Jeremy Alford

Shrimpers cheer U.S. Customs

by Jeremy Alford

The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has undertaken new efforts to prevent Chinese shrimp producers from evading trade and food safety laws. Louisiana’s shrimp industry, along with those in other southern states, has waged a long-fought battle to curb the illegal dumping of foreign shrimp on the U.S. market that are often below the cost of production.

Unable to compete against the low prices of imports, many shrimpers have been forced out of business. According to the most recent data available, nearly 7,500 fewer shrimping licenses were sold in Louisiana from 2002 to 2005. Fishermen and dealers have increased prices to stay afloat and alternative business methods have been embraced, ranging from frozen products to vending at farmers’ markets. But the same challenges continue to plague the industry.

In response, the U.S. Department of Commerce has issued anti-dumping orders, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has subjected Chinese shrimp to a food safety “Import Alert.” Yet enforcement on both fronts has proven difficult. By transshipping or improperly labeling products, Chinese shrimp have been able to enter the United States with little or no scrutiny and payments that are meant for domestic producers are not being paid.

However, the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection appears to be taking more of an active role, checking and testing shrimp imports at a number of ports around the nation. Officials say the due diligence will be expanded to other U.S. ports as well in coming months. At the port of Los Angeles in October, customs officials stopped more than 30 containers of Chinese shrimp illegally labeled as a product of Indonesia. The FDA refused to allow the shrimp entry because they were believed to be contaminated with banned veterinary drugs, such as nitrofurans.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance, an advocacy group representing shrimping interest in eight state including Louisiana, now finds itself in a unique position – that is cheering the federal government for once, rather than pointing out inadequacies. “(Custom’s) efforts to address unlawful transshipment schemes over the last three years have been exemplary,” says John Williams, executive director of SSA.

But that doesn’t mean the SSA is pleased with the status quo. It’s estimated that upwards to $60 million worth of Chinese shrimp entered the U.S. market in 2005 that were falsely labeled as a product of Indonesia. Additionally, U.S. import data suggests that transshipment of Chinese shrimp through Malaysia continue unabated.

“These schemes are only possible because our laws permit almost anyone to export shrimp products to the United States," says Williams. "U.S laws regulating the importation of shrimp, America’s most popular seafood, should mirror those in place for imports of meat, poultry, and eggs.”