Shrimp is leading the industry
Packed in attractive boxes, bearing the distinctive premium quality marks of NOVA Companies, large, tantalizing and succulent Belize shrimps are shipped to Europe and the US. What Belize gets back is an industry that has become the leading income earner in Belize’s fishing trade, netting over $92.7 million in 2003 alone.
This showed an impressive recovery following the industry’s battle with the Taura virus stemming from Hurricane Keith. But in spite of this massive rebound, the industry’s survival depends heavily on favorable international markets in face of declining shrimp prices.
Last year, GOB fought to open Belize to other markets in Europe, shifting from its dependency on the US as a way to minimize external threats and make the industry far more competitive. It created attractive incentives for shrimp farmers and worked along with the Belize Shrimp Farmers Association and the Belize Agriculture and Health Authority (BAHA) for Belize to meet international food standards.
The largest Shrimp Export Company of Belize, NOVA Companies, proved its resilience, re-investing millions into the industry to maximize the industry’s capability. In fact, Director of Nova Companies, Mr. James V. Hyde reported that despite the company making substantial profits each year, “every penny earned is plugged back into the operation.”
Hyde admitted that what had triggered the growth and development of the industry over the years had been Belize’s tropical climate, Belize’s shift to aquaculture and the social and political climate. He stated that Government’s involvement for export expansion helped to push the industry into the right direction, ensuring rapid development.
“What’s more, Belize’s good track record in environmental management compared to other Central American countries has helped to encourage and attract the right investors. Because of this, we were able to pursue this business more intensively and devised a system that worked towards sustainable development,” Hyde added.
He admits that every young business has risks but NOVA has been prepared to take it to ensure that the shrimp industry continues its growth. “It is precisely the attitude that investor Middleton Peterson had taken when he pumped his personal income of $7 million dollars into opening NOVA’s doors in 1989,” said Hyde. Peterson’s decision to invest in Belize was based on three main factors: humanitarian, adventure and profit.
Ten years later, NOVA made impressive profits and became the number one in Belize’s Shrimp Industry in 1999 through its processing technology and improving health standards. It recognized that without reinvestment, adopting a modern technological outfit or fulfilling the food safety standards, NOVA would have failed to maintain its growth over the years, said Hyde. Today, NOVA continues to meet rigid BAHA standards, now matching International Food Safety requirements.
In terms of employment, the number of workers is unparallel to any other Shrimp Farm in the country. Notably, NOVA employs almost 900 workers from all over the country, 75% of whom are women. “At the forefront of this is the fact that a majority of these ladies are single mothers. It is a huge benefit for them to work and earn sometimes up to $350. per week,” explained Hyde.
Boasting an estimated 2,200 acres of shrimp ponds at the Ladyville Headquarters alone, the NOVA Shrimp farms have dominated the league with its hatchery on Ambergris Caye and Processing Plant. Hyde added that on a yearly average, each pond harvests over 3,500 pounds of shrimps per acre. With almost 2 million shrimps living in each pond, shrimp harvesting in Belize has the potential to claim up to 10,000 pounds per acre each year. However, according to Hyde NOVA has not reached this point yet and is only operating at a 65% capacity.
Hyde suggested: “There is just so much more that can be done for the shrimp industry. While it has the potential to yield large numbers of quality shrimps for exports, it has other spin-offs. It can spring more job opportunities, encourage locals to invest in aquaculture farming and enable a swing to non-traditional crops such as soy bean, which is needed for shrimp feeding.”
“It had been a long drawn out process over the years to finally develop the industry to the prominence it has now but Belize is worthy of it and there is still more to go,” said Hyde. Proud of this achievement, Hyde closed by saying, “I am glad that the Shrimp Industry has made such a huge positive impact on the economy and hopefully it will continue to do so.”