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Whether you're buying black tigers or Gulf browns, there's plenty of shrimp to go around

- Steven Hedlund
November 01, 2006

In the mid-1990s, black tigers accounted for the lion's share of the world's farmed-shrimp harvest of less than 1 million metric tons. Today, Penaeus monodon is no longer king of the jungle, even in its native Asia.

In Asia, which represented 75 to 80 percent of the world's farmed-shrimp harvest of 2 million metric tons in 2005, farmers are rapidly shifting production from black tigers to Pacific whites ( P. vannamei ), which are native to the Americas.

Thailand, China and Indonesia - the United States' leading Asian shrimp suppliers - now produce more Pacific whites than black tigers. Vietnam - the United States' No. 4 Asian shrimp supplier - is on the verge of growing mostly Pacific whites, which represented 40 percent of its farmed-shrimp harvest in 2005.

Meanwhile, India - the United States' No. 5 Asian shrimp supplier - is looking at introducing vannamei in an effort to boost its overall shrimp production, which has been flat over the past few years, A.J. Tharakan, president of the Marine Products Export Develop­ment Association, told the Financial Express of India in October.

He said about 20 percent of Indian farms are already equipped to raise vannamei, which accounted for just 5 percent of the country's farmed-shrimp harvest in 2005.

But not every Asian country is jumping on the vannamei bandwagon. Bangladesh, which produces predominately black tigers, shows no indication of introducing Pacific whites, says Bill More, director and VP of the Aquaculture Certification Council in Kirkland, Wash.

Moreover, the country is not one of the six Asian and Latin American nations subject to tariffs the U.S. Department of Commerce set in early 2005.

As a result, through August, U.S. shrimp imports from Bangladesh were up 24 percent, to 26.4 million pounds, from a year ago.

Madagascar also shows no sign of introducing vannamei, says More. But the United States imported only 82,000 pounds of shrimp from that country in 2005.

But overall, U.S. imports of raw black tigers (shell-on and peeled) are down 22 percent, to 135.9 million pounds, from a year ago, estimates Urner Barry Publications of Toms River, N.J., citing National Marine Fisheries Service data.

Despite the drop in imports, prices of most sizes of black tigers have held steady over the past two months, due to buyers' lackluster demand for shrimp overall.

However, prices of some sizes have increased, particularly larger cooked, peeled, tail-on tigers and raw, peeled, tail-off tigers.

In mid-October, cooked, peeled, tail-on tigers were quoted in the high-$7 range for 16-20s, high-$6 range for 21-25s, high-$5 range for 26-30s, mid-$4 range for 31-40s and low-$4 range for 41-50s.

Raw, peeled, tail-off tigers were tagged in the mid- to high-$5 range for 21-25s, low-$5 range for 26-30s, low-$4 range for 31-40s and high-$3 range for 41-50s.

Raw, shell-on Southeast Asian-raised tigers were marked in the mid-$9 range for U12s, high-$6 range for U15s, mid-$5 range for 16-20s, low-$5 range for 21-25s, high-$4 range for 26-30s and high-$3 range for 31-40s, says Urner Barry.

Prices for Indian pro­duct were in the low-$9 range for U12 s, mid-$6 range for U15s, mid-$5 range for 16-20s, high-$4 range for 21-25s, mid-$4 range for 26-30s and high-$3 range for 31-40s. Bangladeshi product costs 5 to 15 cents a pound less.

If demand strengthens in the next few months, prices may trend upward, especially if supplies of black tigers tighten as Asian farmers continue to shift to Pacific whites, say importers.

Gulf shrimp

The domestic Gulf shrimp catch surpassed the 100-million-pound mark in August, nearly doubling last year's eight-month sum and exceeding the 2005 total by about 5 million pounds. Louisiana and Texas landings were up roughly 20 million pounds each, to 53.4 million and 29.1 million pounds, 

This year's harvest is way up, even though fewer shrimpers are on the water. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year displaced thousands of 
upper Gulf fishermen and caused $87.4 million in damages to area shrimp boats, 
pro­cessing facilities and other 

No one knows for sure why this year's catch is so abundant, especially in the upper Gulf (some biologists suspect that the hurricanes facilitated the growth of juvenile shrimp).

But everyone knows what it's doing to the market: driving down prices.

The hurricanes reduced processing capacity in the upper Gulf, and demand for shrimp overall is stagnant, due in part to total U.S. shrimp imports being up 11 percent, to 751.3 million pounds, through August. Shrimp inventories are high, and demand is too weak to absorb availability.

In mid-October, prices of raw, shell-on U15 Gulf browns and whites were down $1.75 and $1.50 a pound, respectively, from a year ago, and prices were still falling, reports Urner Barry.

However, "it's close to the bottom," says David Silverstein of MB Seafood in Flushing, N.Y.

Browns were quoted in the mid-$5 range for U15s, low-$4 range for 16-20s, high-$3 to low-$4 range for 21-25s, high-$3 range for 26-30s, mid-$3 range for 31-35s, low-$3 range for 36-40s and high-$2 range for 41-50s.

Whites were priced in the mid-$5 range for U15s, mid-$4 range for 16-20s, low-$4 range for 21-25s, high-$3 range for 26-30s, mid-$3 range for 31-35s and 36-40s and low-$3 range for 41-50s.

As for PUDs, 36-40s were tagged in the low-$3 range, 41-50s and 51-60s in the high-$2 range, 61-70s in the mid- to high-$2 range and 71-90s, 91-110s and 111-130s in the mid-$2 range.

Coldwater shrimp

Prices of Canadian pinks ( Pandalus borealis ) have held firm over the past few months, give or take 5 cents a pound. In mid-October, 5-pound bags of cooked-and-peeled pinks were tagged at around $3 for 125-175s and in the mid-$2 range for 150-250s, 175-250s and 250-350s, according to Urner Barry.

Through mid-October, Newfound­­land's shrimp fishery had yielded 93,907 metric tons, or 60 percent 
of its 157,027-metric-ton quota 
for 2006.

In New England, most fishermen tied up their boats for the season in January, just one month into the 140-day fishery, because they were receiving only about 10 cents a pound for their catch.

The market for New England pinks ( P. borealis ) is a shadow of its former self due to inconsistent landings over the past few years. The fishery lasted 70 days in 2004-05, 40 days in 2004 and just 38 days 
in 2003.

This season's fishery, which is due to open in December, is expected to be set at 140 days again.

The resource has rebounded (the biomass is at a 20-year high), but the market hasn't. Maine harvested 1.8 million pounds of pinks in 2005, far more than any other New England state.

As is the case in New England, fewer Pacific Northwest fishermen are taking to the water to harvest pinks ( P. jordani ). But the ex-vessel price, which fluctuates from 40 to 50 cents a pound throughout the April-to-October fishery, isn't what's driving them away.

In Oregon, fishing permits were retired as part of the West Coast groundfish buyback in 2003. In 2004, only 44 Oregon vessels landed shrimp in 2004, the fewest since 1968. The state yielded 15.8 million pounds of pinks in 2005, up 3.6 million pounds from 2004.

But it was the third consecutive year that landings fell shy of the 15-year average of 23.1 million pounds.

According to the Oregon Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife, reduced fishing effort and the lack of strong recruitment events are responsible for the drop in landings. - S.H.

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