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Top Species: Farmed shrimp

Despite flooding, Thailand remains No. 1 shrimp supplier to U.S. market

By Joanne Friedrick
February 05, 2012

Even in the controlled environment of shrimp farming, Mother Nature can intercede to cause difficulties that are felt worldwide.

In spring 2011, severe flooding in Thailand washed away nearly 60,000 metric tons of shrimp, representing about 8 to 10 percent of that country’s annual exports. 

Shrimp importer Mazzetta Co. in Highland Park, Ill., has partnerships with shrimp producers in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, says Jeff Goldberg, VP-sales. The massive floods from a monsoon delayed the second quarter harvest in Thailand, says Goldberg, and additional flooding also occurred later in the year, but this had less of an impact on the industry.

The United States imported more than 447 million pounds of shrimp from Thailand in 2010, and through October 2011 import totals stood at 330.7 million pounds. Thailand is the leading source of U.S. imports, followed in 2010 by Ecuador with 143 million pounds, Indonesia with 134.4 million pounds and Vietnam edging out China with 106.4 million pounds and 105.8 million pounds, respectively.

Vietnamese  farmers were able to overcome some disease issues with tiger shrimp, while Indonesia continues to recover from its own white spot problems dating back to 2008, says Goldberg. India has also contributed some supply in Southeast Asia to help balance the losses from Thailand. 

Even with all of the issues within Southeast Asia, Goldberg says Mazzetta avoided supply problems, in part because it had inventory on hand.

Prices stay high

Prices started strong in 2011, then weakened but rebounded toward the end of the year as Vietnam came to the end of its season, says Goldberg.

The buying power of Europe and China, along with some supply issues in Mexico, has kept prices high overall, says Eric Bloom, president of Eastern Fish Co. in Teaneck, N.J.

In a year-to-year comparison between 2010 and 2011, he says, raw shrimp prices rose about 10 to 15 percent, while cooked shrimp prices increased by about 20 percent. The only exceptions were in certain larger-size categories, he says, where shrimp are more plentiful. Eastern Fish sources its shrimp from various countries in Southeast Asia and South America, including Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh, Peru, Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua.

“Global demand and the weak dollar have affected prices,” says Bloom, noting the dollar has been weak for a couple of years now. China has become an importer as well as a supplier, which has helped maintain prices, as has Europe’s demand for shrimp despite that region’s own economic issues.

With prices up from last year, Bloom says there has been decreased advertisement activity among retailers, and retail sales are down as well. However, business is stable within the foodservice sector, he says.

Looking at New York frozen prices for 26-30 white shrimp for the week ending Dec. 23, 2011, Thai whites were selling at $4.25 a pound, Indonesia was at $4.10 a pound and Ecuador was at $4.55 a pound.

Focus on traceability, sustainability

Tropical Aquaculture Products in Rutland, Vt., farms white shrimp along the coast of Ecuador, says Craig Appleyard, VP-operations and business development.

The majority of the company’s whites come from the Chanduy farm, which is located on the coast and is supplied with sea water, he says. “The sea water and the natural habitat create a uniquely sweet flavor,” he notes. Tropical grows its shrimp, marketed as Blue Foot Whites, without antibiotics, additives or growth enhancers.

“We are vertically integrated from broodstock to distribution, ensuring full traceability and accountability,” which has been appealing to retailers as they initiate purchasing programs based on traceability and sustainability, says Appleyard.

To ensure that environmental-impact measures are met, the Chanduy farm undergoes an annual audit by the Swiss-based Institute of Marketecology. 

More buyers are voicing concerns about food safety, notes Goldberg, which is why Mazzetta requires third-party audits as well as social audits that ensure fair wages, no child labor and safe working conditions at its foreign producers. The company uses an American representative who does audits as well, says Goldberg.

“All of our shrimp is ACC (Aquaculture Certification Council) certified,” says Goldberg, adding that most shrimp producers are now certified because the industry has been pushing for it for the past several years.

Both retail and foodservice customers are asking about the certification and audits, he says, as well as inquiring about the practice of soaking shrimp in the preservative sodium tripolyphosphate, which helps to retain moisture. 

Aaron You, assistant manager at Sanders Fish Market in Portsmouth, N.H., says while the majority of the shrimp sold there is wild, the store does sell P&D shrimp farmed in Ecuador. “At least one size is farmed,” says You, adding it’s usually the 16-20 or 26-30s. “It usually comes down to what is available out of Boston,” says You, which is where Sanders sources its seafood.

Shrimp is a top 5 seller at the market, along with haddock, salmon, scallops and swordfish. During the holidays, he says, shrimp platters with a variety of sauces were popular, and the market sold nearly 250 pounds of shrimp, both farmed and wild, over a few days.

T.J.’s Seafood Market in Dallas doesn’t carry farmed shrimp, says President Jon Alexis. The store’s customers expect wild shrimp because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, so Alexis carries Mexican brown shrimp. The store doesn’t sell farmed shrimp, but Alexis acknowledges that as the demand for shrimp continues to grow, aquaculture will need to be a more viable option. The shrimp farming industry is still relatively young, he says, and will improve with time. 

“There are (more price-sensitive) applications where farmed shrimp can be used,” he says, adding that the wild variety that he buys is among the most expensive. 

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine  

Find other SeaFood Business articles with swordfish here.

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