In 2012, U.S. consumption of shrimp was 3.8 pounds per person, and demand for shrimp has only increased in recent years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shrimp is currently the largest seafood import in the U.S, accounting for 29% of its seafood imports.
But make no mistake, Americans are paying for their voracious appetite of the sea critter.
A disease-related decline in shrimp imports from many top shrimp-producing Asian countries has caused prices to skyrocket. In 2013, businesses and consumers payed higher prices for shrimp in a seafood market with less available product, according to BLS research.
According to reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce, shrimp imports have decreased 4.8% from 2012 to 2013. Nearly 90% of U.S. shrimp imports come from Asian countries, and the shortage of shrimp in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and China is putting upward pressure on U.S. shrimp prices.
Already, many U.S. seafood restaurants have been hurt by the decline in shrimp imports. The restaurant-chain Red Lobster witnessed a nearly 30% increase in the price it payed for shrimp during its first fiscal quarter. Higher shrimp costs helped cause Red Lobsters’s sales to drop 8.8%, according to its parent company Darden Restaurants’ most recent quarterly filing.
Noodles & Company, another popular seafood restaurant, reported similar cost increases due to its shrimp-related menu items. Costs of its shrimp dishes have risen 29% this year.
According to BLS research, the disease behind the shrinking Asian shrimp population is called early mortality syndrome (EMS). The disease is the result of a pathogen that percolates through shrimp ponds and quickly infects infantile shrimps before they have a chance to mature. The close-quartered, small-scale nature of shrimp farming makes ponds easily susceptible to EMS.
Scientists are currently researching how to prevent the spread of EMS in shrimp populations. While analysts don’t expect shrimp demand to subside, there is hope increasing shrimp imports from less disease-ridden countries, such as India, may alleviate supply shortages.