situation sends clear warnings to emerging aquaculture sectors worldwide where specialized technology or industry capacities are required to produce juveniles. Every aquaculture sector must proactively recognize their bottlenecks and plan to manage risks associated with single suppliers of juveniles and at any other critical point in production. Every sector must understand regulatory constraints and work proactively to ensure these do not become prohibitive (van Senten and Engle 2017). Understanding economic risk and pathways to sustainable and competitive hatchery operation in emerging sectors are key research challenges for the future. Alternative industry structures, including cooperatives and supply chain partnerships, to reduce risk are important economic research avenues that must be explored by the aquaculture research community.

Literature Cited