By Henry Chirinos and Sarai Coscojuela
Maracaibo, Venezuela, Feb 2 (EFE).- Lake Maracaibo has long been a symbol of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, but crude production has declined precipitously there in recent years and a new industry is on the rise in that brackish tidal bay: shrimp farming.
The president of Venezuela’s leading business federation (Fedecamaras) for the northwestern state of Zulia, Ezio Angelini, told Efe that although that estuary and the surrounding Maracaibo Basin remain an important oil region, that activity is starting to take a back seat to shrimp fishing and processing.
“Yes, I think the shrimp (industry) is now surpassing oil. We don’t produce (more than) 120,000 or 130,000 barrels of oil (per day) in Zulia state. It’s less every time, and the producers are foreign companies. It’s complicated,” Angelini said.
He added that private companies have started to invest in shrimp production in the state and said he believes those flows will increase over the medium and long term.
That opinion was echoed by the manager of shrimp processing company Prodelmar, Ender Campos, who said seafood and oil production are now “on a par” because a lot of shrimp is being exported and small and medium producers are investing more resources in that sector.
Environmental activists frequently warn that crude spills and high levels of plastic pollution in Lake Maracaibo – a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea – pose a serious threat to marine life.
Last November, the Education, Production and Environment (EPA) project, a network dedicated to environmental promotion and protection, said the oil spills had contaminated the “large fishing resource” that once existed in the lake and had been a key economic pillar.
But that image contrasts with the assessment of companies operating on the shores of Lake Maracaibo.
The Prodelmar manager said his plant, located 74 kilometers (45 miles) from Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest city, has the capacity to produce 40,000 kilos (88,100 pounds) of shrimp per day.
Average monthly production amounts to 260,000 kilos, or “eight or nine containers for export to Europe, Asia and the United States.”
Campos said the farms and processing plants in Zulia account for 30 percent of Venezuela’s total shrimp production.
Angelini said he is encouraged by the growth of the shrimp farming industry in Zulia, where Lake Maracaibo is located, saying it is creating jobs and “wellbeing for the community” and the state in general.
Nevertheless, he predicts the oil sector will regain its levels of production and once again become the most important economic activity in Zulia.
Crude output in the Lake Maracaibo region amounted to around 700,000 barrels per day as recently as 2015, but the industry there and throughout Venezuela has fallen on hard times in recent years.
The government blames crippling US sanctions that former President Donald Trump imposed on Venezuela’s state oil company in 2019 in a bid to take away the country’s main source of hard currency and effect regime change.
The Venezuelan government’s critics say the industry was in decline long before 2019 due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment.
“Oil generated so much employment. Production was very high, (Zulia) was purely an oil state,” he said.
However, he said the government will first need to take certain steps to bring about a recovery in oil activity, including adjusting its economic policy and modifying the country’s existing hydrocarbons law. EFE