Chinese shrimp exporters abusing “wild-caught” designation, according to Southern Shrimp Alliance

Published on
April 1, 2020

The Florida-based Southern Shrimp Alliance is asking U.S. lawmakers to revoke permission for Chinese exporters to bring shrimp labeled as “wild-caught” into the United States, alleging that some farmed shrimp is being falsely termed as wild-caught in order to skirt U.S. checks on excessive traces of antibiotics.

The U.S. State Department certifies shrimp imports (under so called Section 609) as being artisanal and not damaging to wild sea turtle populations, which have shrunk globally due in part to heavy trawling.

Chinese importers may be abusing the Section 609 system by misrepresenting farmed shrimp as wild in order to get around U.S. Food and Drug Administration's scrutiny of farmed product, according to recent analysis of imports by the Southern Shrimp Alliance, its director John Williams explained.

“We see a significant amount designated as wild-caught. Since the FDA’s Import Alert on Chinese shrimp only applies to farmed shrimp, we think that one of the benefits of designating something as wild-caught shrimp is that it would be exempted from that Import Alert,” he told SeafoodSource. “Because China has been certified by the State Department, the exporter gets to self-certify whether the shrimp is wild-caught or farm-raised. If China were to not have its certification renewed, exporters would no longer be able to self-certify and would have to provide false documents to the Chinese government in order to have farm-raised shrimp inaccurately characterized as wild-caught.”

China’s shrimp exports to American buyers fell 60 percent in 2019 due to higher tariffs and changing consumer and production trends in China. However, China still ranks seventh in total amount of shrimp exported to the U.S. Most wild caught shrimp from the domestic catch are consumed within China.

Several Chinese based conservation groups told SeafoodSource that turtle excluder devices have not yet been adopted by Chinese trawlers. But bycatch is only part of the raft of problems facing turtles in Chinese waters, as coastal development –  including the huge expansion of nearshore aquaculture – is depriving turtles of habitat, according to Steven Blake, Beijing head of WildAid, an international conservation group focused on sea turtle conservation efforts in China.

Coastal development and aquaculture pens are preventing turtles from reaching their shoreline nesting places, Blake told SeafoodSource. Additionally, sea turtles are prized as a delicacy in China resulting in a vast, illicit trade in turtle shells, eggs, and meat. As a result, sea turtle numbers in Chinese waters and nesting sites have decreased dramatically over the past few decades. The Huidong Sea Turtle Nature Reserve in Guangdong counted 500 nesting turtles in 1950 but this had dropped to two in 2012.

Wild Aid is part of a Sea Turtle Conservation Alliance, organized in 2018 by the Fisheries Management Bureau, part of China’s Agriculture Ministry. The alliance helped push for China’s designation of wild sea turtles as grade-one protected species, which has helped restrict the trade in wild turtle meat.

But the group’s efforts remain in the early stages, with a focus on research and public awareness, according to Blake. Eventually, Wild Aid would like to see universal adoption of TEDs, as bycatch is a significant problem and ending this problem would be “instrumental in bringing them back from the brink” in Chinese waters, Blake said.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State

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