U.S. shrimp in rough waters

The most popular seafood in the U.S. isn’t very American anymore, but it sure is getting cheaper.

A surge of imported shrimp from Indonesia, Ecuador and India has sent prices plunging by more than a third in the past year. While that’s good news for consumers, who eat more of these crustaceans than any other aquatic creature, including salmon and tuna, record supplies from foreign shrimp farms is compounding the strain on U.S. fishermen, who have seen their share of the domestic market shrink to about 10 percent.

At Wood’s Fisheries, a Florida processor that sells about 8 million pounds of wild American shrimp a year to grocers including Whole Foods and Wegmans, some frozen stockpiles of brown shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico now fetch $3.50 a pound, or less than half of their cost last year at $7.20. Wood’s is stuck with 1.5 million pounds of that variety, which accounts for a third of its business, said Reese Antley, vice president of operations.

“There are some processors that will not make it through these lower numbers, and some boats that will not make it,” Antley said by telephone from Port St. Joe, Florida.

It wasn’t always so bleak for American producers. As recently as two decades ago, shrimp supplies were limited enough to be considered a gourmet food, competing with steak at restaurants. The market changed as aqua-farming technologies improved. U.S. researchers in the 1990s began breeding a pathogen-free white shrimp, a technique adopted in Asia and Latin America that eventually led to an explosion of commercial production.

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About the author

Ashley Herriman

Ashley Herriman is the online editor for National Fisherman.

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