« November 2006 Table of Contents
Pacific white shrimp
Vannamei is plentiful, thanks to Asia's production
spike and Ecuador's recovery from white-spot
By Steven Hedlund
November 01, 2006
Elgin Hanes, VP of purchasing for Joey's Only Seafood
Restaurants, was ahead of the curve five years ago when he
switched the shrimp on the casual-seafood chain's menu from
black tigers ( Penaeus monodon ) to Pacific whites ( P.
Pacific whites represented only 21 percent of the global
farmed-shrimp harvest of 1.3 million metric tons in 2001,
reported the United Nations' Food and Agriculture
Over the next two years, production of Pacific whites more
than doubled, to 723,858 metric tons, accounting for 40 percent
of the global farmed-shrimp harvest of 1.8 million metric tons
in 2003, the latest figures available from the FAO.
That year, vannamei production surpassed monodon production
for the first time. Asia is largely responsible for the sharp
Now several of Asia's largest shrimp-producing countries are
raising more Pacific whites than black tigers. In 2005, Pacific
whites represented about 70 percent of Thailand's farmed-shrimp
harvest, 65 to 70 percent of Indonesia's harvest, 50 to 60
percent of China's harvest and 40 percent of Vietnam's, says
Bill More, director and VP of the Aquaculture Certification
Council in Kirkland, Wash.
Pacific whites represented about 60 percent of Asia's
farmed-shrimp exports in 2005, says More. The continent
accounted for 75 to 80 percent of the world's 2
million-metric-ton farmed-shrimp harvest in 2005, which is
expected to increase by 12 to 15 percent in 2006, he adds.
"Almost all of the increase will be from whites," notes
More. "I wouldn't be surprised if, within five years, 80
percent or more of [Asia's farmed-shrimp harvest] was
Nice price and flavor
So what did Hanes see in Pacific whites that only a handful
of his peers saw five years ago?
Hanes prefers Pacific whites because the meat is sweeter,
more flavorful and firmer than that of black tigers.
He told his two shrimp packers - one in Los Angeles and one
in Toronto - that they'd save 40 to 50 cents a pound, "and they
almost fell to the floor," says Hanes.
Now Hanes imports from Asia about one container of 31-40
Pacific whites a month for the chain's 115 Canadian and U.S.
restaurants (Embers America Restaurants of St. Paul, Minn.,
operates the U.S. units).
Pacific whites are included in several menu items at Joey's
Only, including appetizers such as Classic Shrimp Cocktail
($6.49) and Malibu Coconut Shrimp ($6.99) and entrées such as
Half Pound Shrimp Feast ($13.99), Shrimp Trio ($13.99) and
Cajun Combo ($13.49). Diners can also add six shrimp to any
Pacific whites' taste and texture attributes - and
attractive prices - have landed the species on casual-dining
menus and in retail seafood cases across North America.
At several grocery stores last month, 31/40-, 41/50- and
51/60-count cooked Pacific whites were retailing for just $5.99
a pound, according to Urner Barry Publications of Toms River,
But restaurateurs and retailers are not what's driving the
dramatic shift from black tigers to Pacific whites.
It's matter of economics at the production level.
According to a 2004 FAO report, shrimp farmers prefer
for several reasons:
• Specific-pathogen-free vannamei broodstock is far more
readily available than SPF monodon broodstock, making vannamei
more disease resistant. Vannamei's survival rate averages 80 to
90 percent in high-density ponds, compared to 45 to 55 percent
for monodon. And, according to a 2006 FAO report, Thailand,
China and Indonesia are developing the capability to produce
their own SPF vannamei broodstock.
• Vannamei yields two to three crops annually, compared to
one to two for monodon. Vannamei females reach a minimum
spawning size of 35 grams in only seven months, while monodon
takes 10 to 12 months to reach a minimum spawning size of 100
grams. Vannamei can be harvested at 100 to 120 days, monodon at
150 to 180 days.
• Vannamei is more durable than monodon. It tolerates
stocking densities of 60 to 150 shrimp per cubic meter but can
be raised at up to 400 shrimp per cubic meter. The species also
tolerates lower salinities and temperatures. As a result,
vannamei can be farmed year-round, even from October to
February, when it's too cold in Asia to raise black tigers.
• Vannamei requires less protein. In Thailand, vannamei feed
usually contains 35 percent protein, compared to 40 to 42
percent for monodon feed. As a result, vannamei feed costs 25
to 30 percent less. In Asia, it costs $2.33, on average, to
produce a kilogram of vannamei, compared to $3.41 for a
kilogram of monodon.
"Simply put, whites are easier and cheaper to produce," says
A sourcing dog fight
As vannamei production climbs worldwide, so does
availability. But that doesn't necessarily mean the species is
getting easier for U.S. buyers to source.
Trade barriers are changing the landscape of the U.S.
shrimp-importing industry, driving up the cost of doing
business and bringing
confusion and uncertainty to the
"It's a dog fight," says Ernie Wayland, executive VP of
International Marketing Specialists in Wilmington, N.C.
In early 2005, the U.S. Department of Commerce slapped
tariffs on shrimp, including Pacific whites, from six Asian and
Latin American countries, following an antidumping petition the
Southern Shrimp Alliance filed in late 2003.
In early 2006, U.S. Customs and Border Protection enacted a
new continuous-bond policy designed to curb tariff evasion that
forced several U.S. shrimp importers to consolidate or abandon
the shrimp trade
Then in mid-2006, more than 100 foreign shrimp exporters
inked agreements with the Southern Shrimp Alliance to bypass
the administrative review and lock in tariffs at the rates set
in early 2005.
By settling, the exporters avoided the possibility that the
DOC would raise the rates during the review, an expensive,
time-consuming process. In turn, the exporters agreed to pay
the SSA an undisclosed sum and help the group in its effort to
increase testing of shrimp for banned substances and limit
transshipping, mislabeling and other forms of tariff
As a result of these trade barriers, program business is on
the rise. Purchasing shrimp on the spot market is riskier. And
more restaurateurs and retailers are buying shrimp directly
from foreign packers, cutting the middleman out of the equation
and saving money.
About half of U.S. shrimp imports have already been sold
when they reach the port of entry, reports Wayland.
"Right now, there's not a lot of life at the street level
versus the program level," he says. "The spot market and the
game of sitting on product are dwindling."
While the cost of doing business is rising, the product
itself is getting cheaper. In mid-October, raw, Asian-raised
Pacific whites were priced in the mid-$2 range for 41-50s, down
25 cents a pound from mid-August, says Wayland.
During the last sizable demand surge in summer 2005, 26-30s
from Asia fetched $4. Now they cost $3.75, notes Wayland. In
2000, 41-50s from Mexico commanded $6.45. Now they're tagged in
the mid- to high-$2 range, he adds.
According to Urner Barry, in mid-October raw, shell-on,
Asian-raised Pacific whites were priced in the mid-$4 range for
21-25s, mid- to high-$3 range for 26-30s, low-$3 range for
31-35s and high-$2 range for 36-40s. Latin American-raised
product cost 5 to 10 cents a pound more.
Replacement costs for Pacific whites are high overseas, but
prices in the U.S. market are soft because "there's too much
product around," says Wayland.
About 100 million pounds of U.S. shrimp imports due to be
sold during the late-2005 holiday season carried over into
early 2006, and the domestic Gulf shrimp catch, which exceeded
100 million pounds through August, is nearly double what it was
a year ago.
Moreover, U.S. shrimp imports continue to increase steadily,
despite tariffs and the new continuous-bond policy.
Through August, total shrimp imports were up 11 percent, to
751.3 million pounds, from a year ago, according to the
National Marine Fisheries Service.
Imports from Thailand, China, Indonesia and Ecuador - the
United States' leading shrimp suppliers in 2005 - collectively
were up 22 percent, to 503.6 million pounds.
Another wave of Pacific whites is due to hit U.S. shores for
the upcoming holiday season.
Prices are expected to remain soft through year's end. But
beyond that, it's anyone's guess.
"It's a guessing game," says David Silverstein of MB Seafood
in Flushing, N.Y. "I take it one day at a time."
Inclement weather, disease, political unrest and regulation,
to varying degrees, are affecting vannamei production in
Global supply challenges
Some of the world's top shrimp-exporting nations are facing
a variety of production challenges.
In Thailand, the bloodless military coup that ousted Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he was in New York in
September had little, if any, impact on the country's shrimp
"All the feedback we've received is that it's business as
usual," says Wayland.
Thailand exported 354.7 million pounds of shrimp to the
United States in 2005, far more than any other country.
Vietnam is reportedly committed to continuing to boost
vannamei production. But Mother Nature is making it difficult
for the country's farmers to do so; they've lost $3.8 million
so far this year due to a turbulent
Sudden changes in air temperature and heavy rains, which
reduce the water's salinity, are stressing shrimp.
"Some parts of Vietnam are exporting 30 to 40 percent of
what they did last year," says the ACC's More.
"Production has been squirrelly" in Vietnam, adds
Through August, U.S. shrimp imports from Vietnam were down 8
percent, to 45.4 million pounds, from a year ago.
Indonesia is also battling inclement weather and expects its
shrimp production to fall shy of its 350,000-metric-ton
projection for 2006.
Nonetheless, through August U.S. shrimp imports from
Indonesia were up 22 percent, to 91.3 million pounds, from a
year ago. That's largely because Indonesia is not subject to
The Philippines exported only 4.4 million pounds of shrimp
to the United States in 2005. But the country's farmers are
pushing their government to lift a 2001 ban on imports of live
shrimp, allowing them to obtain SPF vannamei broodstock so that
they can raise Pacific whites competitively.
China was hit with tariffs of up to 113 percent in early
2005, more than any other country. But that hasn't stopped it
from continuing to boost its shrimp exports to the United
In fact, through August, U.S. shrimp imports from China were
up 44 percent, to 79.7 million pounds, from a year ago.
Ecuador's shrimp-farming industry was nearly wiped out by a
white-spot outbreak in the late 1990s. But now the country,
which farms predominately Pacific whites, is producing as much
shrimp as it did before the virus hit.
Through August, U.S. shrimp imports from Ecuador were up 21
percent, to 92.8 million pounds, from a year ago.
"It took Ecuador five years to recover," says More, "but now
it's back to where it was."
With Ecuador back in the mix and most Asian countries
steadily increasing production, availability of Pacific whites
will only continue to increase in the coming years.
And that's good news for casual-seafood chains like Joey's
Only that are constantly adding shrimp items to their
Associate Editor Steven Hedlund can be e-mailed at