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About 12 bands of thieves or "raccoons" are operating in the extensive farms of Choluteca.
Due to the size of the farms in Choluteca Valley, the industry is vulnerarable to the theft of a large part of its production.
The Honduran aquaculture industry is under attack. It is not disease or pest that threatens the main economic activity of Choluteca and Valley, but the theft of shrimp from farms in the valleys. The names of the main leaders of the so-called "raccoons" or bands dedicated to this illicit activity are "The Piquillo Pepper", "Saliva", "The Pipe", "La Segua", "The guavina" ( "The Cachiro", "The Colocha", "The Renco", "The Andean" and "Ruby", among others.
As well as the heads of security of the five major shrimp companies operating in the area south of the country, those who are exposed this problem told the Herald of the steps they have taken to reduce losses due to theft.
There are at least 12 identified gangs of thieves. According to estimates by the National Aquaculture Association of Honduras (ANDAH), the volume of shrimp stolen ranges between 3.2 and 3.5 million pounds per year with a value of between $9 and $10 million.
Victor Wilson, president of the ANDAH, said that the theft of shrimp is worrying because many companies have closed down operations because of the situation, while other groups have had to double and triple their budgets to strengthen security on their farms. He adds that they expect the government of president Juan Orlando Hernandez to pay greater attention to this important economic sector, which generated $219.8 million dollars in terms of exports, in 2013, according to figures published by the Central Bank of Honduras (BCH).
According to the heads of security, who are mainly retired officers of the Armed Forces and National Police, the efforts to lower the theft have lacked the support of the government offices responsible for providing protection to private investment. Many times, people who are caught and against whom there is evidence, are released by the courts.
Wilson said that they expect the government to increase support to combat the bands of thieves of shrimp that cost the Honduran industry millions of dollars in losses. The help of the Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock, Jacobo Peace, has been sought, to promote the initiative and also get the government to support the aquaculture sector of Choluteca and Valley. However, the Government did not respond.
Peace, before being the head of the SAG, served as the chair of the ANDAH and was the manager of Grupo Granjas Marinas San Bernardo.
One of the main findings revealed by the heads of security of the shrimp farms, is that there are insiders in the farms, who are linked to the gangs that engage in theft. The heads added that, farms, as a first step, are hiring security personnel from other municipalities, and this has yielded positive results.
According to the testimony of one of the executives interviewed, a company may lose from 20% to 80% of its stock, and between three and four monthly income. The bands of thieves are part of organized networks, there are people who are responsible for the sale of the product, others are responsible for the purchase and marketing in the main cities of the country.
They argue that the shrimp farming activity is a vulnerable to theft because the farms are very large in area, ranging between 1 and 10 kilometres in length, making it almost impossible to apply effective security throughout the area of ponds. An example of this is that one of the largest companies in the aquaculture industry has a concession area of approximately 10,000 hectares, of which 6.700 are in production. To care for this extensive area, the company, Los Playones shrimp farming employs 330 persons, with every guard responsible for monitoring approximately 30 hectares. The Company estimates it loses approximately 5% of its output per year. Other firms have incorporated electronic surveillance through video cameras and sensors, however, the results have not been good because of a series of factors that limit the effectiveness of these systems.
According to a report called "Chain of shrimp", the area cultivated in Choluteca and Valley oscillates between 14.000 and 14.500 hectares. In the municipalities of Namasigue and Marcovia, in Choluteca, there are 156 farms, in which there are 1.204 ponds. In San Lorenzo, Nacaome, Alliance and Goascorán, in Valley, there are 99 registered farms with 411 ponds. The most extensive farms are located in San Bernardo, Namasigue, which is the area where the highest incidence of theft is reported, with smaller incidents in Nacaome. The heads of security provided another important fact: and is that initially the thieves stole shrimp that had reached a weight of five grams; now, when the species are as small ass between two and three grams, they are subject to theft.