Past and Present State of Shrimp Industry
“In the past century shrimp has gone from a sidebar curiosity, sold mostly in ethnic markets, to the very soul of our seafood economy. So thoroughly do shrimp dominate American seafood today that it is almost a menu category in and of itself—a type of seafood that people who generally don’t like fish all that much will eat with relish. A decade ago shrimp surpassed canned tuna as the most popular seafood in the United States and now the average American eats more than four pounds of it a year—roughly equivalent to the USA per capita consumption of the next two most popular seafoods—tuna and salmon—combined. If they didn’t eat shrimp, most Americans today wouldn’t eat any seafood at all.”
“The switch to shrimp isn’t just a random redirection in shopping patterns like choosing hamburgers over hot dogs. It is a paradigm shift. If oysters tell the story of the very first local seafood to disappear, shrimp tell the story of the unraveling of the entire American seafood economy. Fifty years ago, 70 percent of our shrimp was wild and much of it hailed from the Gulf of Mexico. Today 90 percent of our shrimp is farmed and imported, mostly from China, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and Ecuador.” (Excerpts from American Catch)
Development of the Shrimp Farming Industry
“Aquaculture is a rational response to the increasing demand for protein in the world. Capture fisheries have peaked and no new growth is expected to come from this sector. Consequently, the supply has to come from somewhere else, and that somewhere is aquaculture – the farming of aquatic organisms…” - Yves Bastien, Commissioner of Aquaculture Development, Canada at Conference on Aquaculture, Seattle, Washington, Nov. 17, 2003.
Worldwide the commercial shrimp farming industry as a whole has responded to the demand for an alternative protein source. Shrimp production has gone from <190,000 metric tons (MT) to >3,000,000 MT in a little over 20 years. Despite this growth the commercial shrimp farming industry as a whole is in the equivalent position to where the chicken industry was in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. This was a time when the chicken farming industry started to saturate the market, production cost for many commercial farms started to exceed farm gate value, disease was becoming a greater problem and many of the existing commercial farms were starting to fail. However, poultry producers that incorporated new technology through intensification, biosecurity programs and the development of higher quality and lower cost feeds resulted in increased predictability of production, increased production levels and decreased production cost that allowed the adopters to flourish and be profitable. This resulted in a change from chicken being more expensive than beef and a luxury food to being a reasonable cost stable source of high quality protein food for human consumption.
Commercial shrimp farming as practiced today is not sustainable. Capture fisheries cannot fill the void because there are severe problems ranging from over fishing to coastal land destruction by pollutants ranging from oil to waste streams from farms and industrial manufacturing.
Issues Associated with Shrimp Capture Fisheries and Farming Practices:
- Seafood fisheries including shrimp fisheries are in collapse or in severe distress: over fishing, land run-off pollution of wetlands, destruction of mangrove swamps, waste feed and fecal matter run-off that results in oxygen depletion and death zones for aquatic creatures.
- Shrimp aquaculture as practiced in countries like India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Honduras and Ecuador causes both environmental and social problems that cannot be sustained, due to many factors but principally because of environmental factors including loss of useable land and associated resources. Only 17% of nutrients in feed are converted into harvested shrimp in an intensive farm operation. Waste feed and fecal matter run-off results in oxygen depletion and death zones for aquatic creatures that destroy the estuaries, i.e., the nurseries for muuch of the world’s seafood.
- In Asia, the average intensive farm has been found to survive only 2 to 5 years before serious pollution and disease makes it inoperable.
- Safety concerns most particularly with respect to imported shrimp from China and to a lesser extent Southeast Asian and Latin American countries because of toxic chemicals and/or antibiotic residues associated with shrimp raised in these areas. Overstocking and indiscriminate use of low quality feeds; antibiotics and water additives are still widely practiced today.
- The American gulf shrimp fishery is under stress due to over harvesting and environmental issues as illustrated by BP oil spill and subsequent wetland impact.
- Domestic shrimp farming in the U.S, is failing due to climatic conditions, economic conditions and other problems. It may soon become non-existent. Using present technology only one crop per year can be produced vs. 2 to 3 crops per year in the tropics.
- Because of ecological and residue problems, importing countries are issuing new requirements with respect to shrimp imports. They are demanding the shrimp industry accommodate new requirements: Food safety, Certification, Traceability and Eco-labeling. These requirements in addition to the farming of shrimp also apply to feed.
- As the world population continues to grow geometrically, great pressure is being placed on arable land, water, energy, and biological resources to provide an adequate supply of food while maintaining the integrity of our ecosystem. More than 99 per cent of the world’s food supply comes from the land, while less than 1 per cent is from oceans and other aquatic habitats.
- America has never been self-sufficient with respect to shrimp and this is the case even now. American production is headed in a negative direction.
- Imported shrimp distorts the U.S. trade balance and makes America increasingly more dependent on foreign sources of seafood products.