« August 2008 Table of Contents
Top 10 Species: Wild shrimp
Supply is down, but prices remain strong
By Christine Blank
August 01, 2008
While the U.S. and imported wild shrimp supply is down this
year because of soaring fuel costs, suppliers are hoping to
increase its value by stressing the product's premium flavor
and sustainable profile.
"There are extreme shortages of wild shrimp from the United
States, Mexico, Panama and the rest of Latin America," notes
John Filose, VP of sales and marketing at Ocean Garden Products
in San Diego.
Because of high fuel costs worldwide, shrimp boats are
forced to make fewer trips, limiting supply, says Filose and
other industry sources.
"Diesel fuel continues to escalate at an enormous rate. Some
boats are paying [more than] $12,000 for fuel every time they
go out," says Eddie Gordon, executive director of Wild American
Shrimp of Charleston, S.C.
"A lot of the boats are tying up because of the price of
fuel. The industry is looking at other ways to become more
efficient," says Ewell Smith, executive director of the
Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board in
Domestic Gulf shrimp landings fell from 22,882 pounds from
January through May of 2007 to 19,821 pounds during the same
period in 2008, according to the National Marine Fisheries
Some shrimp fishermen's catches are also being harmed by a
dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico off the coasts of Louisiana and
Texas. The zone develops where seasonal oxygen levels drop too
low to support most life in and near the bottom, researchers
say, and this year's dead zone could be the largest on record.
The low oxygen level is caused mainly by high nutrient levels,
which stimulate an abundance of algae that sinks and
decomposes, depleting the water's oxygen.
Dean Blanchard, owner of Dean Blanchard Seafood Co. of Grand
Isle, La., attributes the dead zone to chemical runoff from
Mississippi River flooding.
"I've never seen anything like this in my life. The dead
zone usually comes on us in mid-July. This year, with the high
river water, it came early," says Blanchard.
Blanchard's brown shrimp catch plummeted 70 percent, or 1.5
million pounds, in June, compared to the same time last year.
The company landed a total of 11 million pounds of wild shrimp
As a result of fuel costs and shorter supplies, suppliers
say wild shrimp prices have risen 10 to 15 percent since the
beginning of the year. "It depends on the size, but prices on
many whites and browns have gone up substantially compared to
last season. Prices are up to where they were two years ago
because of weather conditions and fuel costs," says Filose.
Average ex-vessel prices for 15-20s from Alabama, Louisiana
and Mississippi rose from $3.75 a pound in 2007 to $5.55 a
pound in 2008 while 21-25s also increased from $3.25 a pound in
2007 to $4.40 a pound in 2008, according to NMFS data. Average
prices for 15-20s from Texas also increased from $4.50 a pound
in 2007 to $5.85 a pound in 2008, while 21-25s rose from $3.85
a pound in 2007 to $4.85 a pound in 2008.
During this time of short supply, Filose urges restaurants
and other buyers to be flexible on acceptable shrimp sizes.
"I've talked to some restaurants about switching from 12s to
15s. If you value the flavor of wild shrimp, you need to be
flexible," says Filose.
wild from farmed
At the same time, wild shrimp prices are strong and dealers
report the product continues to sell well because of its
quality, flavor and sustainability message.
"What we're trying to do now is get out the positive things
about wild shrimp and the high quality standard that our
certification program offers," says Gordon of Wild American
Shrimp. Its "Certified Wild American Shrimp" message lets
consumers know that the shrimp is caught off America's Gulf and
Atlantic coasts, and is not a farmed product.
In trade and consumer promotions and education, Wild
American Shrimp notes the differences between wild versus
farmed shrimp, following the example of the Alaska Seafood
Marketing Institute and its promotion of wild Alaska
WASI-certified shrimp often obtains a $2 or $3 premium per
pound in stores and in restaurants, according to Gordon. "It
benefits the grocer and the restaurant, and is giving back to
the shrimper who has to have it or he won't be there. Our boats
could not stay in business but for that pricing," says
By stressing wild shrimp's high quality and flavor, Wild
American Shrimp aims to raise the value and price of all
"We're starting to see a significant difference in the value
that we are able to add [to all shrimp]," says Gordon.
Wild Louisiana shrimp is also selling well because of its
distinction as a local, wild product.
"Besides efficiency, the other area we are focusing on is
raising the quality of our product so we have better markets to
go to for our shrimp," says Smith of the Louisiana Seafood
Promotion & Marketing Board.
The board's Louisiana Shrimp Task Force is looking at ways
to make shrimp operations more sustainable, and help shrimpers
market a premium product. The Task Force is helping the state
government develop a seal that would certify that the shrimp is
"The seal is so the consumer knows they are getting a
product from Louisiana, but also it is the traceability. We
want to bring it overseas, so we have to have traceability,"
Consumers want to know where their seafood is coming from,
and they appreciate the flavor profile of wild shrimp,
according to Smith and others.
"When you can put a wild-caught product against another
product, there is a difference in taste. The consumer can make
a choice when they go shopping … they can get that flavor
profile that they're not going to get from any other product,"
"We have tourists who come down here, and people who drive
here from out of state to buy wild Louisiana shrimp," explains
Blanchard of Blanchard Seafood.
The Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board is
emphasizing the flavor profile of wild shrimp with several
promotions, including a New Orleans press and chef event
celebrating the "first delivery of shrimp," which was held in
May. A box of shrimp was wrapped in gold, transported in an
armored bank truck with armed guards, and was delivered to
renowned New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme. Boxes were also sent
to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin
Retailers and restaurants that buy wild shrimp typically
make the effort to educate their customers on the
sustainability efforts of shrimp fishermen and why wild shrimp
typically fetches a premium over farmed shrimp.
Upscale market and restaurant Fish of Berkeley, Calif.,
differentiates its shrimp and other seafood by telling
customers about the fishermen who caught the wild seafood. In
carries only wild, sustainable and
environmentally friendly fish.
"The majority of seafood on our menu has a boat name and a
captain name beside it. We pay them as much as they want for
them to stay in business," says Kenny Belov,
an owner and
general manager of Fish.
The store's employees explain how wild shrimp are caught and
what the fishermen go through to catch them sustainably. In
addition, they play videos of Lance Nacio, owner of Anna Marie
Seafood in Grand Isle, La., catching the product. Once, the
store flew in Nacio and other fishermen, and asked them to
explain their fishing operation to customers.
As a result, Fish customers pay an average of $19.99 a pound
for Anna Marie Seafood's wild
"Once we explain how the wild prawns are caught, most likely
they are going to pay the difference. We move through Lance's
prawns so quickly, there have been times he couldn't keep up,"
With help from Louisiana State University's Food Science
division, Nacio has moved to a
more efficient and sustainable
operation by adding new equipment to his boat to reduce
Nacio also added freezer equipment, which reduces handling
of the shrimp. The product is caught, hand-packed in 5- and
25-pound boxes, and chilled in the boat's freezers. The shrimp
is immediately shipped to restaurants in California and
elsewhere, and retailers in Louisiana, such as Whole Foods
Market and Rouse's supermarket.
Anna Marie Seafood is also working with the Sustainable
Fisheries Partnership to obtain Marine Stewardship Council
certification for its shrimp, which should help the product to
maintain a premium price.
While many suppliers emphasize the value of wild shrimp at
the expense of farmed product, some companies believe in
offering both wild and farmed products. For example, in
addition to supplying wild shrimp, Ocean Garden has had success
with 2-pound IQF bags of white farmed shrimp from Mexico.
Ocean Garden has taken significant steps to ensure that its
farm-raised shrimp is a quality product that benefits the
environment. The shrimp are raised in clean, unspoiled waters
under close supervision. The Pacific white shrimp is grown
slowly to full maturity in low-density ponds and have full
traceability, according to the company.
"We are supplying a lot more farmed [shrimp] than in the
past. You can find quality products at both ends of the
In other good news, the Mid-Atlantic shrimp supply is
strong. The North Carolina area is not experiencing the shorter
supply of other areas, says Jeff Garner, VP of Sanitary Fish
Market and Restaurant in Morehead City, N.C. Sanitary buys wild
shrimp from other suppliers and supplies its own fish.
"In North Carolina, the supply of wild-caught shrimp is
good. We pride ourselves on serving local seafood as much as we
possibly can," says Garner.
In 2007, North Carolina harvested a bumper crop of more than
9.5 million pounds of white shrimp, and landings of all shrimp
species (brown, pink and white) were up 64 percent from the
previous five-year average, according to the North Carolina
Division of Marine Fisheries.
"By all reports, and barring any tropical storms, this
year's harvest could be even higher," says William Small,
seafood marketing specialist with the North Carolina Department
of Agriculture & Consumer Services. "However, with the high
fuel prices, many boats are hesitant to leave the dock, which
could hurt our harvest totals."
Find other SeaFood Business articles with wild shrimp here.Christine Blank is a business writer and editor in Lake