« July 2009 Table of Contents
Top Species: Wild shrimp
Conditions are right for large catches - if demand is there
By Joanne Friedrick
July 01, 2009
From coast to coast, wild shrimp suppliers are optimistic
that lower diesel fuel prices and abundant catches will help
turnaround an industry that was hurting in 2007 and 2008.
Although numbers for 2008 aren't yet available, in 2007 the
National Marine Fisheries Service statistics show total
domestic shrimp landings were down about 17 percent from 2006,
to 278.9 million pounds from 336.8 million pounds. Still, there
is the realization among many that the economy continues to
impact prices and demand, which means improvement could be
"Stockwise, it's a banner year," says Brad Pettinger,
director of the Oregon Trawl Commission in Brookings, Ore.
Despite the ready supply, the marketplace is being cautious
about how much to purchase. "No one wants to put up the
inventory now," he says.
The Oregon fleet caught 25 million pounds of pink shrimp (
Pandalus jordani ) in 2008. The projection for this year, says
Pettinger, is to do about half that based on early demand. "But
if the market changes, we could do 40 to 50 million pounds," he
notes of the salad-size shrimp. "The fleet could be productive
right through the end of the season in October."
High fuel prices last season impacted the number of boats
returning to the Oregon fleet this year. While there were 50
boats last year, says Pettinger, this year only 30 to 35 are
trawling for shrimp.
The average ex-vessel price is about 30 cents, down from 55
cents per pound last year. However, fishermen are finding that
although boat prices are down, retailers haven't necessarily
passed that price difference along to their customers. "The
price is artificially high in the stores," he says.
The economy is affecting the wild shrimp industry, as it has
with most businesses, says Eddie Gordon, executive director for
Wild American Shrimp in Charleston, S.C.
"We're like the rest of the world right now with the
economic impact," he says. "But overall, we're not hearing any
The shrimp seasons in Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina
were just getting under way in late May. Some processing plants
filled up quickly and stopped buying because of strong stocks.
Gordon attributes the high early catch to improved conditions
for young shrimp, such as better feeding opportunities.
Louisiana is having a banner year in terms of supply, says
Harlon Pearce Jr., chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion
& Marketing Board (LSPMB) in New Orleans. Although
processing plants were backed up because of a strong early
catch, "the shrimpers aren't stopping," says Pearce.
He notes ex-vessel prices for all sizes were in the $1 to $2
range. Based on current NMFS data, prices are up slightly over
last year. Some stock remains from 2008, he says, but most of
that is large headless shrimp, so there are plenty of supply
gaps to fill.
Florida's season encompasses five shrimp species: pink,
white, brown, rock and royal red, explains Paul Balthrop,
supervisor of market development for the Florida Bureau of
Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing in Tallahassee, Fla.
"Overall, everything is up from 2008," he says, "but the
price to the boat is down."
Last year, Florida's shrimp fishermen landed 15.8 million
pounds. Pink shrimp led the way with 7.1 million pounds,
followed by whites at 4.2 million, rock shrimp at 2 million,
browns with 1.8 million and royal reds at 321,000 pounds. The
average ex-vessel price for all species was $2.06 per
Unlike Oregon, where fewer boats are in use, Balthrop notes
that with fuel prices halved since 2008, there are more boats
in service this year. The season is also helped by improved
conditions for the survival of larvae, such as colder water in
the Tampa area and more food stirred up by early season
Promotions give shrimp
The launch of new programs and the continuation of marketing
plans go hand and hand with the start of the shrimp season.
Oregon shrimp received Marine Stewardship Council
certification about a year and half ago, says Pettinger, which
should be a boon to the industry in the long term.
But for now, he says, "people are price shopping. To have to
pay more because of certification, not many people are doing
that now." Yet, he says, Oregon's shrimp fleet "thinks it's a
good investment. This is a very progressive fleet."
The Trawl Commission supplies retailers with recipe cards to
help market Oregon shrimp. "We're small scale, so it's hard to
get into [marketing] too much," says Pettinger.
Florida is counting on continued interest in local products
to generate excitement for its shrimp harvest. The state
marketing bureau promotes wild Florida shrimp via brochures and
works with celebrity chefs, as well as through events such as
Taste of the NFL and the International Boston Seafood Show.
In October, Sweetbay Supermarkets, which has 102 stores in
Florida, is planning a Think Pink promotion that will link
Florida pink shrimp sales with a program on breast cancer
Louisiana kicked off the brown and white shrimp season with
a big event in New Orleans in mid-May, according to Ewell
Smith, executive director of the LSPMB. Five-pound blocks of
shrimp, wrapped in gold paper, were removed from a bank vault
and paraded through the streets to a local supermarket, where
they were presented to local chefs.
Promotions such as that one, says Smith, help bring
awareness of the product to local consumers and visitors and
create demand for Louisiana shrimp. "Especially in today's
economy, it's important for local farmers and fishermen that
people ask for their products," says Smith.
He says chefs are able to
differentiate themselves by using
and promoting a local resource. Ewell notes that while his grou
p continues to foster relationships with retailers and chefs,
it's difficult to measure the economic impact.
To build business nationwide, Smith says events such as the
Vieux To Do, a combination of the New Orleans Seafood Festival,
Cajun-Zydeco Festival and Great Creole Tomato Festival, reach
the national media "and end up having legs beyond the local
Other promotions for Louisiana shrimp include the recent
Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, after which the winning shrimp
recipes are publicized.
Wild American Shrimp's Gordon says his organization has a
limited budget for getting out the word on wild shrimp, so it
relies on news generated by local events such as shrimp
festivals and blessings of the fleet to create interest.
Gordon also believes the "buy local, eat natural" movement
is generating sales for domestic wild shrimp. In the Charleston
area, he notes, "restaurants are trying to find excitement for
their menus and wild is one of the things they are latching on
Nick Melvin, chef at Parish restaurant in Atlanta, is on
board with buying and promoting wild shrimp for his New
"I have used farm-raised and imported shrimp," says Melvin,
"but [wild] tastes more like shrimp. I try to keep it as local
Melvin purchases about 100 pounds of Georgia white shrimp
each week, ranging from 16-20 head-on shrimp to smaller pieces.
The shrimp is used in Parish's No. 1 appetizer, New Orleans
barbecue shrimp, as well as for shrimp po-boys and shrimp and
corn gazpacho. A typical menu will feature four to five shrimp
It's extremely important for Melvin's customers to know
where the ingredients come from. "They want what's fresh and
available out there," he says.
Recently, WASI's Gordon gave a talk on global marketing at
the College of Charleston. He told the students that it's
critical for people everywhere to know what they are eating and
where it comes from, and educating consumers and restaurateurs
on the differences between wild and farmed shrimp.
Oregon's Pettinger is also trying to make consumers aware of
the benefits of wild shrimp.
"Twenty years ago, there wasn't all this farmed product
around," he says. "People say they prefer wild, but they don't
appreciate it enough to always request it."
Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in South