Most of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported from other countries. According to some estimates, only 10 percent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is caught or raised domestically.
Thailand alone accounts for more than 30 percent of the shrimp imported to the U.S, while the rest is gleaned from Central America, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. Despite the U.S. being one of the top five seafood exporters in the world, America recently surpassed Japan as the world’s largest seafood importer.
As a result, generations of U.S. shrimpers face financial ruin because of cheap, frozen imported shrimp glutting the American market. Foreign shrimp fisherman aren’t restrained from the bycatch laws American shrimp fishermen are required to follow, so unwanted marine creatures like turtles die needlessly in their fishing nets; American shrimp fishermen are required to use Turtle Exclusion Devices to stop turtles from being caught in the nets.
Additionally, American shrimp are free of the toxins contained in imported farmed shrimp which is full of antibiotics and pesticides.
Over the past decade, illegal fishing and decreasing rainfall in Central America has decimated shrimp and lobster populations. Mario Gonzalez, the regional director of the Central American Organization of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Sectors (OSPESCA) claims underreported catches compound the problem. “You can say that in Central America 50 percent of our (fishing) production goes undeclared or not reported, not only by private fishermen but also by large fisheries.”
Gonzalez adds that “of the total amount delivered to fish processing plants, approximately 20 to 30 percent is illegal or undersized.”
El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama have recently banned lobster fishing from March 1 to June 30. The four-month ban is recognized by the Regional Ordinance for the fishing grounds of Caribbean Lobster, a regulation developed by the Central American Fishing and Aquaculture Organization (OSPESCA) and signed by Central American governments in May 2009.
Wild American Shrimp Inc., a nonprofit corporation, was created to help educate the food industry and consumers about the benefits of naturally raised domestic shrimp. “Buying wild shrimp will help preserve a way of life for the many Southerners who work in the industry. Shrimp is the key to the fisheries in the Southeast,” notes executive director Eddie Gordon. “If you take it away, you’re going to have whole communities collapsing.”
Gordon says farm-raised shrimp has a bland, non-taste to it while wild is sweeter and has a crisper bite. “Our wild shrimp is the shrimp most of us grew up eating. It comes from ‘God’s natural pond’ – the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf – and is lower in fat and cholesterol, and higher in protein and healthful omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised shrimp.”
Look for a Wild American Shrimp certification mark on shrimp packages and restaurant menus, indicating that the shellfish come from the Gulf of Mexico or South Atlantic waters. “We hope to make this a trademark for quality and consistency similar to the name recognition associated with Angus beef, Vidalia onions and wild Alaskan salmon,” says Gordon. “We are optimistic that this program will wake the consumer up and get them to start asking questions.”
Food Editor Carole Kotkin, an accomplished chef, cooking teacher and author points out: “Globally, there are nine families of shrimp, comprising almost 1,600 individual species, with each offering a different flavor profile and texture composition. Best known are four categories of domestic warm water shrimp: white (actually pale gray in color), wild-caught off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida; wild-caught pinks from Key West and the Tortugas (they obtain their pretty color from the coral they eat); and wild brown-shelled with purple-colored tails from coastal regions along the Gulf of Mexico. Imported farm-raised shrimp are either black tigers (so-called because of their stripes) or white shrimp grown primarily in Asian countries.”
Carole Kotkin’s Shrimp Tips
- When buying shrimp, in addition to asking the fishmonger about appellation and harvesting method, be certain that it smells fresh with no off odors, especially ammonia or iodine. Also check the shells for yellowing, black spots or dry patches that indicate freezer burn.
- For the best flavor, buy shrimp that has not been pre-peeled. Peel them yourself and use the shells to make a shrimp broth. If you are grilling, leave the shells on to prevent the flesh from drying out.
- The intestinal vein should be removed because it can impart a bitter taste.
- Cook shrimp over low to moderate heat. They are usually done when they turn pink, about 1 to 2 minutes per side, based on size. Cut into one to make sure. – CK
Ready to cook, here are some delicious shrimp recipes.