« February 2008 Table of Contents
Top 10 Species: Farmed shrimp
Marketers increasingly rely on certification programs to verify quality and sustainability
By Thyra Porter
February 01, 2008
Americans' love affair with shrimp became evident in 2001,
when it overtook canned tuna as the nation's favorite seafood,
in terms of per capita consumption. Shrimp remains No. 1 today,
thanks not only to Americans' insatiable appetite for the
product but also to the emergence of Pacific white shrimp (
Penaeus vannamei ).
Most of the shrimp that the United States imports is Pacific
white shrimp, the most widely cultivated shrimp species in the
world, accounting for about 60 percent of farmed-shrimp
production, roughly twice as much as black tiger shrimp ( P.
monodon ), the second most popular farmed-shrimp species.
Pacific whites are in demand because they are commercially the
most viable to produce.
According to William More, VP and director of the
Aquaculture Certification Council in Kirkland, Wash., vannamei
accounted for nearly 70 percent of cultivated shrimp sold
worldwide this past year, up from about 45 percent five years
Because black tigers are more expensive to farm than Pacific
whites, More says countries like Thailand, Indonesia and China
have in recent years changed to producing and exporting white
shrimp exclusively. Now only Vietnam, India and Bangladesh
export black tigers in any significant amounts, More says.
White shrimp are easier and less expensive to farm because
they have a higher resistance to disease and thus have better
survival rates and can be stocked in higher densities.
They also grow faster than black tigers, leading to more
crops and lower and more stable pricing, which appeals to
supermarkets and restaurants in both the United States and
Europe, More says.
Nearly 80 percent of the shrimp sold in the United States
last year were farmed shrimp, according
Sustainability hits home
As demand for shrimp grows in the United States, so does
demand for certified, sustainably produced seafood
And as consumers look for more environmental responsibility
from food suppliers, certification isn't just for high-end
stores and restaurants: Wal-Mart and Darden Restaurants now
require shrimp farmers to meet the Global Aquaculture
Alliance's Best Aquaculture Practices, which are being
developed to evaluate aquaculture facilities for key issues
such as environmental and social responsibility, animal
welfare, food safety
Tim Redmond, president of Blue Horizon Organic Seafood in
Aptos, Calif., an importer of organic seafood, notes
environmental sustainability is gaining worldwide notoriety,
along with organic foods, which he says have expanded from
produce to the farmed-shrimp market at retail.
Certification is important, he says, but for a U.S. company
doing business overseas, certification of manufacturing
standards comes down to trust.
"In general, you have to rely on the veracity of the
certification officer to do their job in the process," Redmond
says, noting that Blue Horizon officials visit shrimp farms
twice annually on average.
Redmond says that interest in products made with organic
shrimp is growing among supermarket retailers like Hannaford
and Costco, thanks to increased focus on sourcing organic
"More and more retailers are reacting to the organic
market," Redmond says. "And that means that consumers are
interested in purchasing organic products."
However, those organic shrimp are being raised far away from
the United States because the U.S. Department of Agriculture
still hasn't set a standard for organic seafood; the National
Organic Standards Board is still debating the issue. As a
result, Blue Horizon sources from farms in
"In general, when we source organic shrimp it has to be
farmed," Redmond says, noting that Blue Horizon relies
primarily on the certification process of each individual
country for proof that the farmed shrimp are raised to organic
Part of that focus on quality farmed shrimp comes as wild
shrimp supplies go through ups and downs, says John Filose, VP
of sales and marketing for Ocean Garden Products in San
"Wild shrimp is in short supply from all sources this year,"
says Filose, because wild shrimp production is cyclical. But
farmed shrimp, which has a more stable supply, represents
nearly 60 percent of Ocean Garden's product line, up from 40
percent five years ago.
"This time last year we were coming out of record production
of wild shrimp in the Gulf [of Mexico], Mexico and Latin
America, and now that's totally reversed," he says.
Farmed shrimp are cheaper and more reliable to produce, adds
Ocean Garden, largely a foodservice supplier, found that its
upscale retail customers like Whole Foods do well with the
company's Pride of Mexico bags of frozen farmed Pacific whites,
both peeled and shell-on in 1-pound bags - a convenient size
for shoppers to create shrimp meals at home, Filose says.
Promoting certification is gaining more importance as
sustainability grows as a trend.
Ocean Garden's Web site praises its Mexican farmed shrimp as
grown in, "Low density, ecologically friendly aquaculture
methods that are a model of sustainability and quality
On its consumer Web site, Contessa Premium Foods of San
Pedro, Calif., uses a green image, promoting its shrimp as
Late last year, the company unveiled the world's first
frozen-food processing plant certified by the United States
Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design's (LEED) green building-rating system.
The plant includes a solar-power system that reduces carbon
dioxide emissions and a loading dock that prevents the loss of
refrigerated air, reducing temperature fluctuation in that
For suppliers like Redmond, a founder of Eden Valley Organic
Foods, and a businessman who has pioneered the organic food
market for nearly 40 years, a certification program can't
replace visiting a processing plant first-hand to determine
whether farmers adhere to organic or other standards.
"There's no way we can watch over every detail of that
farming process, but there's a personal side too. You can see
it for yourself. Organic farming is happening all over the
world, as farmers on both land and sea opt not to be
irresponsible with their food production," says Redmond.
The GAA's BAP program has gained support from Wal-Mart and
Darden Restaurants, thanks to the group's efforts to expand its
certification to include farmed fish like tilapia. But reaching
chefs at the local level requires some more marketing work.
Chefs look for more accountability, says Walter Loehman, a
longtime Portland, Maine-based restaurateur and chef whose
latest venture is Fresh!, a restaurant specializing in local
and organic cuisine in South Portland.
Because the IQF process for freezing seafood has advanced to
such a degree, consumers are very comfortable with buying
frozen farmed shrimp, Loehman says.
In fact, "People usually assume that all shrimp comes
However, as the chef of a white-tablecloth restaurant
actively marketing a concept of top-quality cooking, he would
like to see the seafood market set a global unified standard
that would make it easier to confirm that brands of shrimp
marketed as organic, or harvested in a sustainable manner were,
in fact, true to what the label says.
"It would be great if all these different suppliers and fish
farmers and other groups could get together so that we could be
sure that there is some clear unity about what is organic,
fresh and safe to eat," Loehman adds.
And that's not just a
farmed shrimp problem.
Loehman noted he had just finished unpacking a shipment of
organic garlic that was grown
"From seafood to produce we need more professional
assurances that what suppliers are saying - about food being
local or organic - is true," Loehman says.
Contributing Editor Thyra Porter lives in Cape Elizabeth,