In written comments submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Interagency Seafood Trade Task Force on July 28, the Tarpon Springs, Florida-based Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA) emphasized the need for any comprehensive interagency seafood trade strategy to address seafood imports into the United States. The SSA is an organization of shrimp fishermen, processors and other members of the domestic industry in the eight warmwater shrimp producing states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
NOAA Fisheries reports that the United States ran a $16.8 billion trade deficit in edible seafood in 2018. The fishery products deficit has grown massively over the last decade, as the value of seafood imports has increased by $7.3 billion since 2010 while the value of US exports of seafood has remained flat during the past ten years. These data demonstrate that the single biggest growth market available for the United States commercial fishing industry is the domestic market.
The single biggest contributor to the trade deficit has been the importation of shrimp. NOAA Fisheries reports that the United States imported $6.2 billion of frozen and non-frozen shrimp in 2018, meaning that the country runs a trade deficit by virtue of shrimp imports alone.
“The massive growth in shrimp imports has been facilitated by lax regulation of contaminated imports,” according to the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “The United States, through the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), administers a food regulatory system that is principally reliant upon importers to assure the safety and wholesomeness of seafood imported into the United States. This approach has not changed even where a foreign supplier, such as the Indian shrimp industry, has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to prevent banned and harmful antibiotics from being utilized in their aquaculture.”
In stark contrast to the FDA’s approach, pointed out the SSA, other major seafood importing countries, such as members of the European Union and Japan, have subjected Indian shrimp to requirements stipulating that between 30% and 100% of shipments must be tested for antibiotics.
“The impact on India’s shrimp exports has been staggering,” commented the SSA. “Although the volume of India’s shrimp exports to all three of these markets was roughly the same in 2010, with India’s government implementing extensive subsidy programs to encourage aquaculture production and exports, the United States has become the main destination for cheap Indian shrimp.”
As a result of these trends, in 2018 shrimp imports from India alone comprised over 13% of the USA’s trade deficit in edible seafood.
For these reasons, the SSA insists that any comprehensive federal interagency seafood trade strategy must address imported seafood. By simply addressing the large imbalance in trade of a single seafood product – shrimp – there could be significant inroads made in reversing the trend of growing trade deficits in edible seafood.
The Southern Shrimp Alliance’s comments also raised concerns regarding the US seafood industry’s reliance on China as an export market. Although the PRC’s share of this country’s seafood import value has declined significantly over the last decade, China has continued to account for between one-sixth and one-fifth of the United States’ annual seafood export value.
Beyond the continuing tensions between the general trade relationship of the two nations, China’s recent actions to curtail shipments of Ecuadorian shrimp based on unsubstantiated concerns regarding risks of the spread of Covid-19 through frozen food packaging should act as strong caution against dependence on the Chinese market, warned the SSA.