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Jun 28, 2010 1:21 PM by Melissa Canone

Seafood Suppliers Turning To Asia To Ensure Americans Have Shrimp

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - As the Gulf Coast oil spill continues to
gush, U.S. seafood suppliers are turning to Asia to ensure
Americans have enough shrimp for their gumbos, Creoles and kebabs
this summer, but some of those overseas cupboards are low
themselves.
Several countries in the world's top shrimp-producing region are
struggling to satisfy their own appetites for shrimp because of
disease, drought and the economic crisis. The oil spill is one more
factor driving prices skyward, sending a worldwide ripple through
an already tight shrimp market.
The price of plump black tiger shrimp is at a 10-year high in
Vietnam, selling for around $13.50 per kilogram ($6.14 per pound),
said Bui Dung, a manager at Minh Phu, Vietnam's biggest shrimp
exporter in the southern Mekong delta province of Ca Mau. He said
heat waves along with disease outbreaks have led to smaller yields
on farms. Domestic consumption has remained high, nibbling away at
cold stocks normally available for export prior to August harvests.
"The demand, particularly from the U.S., is huge," Dung said.
"We receive order requests from U.S. importers almost everyday,
but we cannot meet all their demands."
Americans have an insatiable craving for shrimp, eating about 4
pounds (1.8 kilograms) a year. And while wild Gulf shrimp provides
only about 7 percent to 9 percent of that supply, the oil spill
will likely send some U.S. restaurants and super markets into a
short-term frenzy, said Fatima Ferdouse, chief of trade promotion
at Infofish, an intergovernmental organization for the Asia-Pacific
fishery industry based in Malaysia.
"It backfired because in the American market, they planned to
sell ... this much domestic shrimp from the Gulf for summer, which
they're not getting now," she said by phone. "So they have to
fill in the gap. They panic and then the easy way to get it is to
go through import - they don't have any other choice."
According to Infofish, wholesale shrimp prices have risen by
about 15 percent to 20 percent since a BP-operated oil rig exploded
10 weeks ago, causing an undersea blowout that has spewed millions
of gallons of oil into the Gulf.
Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the U.S.-based National Fisheries
Institute, a trade group, said Americans might see a price increase
on their plates in the short term, but he's hopeful Asian
production will pick back up to keep consumers from feeling a
prolonged pinch.
Ecuador is the only country among the top five U.S. importers
located outside of Asia. More than a third of the nearly 550,000
tons of shrimp imported by the U.S. last year came from Thailand,
the top shipper, according to Infofish.
Thailand has remained a stable supplier, largely unaffected by a
virus that has crippled stocks in Bangladesh and Indonesia, the
second top supplier to the U.S. last year. For the January-April
period before the Gulf oil spill, U.S. imports of Indonesia shrimp
were down 30 percent from a year earlier. Imports from Thailand
were up about 17 percent over the same period, Infofish data
reported.
"People will continue to have shrimp on their plates," said
Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the U.S.-based National Fisheries
Institute, a trade group. "It's the No. 1 most consumed seafood in
America. People eat more shrimp than they do canned tuna."
Last year was the first time the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization estimated a drop in worldwide shrimp aquaculture
production, following the global economic crisis which forced many
farmers out of business. But now, prior to the peak summer
shrimp-eating season, it's a sellers' market.
Larger shrimp are in short supply, pushing prices to the highest
level in two years, according to Infofish. Demand for the black
tiger shrimp, which is very popular in Japan, has been particularly
high, with prices increasing $1 a pound since early June.
"The demand worldwide is quite strong. The economic crisis
seems to be over, especially the U.S. and Japanese markets are
really demanding a lot of shrimp," said Helga Josupeit, a fishery
industry officer at GLOBEFISH, an FAO program in Rome that tracks
international fish trade and publishes price reports. "If anyone
wants to invest in a shrimp farm, they probably will make some
money."
Some farmers say it's ironic that the U.S. is now forced to lean
more on overseas suppliers to help meet demand. In 2004, the same
Gulf Coast shrimpers affected by the oil spill successfully lobbied
Washington to slap antidumping tariffs on Vietnam, Thailand, India,
Ecuador, Brazil and China, accusing them of flooding the U.S.
market with artificially low priced shrimp.
"It's good to see U.S. shrimp importers are coming back to
Vietnam," said farmer Nguyen Tat Thang. "But I care more about
how much profit I earn from the farm, which I am not seeing
increase because of rising production costs."

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