A controversy has broken out over the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) announcing a crop holiday for shrimp farming from November-end till February.

But it is unlikely that shrimp hatcheries will observe the holiday, since the authority of MPEDA on the move is being questioned.

The crop holiday has been announced as a preventive measure to ensure that there are no production losses due to disease, said a notification issued by MPEDA last week.

The notification is a follow-up to an earlier one issued on November 21. The notification said that in order to prevent/control spread of the early mortality syndrome (EMS) in shrimp farms, a crop holiday would be observed.

The November 21 notification led to some global Web sites reporting that India would halt all shrimp farming by February.

The notification also said that MPEDA officials would carry out inspections in shrimp farms under powers vested by Section 9 (2) (e), (f) and (k) of the MPEDA Act.

These notifications have resulted in questions being raised by the Department of Animal Husbandry under the Agriculture Ministry and shrimp producers.

According to L. Satyanarayana, President of All-India Shrimp Hatcheries Association, the notification is a follow-up to a meeting called by MPEDA a couple of weeks ago.

“They told us that traces of EMS had been found in our shrimp samples, particularly from a farm in Nellore and therefore, we need to tackle it.”

“However, the Coastal Aquaculture Authority says no such disease has been found in shrimps in the country. Moreover, MPEDA has no authority to declare the presence of any such pathogen,” he said.

The other issue is the declaration of holiday. “Again, MPEDA cannot declare a crop holiday since it has no jurisdiction over that. I don’t think shrimp farmers will heed to the notification,” Satyanarayana said.

MPEDA Chairperson Leena Nair said that “it is for the Department of Animal Husbandry to take a call (on notifying a disease in shrimp). But, the action plan (crop holiday) is a vital part of the monitoring.” ( See box ).

An Agriculture Ministry official said that MPEDA could not declare a crop holiday since it falls under the jurisdiction of States.

“The problem is that if any step is taken to curb any disease, it has to be notified. The notification has to be made by scientific community. MPEDA’s November 21 notification is a surprise for farmers and exporters,” Satyanarayana said.

MPEDA said in the notification that the crop holiday will help reap a bumper crop in 2014 since the season is between February-end and October.

“The EMS is particularly related to Vannamei or white leg shrimp. Vannamei farming is done throughout the year. So, how can we observe a crop holiday?” asked Satyanarayana.

The brood stocks of white leg shrimp, found in the eastern Pacific Ocean, are imported from various countries.

A Coastal Aquaculture Authority official said that there was no presence of disease in the country. “According to us, there is no such thing as EMS in India,” the official, who did not wish to be identified, said.

The authority issued a public notice on November 27 saying that only it had powers to inspect or enforce regulatory measures regarding shrimp farming. More importantly, it said that the authority had not given permission to MPEDA officials to carry out disease surveillance or monitor hatchery records.

According to Mohan Raju, Prawn Farmers Federation of India, only the Coastal Aquaculture Authority can regulate shrimp farms. “But MPEDA is the nodal agency for exports and perhaps has taken this step to ensure that shipments are not hampered.”

MPEDA officials say that their concerns rise from the fact that shrimp exports make up 51 per cent of marine exports from the country in value. During 2012-13, shrimp exports were 2.28 lakh tonnes valued at $1.8 billion against total marine products of 9.28 lakh tonnes valued at $3.51 billion.

Officials say that MPEDA also has also a budget for prawn farming since it is seen as the best marine product from the country.