Here in Fernandina Beach, Florida, the birth place of the modern shrimping industry, we should be even more conscious of buying wild-caught domestic shrimp than the “average” American. What better time than now, with May’s Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, to reflect on the seaside lifestyle we are lucky to enjoy here on Amelia Island, and the bounty of the sea off our coastline.
If you’ve been to the beach at night, you’ve seen in the far distance off shore, the twinkling dots of light – the shrimp boats off Amelia’s coastline. Or during the day you’ve seen the shrimp boats docked by the Fernandina Harbor and along Front Street docks. Add to Amelia’s beautiful beaches and quaint historic district in Fernandina, the bonus of shrimp boats right here in our back yard. Fresh shrimp, recently swimming in the local waters and on our plates in a day or less sometimes. Let’s put another check mark in the “good life” column, here in Fernandina Beach.
For Christmas one year, I purchased a foam cooler, dry ice and over-nighted five pounds of fresh Fernandina shrimp to relatives up in New Jersey for the holidays – they raved about it. The shipping ($75 Fed Ex) cost more than the shrimp.
One time we actually drove from Amelia Island up to New York (17 hours – I don’t recommend it, especially with a dog in the car…). We took 25 pounds of Fernandina’s scrumptious shrimp up north to eat with relatives over a Thanksgiving holiday. Fernandina’s shrimp is, indeed, a big hit up north in our family.
Buy Wild-Caught Domestic Shrimp, Not Asian Imports
Breaking news on CNN this week was a report about appalling abuse in the Asian shrimp industry (“Slavery in Shrimp”). If you needed another reason (besides the great taste) why you should buy domestic, wild-caught shrimp rather than Asian imported shrimp, how about human rights issues? Do you want to eat shrimp produced by some Asian manufacturers who reportedly beat and torture workers, utilize child labor, allegedly sexually abuse workers and are in the human trafficking business? Are you really going to enjoy a shrimp cocktail as much, if you know it possibly is at the expense of an abused third-world worker, maybe a child as young as 8 years old, according to reports? (Click link at end of article to read the CNN report about Asian shrimp industry.)
So when you buy shrimp at the supermarket, or you order shrimp scampi off a restaurant menu, consider the origin of that shrimp. Do you presume it is shrimp from the sea? The odds are against it, since much of the seafood in U.S. stores and restaurants is farmed, not wild-caught. The aquaculture seafood industry is a huge global industry, and reportedly, 80% of shrimp eaten by Americans is imported. Asian shrimp in the marketplace has helped the decline of the domestic, wild-caught shrimp industry in the US. Today’s American shrimpers, are a waning breed, many coming from a long family history in the business -- generations of shrimpers. Those catching shrimp the traditional way, wild-caught, fresh from the sea, have had difficulty competing with the flood of Asian imports.
An investigation by the Solidarity Center found shocking conditions, including compound-like shrimp processing plants in Asia with “armed guards” and “16-foot high barbed wired walls” – a prison-like environment. Some shrimp producers in Thailand and Bangladesh reportedly have these conditions. According to the Solidarity Center’s report, shrimp being sold by U.S. retail chains originating from questionable Asian plants with poor labor practices include retailers Walmart, Harris Teeter, and Costco. The Solidarity Center's report is called "The Degradation of Work: The True Cost of Shrimp."
DOMESTIC SHRIMP BOATS DWINDLING IN NUMBERS
With cheap Asian labor (now we are hearing reports that it’s a slave industry in Asia), the global marketplace has been flooded with aquaculture shrimp, putting some wild-caught shrimpers out of business. Those domestic shrimpers who toil at sea to catch fresh shrimp in U.S. waters, the traditional way, around the US coastline, are losing their way to earn a living. Just look at the escalating cost of fuel this year in 2008 – imagine how much more it now costs shrimpers to fuel a shrimp boat.
According to a report by North Carolina Sea Grant, starting in 2001, “cheap shrimp imports began flooding the United States market, causing prices for all types and sizes of wild-caught American shrimp to plummet. Between 2000 and 2003, some prices dipped more than 40 percent from $4.63 per pound to $2.90 [wholesale prices, not retail prices]. Add in record high fuel prices and catastrophic hurricanes in 2005, and many trawlers in the U.S. gulf and South Atlantic were forced to remain idle.”
LOCAL SEAFOOD MARKET, ATLANTIC SEAFOOD, FERNANDINA BEACH
I was glad to see others buying shrimp at Atlantic Seafood, too. A foursome of senior gentlemen (who appeared to have just left the golf course), were there buying a shrimp feast. Golf and shrimp – what a great combination on Amelia Island.
CASUALTY OF ASIAN SHRIMP IMPORTS?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
So think twice when you buy shrimp. Ask what kind of shrimp you’re getting (domestic vs. imported, aquaculture vs. wild-caught). If it costs more for American wild-caught shrimp, isn’t it worth it for a higher-quality product, and at the same time support the American shrimping industry? While the height of the local shrimping season is during the cooler months of the year, wild-caught, domestic shrimp is a product you can buy year round in the U.S.
WHEN DINING OUT, ASK FOR WILD-CAUGHT AMERICAN SHRIMP
Many of the finest chefs would agree that wild-caught shrimp is the only type of shrimp to serve discerning diners. For example, Chef Emeril Lagassae of Food Network reportedly uses only wild-caught American shrimp in his restaurants and frozen food products. There’s actually a certification for Wild American-caught Shrimp. “Certified Wild American” shrimp is a sign of quality -- the shrimp harvester or processor has been approved by Wild American Shrimp, Inc. (WASI), having met strict quality standards and passed US environmental and food regulation standards. WASI is the marketing arm of the Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA). WASI and SSA represent harvesters, processors, and distributors.
FDA ALERT FOR AQUACULTURE SEAFOOD PRODUCTS FROM CHINA
Yet another poor quality product from China -- seafood. Lead in toys manufactured in China opened American’s eyes, with fright, that we should pay a lot more attention to where the products we buy are manufactured and regulation of these industries. This apparently goes for the seafood we eat, too. Here’s some more FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
According to an August 3, 2007 FDA import alert (#16-131) for aquaculture seafood products from China, the FDA noted the problem of “unapproved drug residues and unsafe food additives.” The FDA alert states their concerns…
“There has been extensive commercialization and increased consumption of aquaculture seafood products worldwide,” says the FDA alert…
“Aquacultured seafood has become the fastest growing sector of the world food economy, accounting for approximately half of all seafood production worldwide. Approximately 80% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported from approximately 62 countries. Over 40% of that seafood comes from aquaculture operations. As the aquaculture industry continues to grow and compete with wild-caught seafood products, concerns regarding the use of unapproved animal drugs and unsafe chemicals and the misuse of animal drugs in aquaculture operations have increased substantially.”
“China is the largest producer of aquacultured seafood in the world, accounting for 70% of the total production and 55% of the total value of aquacultured seafood exported around the world. China is currently the third largest exporter of seafood to the U.S. Shrimp and catfish products represent two of the top ten most consumed seafood products in the U.S. The use of unapproved antibiotics or chemicals in aquaculture raises significant public health concerns,” reported the FDA alert.
“There is clear scientific evidence that the use of antibiotics or chemicals, such as malachite green, nitrofurans, fluoroquinolones, and gentian violet during the various stages of aquaculture can result in the presence of residues of the parent compound or its metabolites in the edible portion of the aquacultured seafood. The presence of antibiotic residues may contribute to an increase of antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens. Moreover, prolonged exposure to nitrofurans, malachite green, and gentian violet has been shown to have a carcinogenic affect.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT ASIAN SHRIMP INDUSTRY ABUSES AT CNN WEB SITE
Read the full CNN report about slavery in the Asian Shrimp industry and to see the complete list of retail chains selling Asian imported shrimp.)
About the author -- W. B. Lawson has lived on Amelia Island fourteen years and writes tourism, lifestyle, and real estate articles.