Cultured shrimp in Ecuador

Ecuador is the world’s third largest producer of Litopenaeus vannamei (Pacific whiteleg shrimp) and the largest in South America. Its shrimp sector is unique in terms of the high level of vertical integration and the large share of shrimp produced in extensive production systems. The unwillingness of producers to shift to more intensive production systems limits the future growth potential of shrimp production. However, Ecuador has advantages over its competitors in Asia ranging from relatively low farm-level production costs to a high quality and a high degree of uniformity of raw materials and relatively large harvest sizes of shrimp. Contrary to Asian producers where labour costs are relatively low, with higher labour costs Ecuador focuses on the export of Head-On Shell-On (HOSO) instead of peeled and/or value-added products. HOSO shrimp from Ecuador with its high quality and level of uniformity is a popular raw material for the shrimp cooking industry in Europe. In China shrimp from Ecuador has consolidated as a premium product in the restaurant sector. If you want to learn more about the main processing and exporting companies or if you are looking for a specific product, get in touch.

Cultured shrimp
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Sourcing news

Shrimp production and export statistics

Species wise production

FAO (2018)

From 2011, Ecuador has increased it shrimp production from 260,000 tonnes in 2011 to about 403,000 tonnes in 2015. Production in 2016 increased slightly further, but production issues at the hatchery level have resulted in slower growth than expected. The year 2017 ended with an all-time record

production of more than 450,000 tonnes.

Massive expansion of shrimp production is not expected in Ecuador. Undercurrent news recently reported that Ecuadorian authorities expect that production increase will be limited by the amount of available land and by the reluctance of farmers to shift to more intensive production methods. Conversion of land into shrimp ponds may increase production with another 5%. Conversion to more intensive production methods may be limited by the required investments of changing pond infrastructure, the increased risk of disease, and the lack of electricity supply to shrimp farms.

Other Undercurrent reports in 2016 indicate that even if farmers are able to apply more intensive production methods in terms of changing pond infrastructure and having electricity available at the farms, production increases may be limited by a lack of artemia and capacity of hatcheries to increase larvae production.

Production by region in hectares (2015)

Source: Secretaria de Acuacultura, MGAP

Shrimp aquaculture is concentrated in four areas: Guayas (138,000 hectares), El Oro (40,000 hectares), Manabi (18,500 hectares) and Esmeraldas (15,000 hectares). Guayas and El Oro are located close to the Peruvian border and around the

city of Guayaquil, which is also the most important shipping port. Many of the vertically integrated companies like Omarsa, Songa, Expalsa and Santa Priscilla have their factories and shrimp farms in and around Guayaquil. These companies have relatively short supply chains from the farms to the factories. The Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador owns the biggest estuary in the South Pacific. This region, compared to other zones in the Ecuadorian coast, is considered to have high productivity in biomass because of particular environmental conditions. These conditions are obtained by the great volume of fresh water and sediments that are provided by the Guayas river and the large difference between tides (3m). These estuarine processes and its effects can be felt 30 nautical miles into the continent by the shrimp farmers.

In Manabi and Esmeralda farms are often owned and operated by smaller producers who are selling to smaller exporters with facilities close to their farms. The supply chain in these areas is slightly more fragmented, but still much less fragmented than in many Asian countries as producers are still relatively large. Hatcheries are often located more to the north, especially in Manabi as water quality and salinity levels are better there. Post-larvae are distributed from here to the southern shrimp production areas.

Last year's earthquake mainly impacted shrimp production in Manabi and Esmeraldas. Production is expected to be fully recovered in 2017.

Shrimp export markets

Source: Trade Map (2016), International Trade Centre,

Since 2011 the export markets of Ecuadorian shrimp products have changed drastically. Around 2011 the United States and European Union imported roughly equal amounts of Ecuadorian shrimp, Chinese buyers were lagging behind not importing half the volume of the other main markets. Since then, all three markets have increased their imports

from Ecuador. However, while the US and EU only increased their purchase about 50% until 2016, China increased its purchases almost five fold in the same period. Export statistics from Cámara Nacional de Acuacultura (CnA) show export volumes totaled 430,000 tonnes in 2017, with a value of US 2.86 bn. Of these 430,000 tonnes, China imported more than half of Ecuador's shrimp output, directly and indirectly via Haiphong, Vietnam. EU remains an important market in terms of export, with a share of 23% (CnA, 2018)

During the Nicovita shrimp symposium in Ecuador in 2016, it was analyzed that the biggest jump in imports by China occurred in 2013 as Asian countries were ravaged by early mortality syndrome (EMS). Chinese buyers turned to Ecuador in order to secure raw materials for the domestic market. In the beginning, it was believed that China’s turn to Ecuador would be temporary. Now its dominance seems to be a permanent move as China continues to be the trendsetter for production targets and prices. Ecuador has established itself as a supplier to Chinese restaurants. With the continuous growth of the Chinese market, it is expected that exports from Ecuador to China will continue to grow.

During the same symposium, it was also mentioned that opportunities are not only in Asia. Closer to home markets, for Ecuador's premium shrimp, seems to be expanding as well in countries like Chile and Colombia for example.

Export products in 2016 (tonnes)

Source: Trade Map (2016), International Trade Centre,

Ecuador focuses on the exports of HOSO shrimp, especially for its exports to the European and the Chinese market. For the United States' market, Ecuador mainly exports HLSO products. Ecuadorian packers prefer to process HOSO and HLSO products opposed to other peeled or value-added products as labour costs are high compared to labour costs

in Asia.

For the EU, Ecuador products are either sold as raw materials for the cooking industry. This mainly consists of HOSO products which are packed as bulked and frozen as semi-IQF. The other market in the EU is in the high end supermarkets which purchase organic certified and ASC certified products. These products will get a premium price and therefore enables Ecuador to compete with Asian suppliers. Although Ecuador faces competition for ASC certified products, it does not have competition for organic products. In Asia L. vannamei cannot be certified as organic as it is not a native species to the region. With the new FTA between Ecuador and the EU, Ecuador may become overall more competitive compared to Asian suppliers which do not have GSP status or an FTA agreement.

Farmers generally receive the highest prices for shrimp that are sold as HOSO. As a result, the United States' buyers are having difficulties to purchase good quality products as farmers will increasingly only sell shrimp that do not make the high grade required for HOSO. There are signals that US buyers are therefore increasingly turning to alternative cheaper sources in Asia. Future Chinese demand will depend on further recovery of Asian supplies.


Last updated: 01/10/2018

  • Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

    # Farms 24
    # Farms in assessment 9
    # CoC partners 11
    Total volume (MT) 49,063
  • Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP)

    # Farms 15
    # Hatcheries 4
    # Feed mills 7
    # Factories 8
  • GlobalGAP

    # Farms 12

Interested to start sourcing sustainable L. vannamei in Ecuador? Contact us!

Risk assessment

Environmental risks

  • Mangrove degradation
  • Transforming run off banana farms into shrimp farms

Social risks

  • Piracy
  • Water conflicts with fishermen

Quality and supply chain risks

  • These are limited due to the integrated character of the sector.

Species in Ecuador

Click on the species and find out more about the species in Ecuador