U.S. shrimping still endangered

A shrimp boat returning to Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's in China once again this week. He'll be having the usual conversations about the trade gap and the Chinese currency. He'll be talking about the environment a bit, too.

Separately, a delegation from the Food and Drug Administration is in Bejing. They've been meeting with their Chinese counterparts about escalating worries over food safety.

The FDA has banned the import of certain kinds of Chinese-raised fish, including shrimp. Shrimp, no matter where it comes from, is the most eaten seafood in this country. But the ban on Chinese imports still won't save the American industry.

Bob Jones is the executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association. Mr. Jones, thanks for being with us.

Bob Jones: My pleasure.

Ryssdal: What's the state of play in the domestic shrimp industry now? Are you guys struggling, are you making a comeback, I mean how you doing?

Jones: We're down about 60 percent from where we were 20 years ago. Some of our boats are still getting the same price per pound. There were getting a 19.64, and we are in a survival mode, because we only control . . . only have 8 to 10 percent of the U.S. market. So we're not the main supplier at all.

Ryssdal: You know sir, usually when the U.S. bans imports of something, it's a boost to the domestic industries here. That really won't happen with shrimp, will it?

Jones: No, it never has. We only have 10 percent of the market, and according to the Food and Agricultural organization within the United Nations, the prices of shrimp on the U.S. market are supposed to decline about 4 percent a year in the coming future.

Ryssdal: So if you can't meet the demand, what exactly is it that you're hoping for out of these meetings?

Jones: What we're hoping for is that the food safety, the actual safety of any seafood products that come into the United States, becomes paramount. The main problem is the loss of consumer confidence. If we don't have food — particularly seafood — that's imported from all 150 countries in the world, if there's not consumer confidence, then the sale for seafood will go down. And that'll affect everyone.

Ryssdal: Has the government asked the industries whether it's shrimp or some other kind of seafood, what it is that you would like to see come out of these agreements?

Jones: I've not heard a word, and usual procedures . . . unfortunately we hear a lot of things after the fact — after the deals are done and it's signed.

Ryssdal: If you were at the table, sir, and you could write these agreements, what would they be saying?

Jones: They would say this — they would say that all the containers of seafood that came to this country would be inspected and verified in China before they came here. And that we had some type of tracking system from the water to the final consumer on all the seafood.

Ryssdal: Who's gonna pay for all that, sir?

Jones: Well, there's some things that the government should pay for. They should fight the wars, deliver the mail and make sure that our food is safe. If there has to be fees involved, then all industry participants, they could come up — the FDA, the Congress is not funded it adequately for years, in our opinion. And that's part of the problem, because we don't have the number of inspections, and people on the ground in foreign countries on the behalf of the American consumer.

Ryssdal: Bob Jones is the executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association. Mr. Jones, thanks so much for your time.

Jones: My pleasure.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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