Mexican shrimp importers’ excitement over lifting of US embargo tempered by low catch totals
Mexican shrimp traders are still awaiting confirmation of the end of a U.S. embargo, but are now dealing with catch totals falling off by as much as 50 percent.
On 19 October, the Mexican government announced the United States would lift its ban on wild-caught shrimp from Mexico, which had been enacted due to a slippage in the use of turtle-excluder devices onboard Mexican shrimpers. However, as of Wednesday, 27 October, official notice of the embargo’s end had not yet been published in the U.S. Federal Register, meaning the embargo remains in place.
Executives with three of the largest traders of Mexican shrimp each confirmed they had heard the embargo would be lifted, and outlined the positive impact the decision will have on their companies. But they also expressed concern about remarkably low catch totals around one month into the new fishing season.
Francisco Coppel Garcia, the chief operations officer for Sinaloa, Mexico-based Del Pacifico Seafoods, said the lifting of the embargo was “good news” for his company.
“The lifting of the ban is important because [it] will [allow us to] start exporting our shrimp to the U.S.A., where we have strong strategic programs in both foodservice and retail markets,” Coppel Garcia wrote in an email to SeafoodSource. “However, we are waiting for the official U.S.A. government authorization in order to cross our shipments into the U.S.A.”
Coppel Garcia said Del Pacifico continued its regular procurement effort through the embargo, which was put in place in May 2021, though he said there were some supply-chain issues through the summer.
“We did experience a delay as a result with some of our customers due to the ban, but fortunately we were able to return to business again. From our side, the ban allowed us to develop new international markets in addition to strengthening and developing new sustainability programs,” he said. “Our commitment to our sector is clear and this time allowed us to support our artisanal fishery despite the embargo. This commitment and effort helped us become the main source of Mexican wild blue shrimp (Litopenaeus stylirostris).”
Bruce Beagle, the owner of South Pasadena, California, U.S.A.-based Amende & Schultz, the U.S. distributor for the Promarmex’s Mexican Shrimp Paradise brand, said importers had gotten word the embargo would be put in place in advance and so “a lot of product came north” before it went into effect.
“Last season was a blessing and a curse,” he told SeafoodSource. “Product was short, but primarily because of COVID rather than the embargo. The embargo came after the season and our production was pretty much complete. But when the foodservice industry shut down, our sales basically stopped. Then what happened was the retail sector picked up and our retail partners started asking for wild-caught Mexican shrimp. I think that they had so much protein flying off the shelves, they were looking for anything. Then when restrictions on dining began loosening, shrimp became a hot commodity there and [foodservice] sales were fairly brisk through summer and fall.”
After the lucrative summer, “inventories are running dry,” Beagle said.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for it at this point, so we’re anxious to see the embargo lifted – we would have hoped it would be done by now,” he said. “As you can imagine, a lot of people are anxious to get it up here. Our feeling is we would like to get that done because we believe we’ll be able to turn it over rapidly.”
But Beagle said he’s concerned about initial reports out of the Pacific shrimp fishery, which had a staggered start between the middle and end of September.
“Early reports are that the catch is medium to poor, but it’s early.” Beagle said. “I’ve heard pangas had a relatively poor season, and there has been a lot of competition in Mazatlán looking for product, which is fairly unusual to see.”
Beagle said the industrial fleet is still returning from its first campaign and he’s hoping for better news from his suppliers, as the first campaign usually supplies the biggest catch volume, he said.
“Everybody is low on inventory and there’s a fair amount of demand. People are getting anxious because we think sales will be brisk and prices will be higher than in the past year or two,” he said. “Frankly, I’m surprised prices didn’t jump higher last year because sales were so brisk. I thought Mexican shrimp was a good relative value through the pandemic, all things considered. But I think prices will start higher [once the embargo lifts].”
Beagle said his plan is to “just read and react how the market goes.”
Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.A.-based Eastern Fish President and CEO Eric Bloom said the U.S. embargo hasn’t had much of an impact on Eastern Fish.
“It has happened before, but the [Mexican] government has always managed to [get reauthorized] as the season opened. It means a later start, but from a financial standpoint, it’s not a huge deal.”
Bloom said he was more concerned that the catch in Mexico has thus far been “really light,” though he’s “heard signs it’s maybe improving.”
“I’m not sure whether it’s the environment or any other factors, like migration pattens or other things we don’t really know about,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s been overfished – I believe the fishery management is by and large pretty solid.”
Asked whether he was concerned, Bloom said, “I’m always concerned.”
“I always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “In a wild fishery, that’s all you can do.”
Photo courtesy of Amende & Schultz