As shrimp trade deficit grows, US leaders seek solutions to bolster domestic supply
America’s shrimp trade deficit rose sharply in 2017 to reach its second-highest total ever, according to a statement released by the Southern Shrimp Alliance on Tuesday.
The USD 6.4 billion (EUR 5.2 billion) gap represented a 15.6 percent increase from the 2016 deficit and fell about USD 80 million (EUR 64.6 million) shy of the all-time mark, which was set in 2014. The organization, which promotes the domestic shrimp industry and its interests across eight states, cited data from NOAA Fisheries in its announcement.
Based on NOAA’s findings, shrimp made up more than one percent of the country’s 2017 total trade deficit. According to TradingEconomics.com, the country’s overall trade deficit reached USD 566 billion (EUR 458 billion) last year. That figure marked a nine-year high.
The release comes at a time when both domestic producers and elected officials are pushing the federal government to enforce tougher regulations on shrimp imports. Last week, 11 U.S. Senators expressed support for a proposal offered by U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) that would give shrimp importers just 30 days to comply with the Seafood Import Monitoring Program regulations, which call on imported seafood to be tracked from the time it is caught or harvested to the time it reaches the United States.
Shrimp was one of the species selected to be part of SIMP, which started on 1 January. However, federal officials have exempted it for the time being, since similar recordkeeping requirements are not in effect for domestic products.
In the letter to Cochran and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) – the chairman and vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee – the lawmakers note that shrimp imports make up a large majority of the seafood that is designed to be covered by SIMP. India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam serve as the primary sources for those shrimp imports.
“These countries all export heavily subsidized, farm-raised shrimp, in contrast to the vast majority of American shrimp, which is wild-caught,” the senators wrote. “We believe that SIMP is a key step to restoring a level playing field for the U.S. shrimp industry.”
While some lawmakers are calling for tougher regulations on shrimp imports, others are suggesting loosening them on domestic products as a way to curtail the seafood trade deficit. At a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, aquaculture experts told lawmakers that investing in domestic aquaculture projects could bolster the amount of seafood produced in the United States. However, investors and entrepreneurs have shied away from funding such endeavors because of the time and cost associated with the regulatory approvals.
Kelly Lucas, the director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center at the University of Southern Mississippi, testified before the committee last month that the current trade deficit for all seafood products stands at USD 14 billion (EUR 11 billion), as the country imports more than 90 percent of the fish and shellfish it consumes.
“We can create jobs and reduce the seafood trade deficit while supplying safe, local, sustainable, seafood,” she said. “Diversification of aquaculture production in addition to commercial fishing can help supply seafood to help meet the growing demand. Government, universities and industry working together can help create regulatory certainty, address research needs, and advance sustainable aquaculture.”