What’s Causing High Prices for Shrimp?

After years of depressed and declining prices, the U.S. market for shrimp has been on the uptick since 2010. For the U.S. shrimp industry, this has meant increases in prices at the dock and in the wholesale market.


Why is this happening? The standard explanation is that shrimp import volumes have declined because of disease outbreaks in shrimp aquaculture in Asia.


In fact, while there was a significant drop-off in import volumes between 2011 and 2012, the total volume of shrimp imported in 2012 and 2013 was just about the same:

And this year, through May, the total shrimp import volume is over 12% higher than it was through the first five months of 2013:

For the U.S. market, import volumes declined between 2011 and 2012, stabilized in 2013, and have been increasing in the first part of 2014. Yet, prices remain high and are increasing.


Looking at import volumes historically, what the United States imported in 2012 and 2013 was the lowest volumes recorded since the surge in dumped imports in 2003 that led to the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s successful efforts to get trade relief.


But import values show a very different trend. In fact, the overall shrimp import value in 2012 was the highest ever recorded:

And in 2014, with import volumes up 12% through May compared to 2013, import values are up a whopping 58%:

If these trends hold through the rest of the year, the total value of frozen, non-breaded warmwater shrimp imports would likely approach $6 billion, shattering all historical records.


These numbers and the continuing escalation of shrimp prices – both imported and domestic – don’t have an easy explanation. Declining imports is not one of them, as import volumes have been climbing along with values and prices. That does not mean that imports are not a concern. A surge in imports, particularly growth that would return volumes to 2006 levels, would likely bring the market crashing down.


However, with improved enforcement of the antidumping duty orders remaining on shrimp imports from Brazil, China, India, Thailand, and Vietnam over the last several years and additional scrutiny throughout world markets regarding farmed shrimp produced in large volumes through the use of banned antibiotics, the ability to produce and export large volumes of cheap shrimp has been constrained.


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