Asian shrimp scourge sparks US shortage

A bacterial infection is wiping out major portions of the farmed shrimp that would normally wind up on American plates.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 12, 2013 2:36PM
Shrimp skewers (© antares71/E+/Getty Images)It's not safe being a major food source for humans these days. In addition to reports that a pork virus has spread from Asia and Europe to the U.S., killing piglets in 15 states, another worry is a bacterial infection that has wiped out much of the shrimp cultivated in Asia, a major source for U.S. restaurants and supermarkets. And American consumers could soon see the impact of these shortages in terms of higher prices.

The infection is called early mortality syndrome (EMS), and it poses no threat to human health. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, EMS has caused "die-offs" over the past two years in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China. The impact on the $13.3 billion industry could be devastating.

"Infected shrimp ponds experience extremely high levels of mortality early in their growing cycle -- as high as 100 percent death rates in some cases," the U.N. noted in a May press release.

EMS first emerged in 2009. A year later, outbreaks were getting serious. Shrimp farms in China suffered 80% losses in 2011, and this year production in Thailand is off 30%. And some areas in the eastern part of the country have seen 60% declines, according to the U.N.  Thailand is the biggest supplier of shrimp to the U.S., which imports most of this tasty crustacean.

"Competitors such as India and Ecuador have been attempting to pick up the slack, though their output still trails that of Thailand," The Wall Street Journal said.

The impact on U.S. consumers is mixed so far.

A spokesman for Kroger (KR), the largest grocery chain, told the paper that EMS is "affecting all retailers, including us," though he declined to be more specific. Landry's chief financial officer Rick Liem told The Journal it may have to "selectively raise prices." It owns the McCormick & Schmick's and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant chains. Red Lobster parent  Darden Restaurants (DRI) told the paper it doesn't plan to raise prices because it expects shrimp costs to drop by year-end.

Scientists, however, are worried that the disease might spread to shrimp farms in Africa and Latin America, where the industry also is big employer.

--Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Tags: DRIFoodKR
Jul 12, 2013 3:55PM
Gulf Caught Shrimp


The waters off the coast of Louisiana are home to one of the highest concentrations of white and brown shrimp. Brown and white shrimp are the most commonly caught species in the Gulf of Mexico. These two varieties account for roughly 90% of the total domestic caught shrimp. Brown(55%) White(35%). The remaining 10% are comprised mostly of pink shrimp.

White shrimp tend to be the most commonly sought variety due to their slightly milder flavor, which makes them very suitable for many different styles of cooking. Brown shrimp are known for having a stronger flavor and are suited better for battering and frying, but are also very versatile. Pink shrimp are less common in the Gulf of Mexico, but are mainly found off the coast of Florida. Pinks tend to grow considerably larger than the brown or white varieties, reaching up to 11 inches in length, and are known for being tender and sweet.

Jul 12, 2013 4:47PM
Maybe now more local restaurants will use American caught seafood! Even though it may cost a little more we would now be supporting our local workers and local economy. We live in Pensacola and most of the tourists don't realize they are eating Asian seafood at most of the local seafood restaurants - very few restaurants will spend a little extra, charge a little extra, and serve our local seafood! It's the same nearby in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Destin, and Panama City and I think we are deceiving the tourists - the restaurants should be required by law to post the origin of the seafood so everyone knows where it's from. That way people will have the knowledge and can support who they want to with their dining dollars!
Jul 12, 2013 3:51PM

Gulf Shrimp are $8/lb at Safeway, 5lb bags are a better deal if you got a restaurant full of people to feed. Lot's of online sellers offering Gulf Shrimp. Bubba Gump doesn't use Gulf Shrimp?  McCormick & Schmick's? Forrest needs to have a talk with Rick Liem.

Jul 12, 2013 3:42PM
Combining incompetence and payoffs, the US congress has allowed all of the laws and regulations that isolated food meant for American consumption from Third World countries; their people and their food products.  There are a number of diseases that were once totally irradiated from the US that have been brought in by Mexicans and other Third World citizens. 

The democrats and like liberals, always whinning about the environment, care nothing about the health of the average citizen.   They believe that every Third World alien admitted to the US represents a vote that will help keep them in power and help them grow the disastrous government that is presently in existence in Washington, D C. 

Every intelligent US Citizen, in spite of the liberal media, must find it in himself and herself to vote the democrats out of the White House and out of the congress before it is too late.  Even now, it will dramatic action on the part of honest, intelligent politicians to bring the US out of the course it now follows.

Jul 12, 2013 6:48PM
Well, first of all, the sell-out of the largest pork producer in the US (Smithfield) to the Chinese apparently hasn't gone well. After all of the disease and poor agriculture practices that the Chinese are known for, I can't believe that they were allowed to purchase such a huge chunk of American agribusiness in the first place.
Secondly, regarding the shrimp situation -I guess the American shrimp buyers will have to start buying AMERICAN SHRIMP for a change, instead of the crappiest, poison-pond-raised Asian crap that can be had at the lowest price point.
I, personally, don't have any problem paying extra for good old USDA inspected American product. That's what I look for when I'm in the store, anyway.
God Bless America!

Jul 12, 2013 6:58PM
American shrimp will be twice as high now as Asian demand will go up in Japan and Korea and also Taiwan. They have been for a while now exporting our great shrimp to asia because it carries a premium there.  
Jul 13, 2013 12:35AM

Thanks Jon B...Will check out the Safeway thing..

Haven't seen many Gulf Shimp in some of our local stores lately, out in the country small town.

And our bigger butcher, meat and fruit/veggie Market retired and closed.


Years ago in the city, we had a friend and seafood store that we bought bricks from, about $5-6 bucks, when shrimp was much cheaper...He closed up, retired or had money probs..Best shrimp ever..

Frozen on the  boat or processor about 3-5 lbs bricks of Great American Gulf Shrimp.

Aren't 11 inch pinks kind of considered Prawns ??


BTW....Someone-MelErny...You are still a fkin Moron or Idiot.  

Jul 12, 2013 7:32PM

I have lost 11 pounds since beef prices starting going up. I buy very little of it now and don't miss it. I am sure the prices shrimp will rise to will create a similar effect in my buying habits and there is likely a health benefit from eating less shrimp as well.


And restaurants? They went out of my budget with Ben Bernake stealing the interest I should be earning and giving it to Wall Street and the banks.


Keep going food distributors and economists. I believe some privation is good for my health.

Jul 12, 2013 6:53PM

Asian shrimps ? I thought they were all kinda short....


ok, not being mean..I'm 6'3" and nothing ever least they don't hit their heads on ceiling fans.

Jul 14, 2013 12:46PM

WE just checked a couple packages in the freezer..


Some breaded 50-60s were from Viet-Nam.  1.5 #s....$9


Non breaded 70-90s, we use for salads or jambalaya. 1.0 #.....$5.....Thailand.

Yes I would pay $8 for a pound of good Gulf shrimp...either size, but prefer 40-50s for munchin'.

Just can't hardly find them around here..

Jul 12, 2013 7:38PM
Scientists are worried the disease might spread?  How on Earth will it spread if it's contained in shrimp PONDS???
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