Oil spill helps drive up shrimp prices

A worker shows off shrimp fresh from the Gulf of Mexico at a seafood retailer in Port Sulfur, La.

When I was growing up and we went out to eat, there was one sure sign it was a fancy place: Shrimp cocktail, in the silver dish with the shaved ice and the sauce and the lemon. And then shrimp farming took off, and shrimp moved from pricey delicacy to America's favorite seafood. We're up to four pounds a year per person now. Or we have been.

By Gregory Warner

At lunchtime today, at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Diane Mercer was hoping to buy a half pound of cocktail shrimp, the large ones.

"And I just noticed they're 16.99 a pound," Mercer said.

A dollar higher than just two weeks ago.

"And that's what it's about. The price," she said.

When asked what her shrimp alternatives were, she replied with a laugh, "No shrimp!"

Shrimp prices were climbing even before the spill. Last year, disease and bad weather hurt shrimp farms in Asia. But now, it's the domestic shrimp in short supply. Wholesale prices are up more than 40 percent. The oil spill has shut down a third of fisheries in the Gulf.

"The remaining two-thirds is not yet closed, but possibly could be closed," said Gil Sylvia, a marine resource economist at Oregon State University.

"So if you're a retailer, you're trying to build up your inventories now," he said.

Big restaurant chains like Red Lobster have locked in contracts with shrimp suppliers for the next 12 months, longer than usual, further driving up prices.

Now, as for your shrimp cocktail, you can still have it. You might pay a bit more for it, but most of that shrimp comes from shrimp farms overseas. The Gulf only supplies an eighth of the shrimp we eat in this country, but it supplies three-quarters of wild-caught shrimp.

Glen Libby has been shrimping for 35 years in a much tinier wild shrimp industry in Port Clyde, Maine, where shrimp season starts in winter.

"If we could get a significant jump in price, we could probably get things back on an even keel, and maybe even save some money," Libby said.

Though he hates to benefit off another fisherman's disaster, he says his community could use a boost.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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I am doing a project for a class of mine and I'm doing it on the 2010 oil spill and how it affects not just the fragile marine ecosystems, but the whole United States for that matter. I've learned so much from the actual feedback of citizens posted on the internet, so thank you! Keep the good work on this webpage too!

As a road-side shrimp vendor, the hike in prices has basically put me out of business. The already rise in gas prices, hotel costs - when I travel and now the increase of 40+ percent for product will not allow me to provide a product to the distant smaller communities that do not have shrimp in their home-town grocery store. I am sad to say to those reliable customers - I won't be coming back for some time.

THis past weekend we decided to say "Goodbye" to the fresh seafood from the Gulf Of Mexico and we had a seafood dinner. I bought jumbo shrimp in Pascagoula Mississippi last week at $9.99 per pound. Earlier in the year it was $5.99/lb. Red Snapper was $7.99 per pound. It may be a long time before our waters are safe for sea creatures again.

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