THE POLITICS OF SHRIMP from page 1                                      May 2004  
is imported, and while shrimp consumption is at record highs (import sales reached $3.8 billion in 2003) the market value for wild-caught Gulf of Maine shrimp is in a precarious place as the market value of imported aquaculture shrimp continues to drop. “If we knew we had a season, then we could market our Maine shrimp in such a way as to protect it’s value,” Sproul said. “But without a guarantee that we’ll even have a season, we’re in a lot of trouble.”
   The March 12, 2004, edition of Aquaculture Outlook reports that the volume and value of US shrimp imports set several new records in 2003. “In 2003, total shrimp imports were 1.1 billion pounds, up 18 percent from 2002, and up 26 percent from 2001. The value of imported shrimp reached $3.8 billion, slightly higher than the previous record in 2000. And, following the trend of the past two years, the average price of shrimp products fell sharply in 2003, from $4.94 per pound in 2000 to $3.38 per pound in 2003.
   Joseph Doan owns a shrimp pier in Louisiana. He’s been an active member of the Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA), eight southern coastal states from North Carolina to Texas, representing the harvesters, processors, and distributors of American wild-caught shrimp. SSA members believe that shrimp are being “dumped” into the US market. “The dumping of shrimp into our market has really had a big impact on the shrimp fishermen of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama,” Doan said. “The US shrimp fishermen, fishing wild shrimp in the Gulf (of Mexico) can not compete with the imported shrimp. The imported shrimp are raised in ponds and the wild shrimp have to be caught. The expenses for the fishermen are much higher than the cost of raising shrimp. And, the shrimp price is being driven down by the flood of product. It’s having a very bad effect on the fishermen. The product is similar to our shrimp, but it tastes like rubber.”
   Doan believes that the US government should be limiting the import and should put a “Tariff tax on all imported shrimp to protect the US fishery.” “We’re not competing against other fishermen from foreign countries. We’re competing against farm-raised product, which is inferior, cheap to produce and in some cases, loaded with toxicants and antibiotics.” Doan is furious at the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) for allowing inferior and/or dangerous shrimp product into the United States. “The shrimp product that was dumped here never should have been allowed into the country. We’re not protecting the fishermen or the consumers the way that we should be,” Doan said. “With aquaculture from foreign countries, we don’t know what food they were given or the quality of the water or anything. Here, we have the EPA and watchdogs always on the food producers, and even then, we still have problems. Over there, they have none of that… just corporations trying to reduce their bottom line and cutting corners and reducing the quality of the product.”

Illegally established shrimp farms in Thailand.
Photo Dr. Janet Earle
  Steve Beathem, of Maine Shellfish Company in Ellsworth, has been watching the ads on television and he’s optimistic. “Have you seen the ads on TV for Red Lobster and Applebee’s?” Beathem asked. “What are they selling? Shrimp! And that’s good for the shrimp industry.” Beathem said he doesn’t know very much about the international shrimp scene, but according to him, most of the Maine shrimp is processed right here in Maine and sold right here in Maine. “Maine is the primary consumer of Maine shrimp,” Beathem said. “I can’t say that we’re not being affected at all by the imported shrimp. I’m saying that the effect of the flood of imported shrimp is minimal, because they are not the same type of PUD (Pealed and Un-de-vained) shrimp, in the 70 - 90 and 90 - 110 range.” Beathem feels that overall demand for shrimp will only benefit the Maine fishery, in the long run.
   But Proctor Wells, owner/captain of Tenacious, wonders how long our niche size and superior taste can hold the market price for Maine shrimp. “How long will it be before the Maine markets are flooded with comparable sized shrimp at below Maine’s market prices?” Wells asked. From Wells point of view, the last shrimp season was a nightmare, as Maine fishermen flooded the limited processing capacities still available in the region and the market value dropped. For Wells, watching the swell of imported shrimp sloshing into Maine, the writing is already on the wall, and it’s not pretty.
   Deborah Reagan, a spokesperson for the Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA), says that Wells’ fears are not unfounded. The shrimp fishermen of Maine aren’t just competing against the Canadian market anymore. As the SSA points out, dozens of countries are currently involved with shrimp aquaculture, including: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. How serious are these foreign countries when it comes to shrimp production? According to SSA information, in Bangladesh alone, frozen shrimp exporters hope to pump up their earnings from the $321 million level to over $1.7 billion annually. Currently, $80 million of Bangladesh shrimp is being sold to the US market. The Bangladesh shrimp aquaculture plan is to reach the $1.7 billion target, with their government’s support, within the next four years. Included in their business plan is the accumulation of a special legal defense fund, for use in the event of any anti-dumping measures taken against them by other countries.
   According to the group, Public Citizen, the march of the global shrimp aquaculture industry is following the same pattern of the greater food industry. “International development institutions such as the World Bank are bankrolling the conversion and privatization of coastal areas for shrimp aquaculture,” a Public Citizen press release said, “to the detriment of the environment and citizens. International food supply systems continue to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, while local and regional economies are ripped to shreds by multinational corporations that benefit at their expense. As food is shipped globally, small-scale local fishermen watch their culture and livelihoods vanish.”
   Public Citizen counts China, India, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam as the top producers of farmed shrimp in the world. The top importers are: the US, the European Union (EU) and Japan. Public Citizen also warns that much of the shrimp produced by those top countries is tainted with chemicals banned in the US, including antibiotics. And, the environmental expense of all this shrimp production has been the destruction of huge stands of mangroves, to create ponds for shrimp production. Mangroves are considered to be among the most important of ecosystems on the Earth. They support a tremendous variety of marine life, coral reefs and seagrass beds, which support two-thirds of all fish species caught in the world. It’s estimated that nearly half of the loss of mangroves on the planet has been due to the direct result of shrimp farming.

In the South, the shrimp fishermen are directly feeling the pinch of the mass of imported product. The SSA filed a suit against six countries for allegedly dumping product in the United States. “Our dumping case covers warm-water shrimp,” Reagan explained. “In Maine you’re not producing warm-water shrimp, but the smaller sizes of warm-water shrimp would compete directly with the cold-water shrimp, and so, in a way you are being affected by the dumping. To the extent that the imported shrimp competes with cold-water shrimp, it most definitely will have an effect on the shrimpers in Maine.”
   In 2002, the six targeted countries in the SSA lawsuit produced a total of over two billion pounds of farm-raised shrimp, more than twice the quantity produced in 1990. During this same period, India nearly tripled its farm-raised production and Vietnam increased its production by more than five times.
   “International funding of shrimp aquaculture helps them to reduce their costs,” Reagan said. “While the fishermen in Maine and here in the South are not being funded and receive no reduction in their operational costs our claim is not that they should subsidize us too, but just that they shouldn’t be subsidizing anyone to the extent that it’s damaging other people in the global market.”
   The SSA maintains that subsidies distort the market by providing an unfair advantage. “But, we didn’t bring an anti-subsidy case,” Reagan explained. “We’ve brought a anti-dumping case. That’s important to keep in mind. Subsidies can explain why there’s dumping. You have over production, non-market stimulated production, and in this case, you also have other markets, Japan and the European Union, declining the product.”
   Reagan said that the EU has banned certain shrimp products because of findings that those farm-raised shrimp had high levels of antibiotics. That ban was later lifted and replaced with 100 percent testing of all shipments. If there is a finding of antibiotics, they destroy the shipment. “So that’s become a real deterrent to keep companies from using those chemicals in their shrimp that is targeted for the EU,” Reagan said. “On the other hand, the United States is the most open market in the world and imposes no tariffs on shrimp imports, allowing foreign shrimp exporters free access to the US market. While other large markets for shrimp exports impose varying tariffs on shrimp, such as the EU–which in late 2001 raised tariffs on shrimp imported from Thailand to rates as high as 20 percent–high tariff rates in large foreign markets have provided a powerful incentive to increase shrimp shipments to the United States. Likewise, the US market also serves as the market of last resort when shrimp shipments are denied entry to markets like the EU because of the discovery of unacceptable levels of contaminants. So, if other countries are banning shipments or refusing product, and the US isn’t, the product gets dumped, there’s a glut, and the prices drop way down.”

   Usually, dumping is good for the consumer. But in this case, that’s not necessarily true. In fact, a Wall Street Journal story reported that the average price for a shrimp entree at major restaurant chains across the US actually increased by as much as 28 percent over the last three years. Consumers have not benefited from the low prices that have injured shrimp fishermen/
   processors, and neither has the industry. Reagan said that there have been thousands of shrimp-related jobs within the Southern states lost directly because of the huge influx of foreign shrimp and the subsequent lowering of shrimp prices. “We’ve had hundreds of boats that have been repossessed or are no longer being used for shrimp fishing.”
   Reagan and the SSA are calling for either tariffs or health restrictions on shrimp imports. “When you have over stimulated production through subsidies– and restrictions in the other major markets, you end up getting product dumping. That’s what we have here. It’s all related.”
   Reagan explained that the dumping laws which govern the US are well-established international rules for free trade. “This isn’t something that we just made up to protect the Southern shrimp fishermen,” Reagan said. “And some of the countries named in the suit have the same laws that we do. They all understand that dumping promotes market distortion, and it prohibits free trade, in the long run.” So, why are these countries dumping shrimp in the US and why is the US not putting political pressure on those countries to back off?
   “If you can get the answer to that question,” Butch Thompson said, “well then, you’d have the big picture. You’ve got to look beyond the bow of the shrimp boat to understand what’s going on in the shrimp business. And, it’s the same with every aspect of the resource sectors. It’s not just the US shrimpers or even the US fishermen that are on the losing end of this. It’s everyone from steel manufacturers to the lumber industry.”
   Reagan said that the US government can’t bring a dumping case to court. “They have to wait for the industry to do it.” But didn’t the US foreign embassies try to put pressure on those countries that are dumping shrimp? “No,” said Reagan. “But now we have six foreign embassies exerting all sorts of political pressure on us.”
   The other group exerting political pressure on the SSA is the shrimp importers. “The Red Lobsters of the world,” Reagan said. “Consumer prices for shrimp have been climbing, so for the importers, it’s the best of all worlds. There’s high demand, with shrimp now the number one consumed seafood in the US, there’s a plethora of suppliers and they’re dumping, so the price is rock bottom.” The importers are saving money at one end and charging a higher price at the other. The only losers are the US men and women who make their living from the catching and processing of wild shrimp.
   One major problem for Maine shrimp might be in the fact that most customers don’t know what type of shrimp they’re eating. They have no idea if they’re munching on fresh and wild Gulf of Maine product and supporting traditional Maine fishing families, or if they are eating something that was grown in some slimy, antibiotic-filled pond that has displaced 15 or 20 rice-farming families in some third world country. That will all change in September, when the new, “Country of Origin” labeling laws will take effect so that restaurants and stores will be forced to display the country of origin for products. Until that happens, consumers who support the plight of the Southern fishermen are being urged to ask where the product comes from before purchasing. “We’re hoping that our “Caught in the US” marketing programs will help to fight against dumped shrimp sales,” Reagan said. She was also quick to point out that the SSA is not fighting against all imported shrimp. “Mexico has been importing shrimp into the US for years, they are a major player in this market. But, they’re not dumping shrimp and we have nothing against them.