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Top Species: Wild shrimp

A tale of two coasts — and a gulf between them

By Joanne Friedrick
December 01, 2013

As different as the lifestyles may be on the West and East coasts, so too are the wild shrimp seasons — at least for the past couple of years. While harvests for pink salad shrimp are increasing in Oregon, Maine shrimpers may not even have a harvest this year. 

Coldwater shrimp (Pandalus jordani) harvested off the Oregon Coast are having a great year, says Brad Pettinger, director of the Oregon Trawl Commission in Brookings, Ore. The 46 million pounds of shrimp landed this year was down slightly from the previous year by about 2 to 3 million pounds, he says. 

Oregon shrimp are on a three-year cycle, says Pettinger, with this past season being the third of three good years that netted a total of 140 million pounds.

“Ocean conditions have continued to be good,” he explains, resulting in a scenario that Pettinger characterizes as “just like the good old days.”

Prices have also been holding steady, he says, coming in at about 51 cents per pound, which is consistent with the previous year. A few years ago, prices were in the low- to mid-30 cent range.

Oregon pink shrimp have been Marine Stewardship Council certified since 2007, which Pettinger says has led to an increase in exports. “We have a good mix of domestic and export sales,” he says, with about 40 to 50 percent being sent overseas.

The only downside for this most recent season, he points out, was that one of the processing plants, Pacific Coast Seafoods in Warrenton, Ore., burned down. “But we are hearing that they are planning to rebuild and may add even more production capacity,” says Pettinger.

He says processors are also looking at offering whole frozen pink shrimp for the Asian market. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened,” he says.

While Pettinger was reveling in the upcycle for Oregon shrimp, he sympathized with his counterparts in Maine, noting the shrimp there have a seven-year cycle that makes it more difficult to achieve a turnaround.

Maggie Hunter of the Maine Department of Marine Resources says the 2013 summer survey found the fewest shrimp since 1984. Last year scientists recommended that there be no Gulf of Maine shrimp season, and that was likely to be the recommendation for this year as well. 

However, she noted, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section, which includes Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, has the final decision, which was slated for early this month.

The shrimping industry has asked for a season, she says, which if it does happen, should be similar to the last one. The 2013 season yielded just 600,000 pounds of shrimp. “I can’t imagine any more season than we had last year,” says Hunter. 

Warm water temperatures are behind the problems with shrimp numbers. “The shrimp just aren’t very abundant right now,” says Hunter.

While there are diverging supply tales on the East and West coasts, despite a turbulent decade the Gulf of Mexico remains the leading source of U.S. wild shrimp, producing pink, white and brown varieties. Jason Rider, marketing associate with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR), notes the Gulf season has been going fairly well, although numbers were down slightly vs. previous years by about 2,000 pounds in Mississippi and 5,000 for the rest of the Gulf, which encompasses Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. In September, the total Gulf harvest to date was 83,000 pounds, says Rider. “From all the data,” said Rider, “we’re expecting a pretty average year.” 

The brown shrimp season began in June in Mississippi, while the white shrimp season typically runs from October through December. 

Retail prices for Mississippi shrimp in 2012 ranged from $2.95 per pound for 41/50s to $4.65 for 26/30s to $9 a pound for under 15s. Prices usually start out high, says Rider, but moderate as supplies increase. 

“Imported shrimp typically drives down our prices and bring down the market value,” says Rider. Brooke Goff, another marketing associate with MDMR, says the goal in promoting the product is to differentiate Gulf shrimp from imported farmed product, emphasizing to the state’s consumers the value of buying and supporting locally produced seafood.

Much of the marketing is focused on in-state consumers, she says, targeting them with billboards urging them to ask for Gulf wild seafood as well as working with area restaurants to build familiarity and demand.

One of the recent events at which Mississippi shrimp was touted was the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival in Ocean Springs in early November, says Goff. Shrimp was a big part of the Mississippi Seafood Marketing Culinary Pavilion, where chefs provided demonstrations on how to handle and cook with shrimp, along with other seafood.

Shrimp is also promoted through restaurant kits that include table toppers, window stickers and other materials, says Goff, while retail partners are offered similar kits with signage and recipe cards for in-store use.

Rider says while much of the Gulf shrimp is consumed locally, more is finding its way outside of the Gulf states region, to the Southeast and along the Eastern Seaboard.

In promoting wild shrimp, Goff says the agency points out the product’s firm texture and nutritional value. 

The Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, a private, nonprofit research and development organization, also undertakes the task of promoting Gulf shrimp through retailers and directly to consumers.

“Shrimp is the No. 1 species in the Gulf,” says Joanne McNeely, seafood marketing coordinator with the foundation. “And it’s the one [retailers] want to work with.”

McNeely says programs such as the one conducted with Hy-Vee last year, increased shrimp sales by 63 percent. The organization also worked with Texas-based retailer HEB on a 2013 Lenten program that featured in-store sampling of shrimp skewers along with a demo video on how to prepare them.

Among the big initiatives for this year was the introduction of a mobile app so consumers could easily find retailers and restaurants and buyers could find wholesalers offering Gulf shrimp. The Gulf states all contribute information for the database, says McNeely, which makes the information more valuable to the app user. The app also offers a recipe section.

Michael Stebner, brand chef for True Food Kitchen, a restaurant group focused on the anti-inflammatory diet of Dr. Andrew Weil and operated by Fox Restaurant Concepts in Phoenix, sources wild white shrimp from Mexico in its Arizona and California restaurants and wild Gulf brown shrimp for its newest True Food in Dallas.

“The Texas Gulf brown shrimp is the best-tasting shrimp in the region,” says Stebner. “I really like the flavor, as it is similar to the Mexican white shrimp we get in Arizona.”

Shrimp is used in dishes such as Red Chili Shrimp and Panang Curry and in its Seafood Bouillabaisse. 

Stebner likes working with shrimp because it’s easy, well known “and non-fish eaters usually enjoy it.” The texture of shrimp makes it versatile for different preparations, he says, such as stuffing, grilling and barbecuing. And it also takes on flavors well, whether marinating or through sauces.

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine 


Find other SeaFood Business articles discussing wild shrimp here.

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