A review of the market structure of the Louisiana oyster industry: a microcosm of the United States oyster industry.
KEY WORDS: oyster, distribution, Louisiana, market structure, value-added products
The eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, also known as the American oyster, is the principal oyster species being cultivated in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast. In the early 1800s, Louisiana's first commercial oyster operations began in the estuaries near the present Mississippi River Delta. In the mid 1800s, immigrant fishermen realized that high-quality oysters could be produced by transferring small "seed" oysters from the natural reefs near the delta to bedding grounds closer to the Gulf of Mexico. These higher salinity areas did not support substantial natural populations due to high predation, but were excellent for fattening and growth of transplanted seed (Perret & Chatty 1988).
By the turn of the 20th century, Louisiana's oyster-producing areas had been divided into public seed grounds (most productive natural reefs) and private bedding grounds. Public reefs are opened each year in the fall and winter both for collection of seed oysters and harvesting of market oysters. Much of the remaining oyster-producing areas were made available for private leasing. Thus, the basic organization of the Louisiana oyster fishery was established. The state supplied the seed oysters, and the private leaseholders would transfer the seed to their leases for growth to market size. This growout of transplanted seed is a type of oyster production known as on-bottom or extensive culture and is the typical method of farming oysters in the United States today (Supan 2002).
In many ways, the Louisiana oyster industry can be viewed as a microcosm of the entire United States oyster industry, with comparable production and marketing challenges and opportunities. In the last decade, changes in oyster habitat, production technology, concerns over shellfish safety, and government regulations have seriously affected the oyster industry in Louisiana and throughout the United States. High production costs are restricting expansion by established culturists and serving as barriers to entry into the industry. Land for shore-side facilities is in demand by housing, recreational, and manufacturing companies, which can pay premium prices to obtain choice sites. Many coastal activities and competing uses for areas suitable for oyster culture are not compatible with oyster growout procedures.
Determining market characteristics including sale, distribution, and preferred product forms was identified as a major research need by the Gulf Oyster Industry Program (Supan 2000). This report was constructed in an effort to fill this research void, and reports the results of a review of the Louisiana oyster industry's market structure. The analysis identifies and assesses industry size and value, product lines, market structure, distribution, and distribution channels. Key facets of the Louisiana oyster industry are also compared and contrasted with other major oyster-producing states.
INDUSTRY SIZE AND VALUE
World oyster production has increased 10-fold in the last 50 years. In 1950, the United States accounted for 80% of the world oyster supply. By 2000, the United States market share had fallen to only 6%, although the United States landings have remained relatively constant during that time. Figure 1 shows the United States and world oyster landings from 1950 to 2000. The oyster market is currently dominated by China, which supplied 77% of the world's oysters in 2000 (Food and Agricultural Organization 2002).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
In 2001, the United States oyster landings totaled 14,800 metric tons (32.7 million pounds) of meat at a value of $80.9 million (National Marine Fisheries Service 2002a). Figure 2 depicts the United States oyster landings and dockside prices, both nominal and real (in 1996 dollars) from 1974 to 2001 (US Department of Labor 2003). Oyster landings remained relatively steady during this time period; values generally increased until about 1994, after which they tended to decrease. Because nominal prices seem to have increased dramatically across the period, real prices have remained stable. There is a significant negative correlation between the United States commercial oyster landings and real dockside value (Pearson correlation coefficient = -0.418, P < 0.05).
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Louisiana currently enjoys the highest annual oyster production, by weight, among all states in the nation, with annual landings generally in the 4,500-5,900 metric ton (10-13 million pound) range. Figure 3 shows eastern oyster landings in Louisiana from 1950 to 2001. As the current production leader, Louisiana contributes significantly to the Gulf and United States supply. During the 5-year period from 1997 to 2001, Louisiana contributed 54% of the total oyster landings in the Gulf Region. At the national level, Louisiana averaged 32% of the total landings during the same 5-year period. In 2001, Louisiana provided 37% of the United States' oyster production with 6,000 metric tons (13.2 million pounds) of meat (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 2002). Over 1,100 Louisiana producers used 170,000 hectares (420,000 acres) to produce over 77,000 metric tons (170 million pounds or 1.7 million sacks) of oysters in 2001 (Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service 2002). In February 2003, there were over 8,500 active oyster leases in Louisiana covering more than 166,000 hectares (409,000 acres) of leased water bottom (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 2003).
The value of Louisiana's oyster industry has been trending upward. Averaging just over $6.0 million annually during 1961 to 1966, the Louisiana oyster industry reported a farm value of $20.7 million in 2001 (Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service 2002). Although some of the increase was due to inflation, much of the increase in value resulted from an increase in production and price. The significant, and continuing, decline in the United States and, especially, Chesapeake Bay oyster production since 1981 may have expanded demand for Louisiana oysters. This decline in the United States production is believed to have had a positive influence on Louisiana dockside oyster prices. However, there is evidence that the demand for oysters dramatically declined during the late 1980s and early 1990s, possibly as a result of consumer concerns over product contamination, health, and nutrition (Lipton & Kirkley 1994).
PRODUCT LINES AND PROCESSING
The number of different types of oyster products being produced throughout the United States from the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, has declined from 15 unique products in the 1970s to only 6 products in 1991. Products include counter stock half-shell oysters (unprocessed), fresh raw shucked oysters, breaded oysters, canned stews, canned oysters and smoked oysters (Lipton & Kirkley 1994). Oysters currently produced in Louisiana fall under 2 product classifications: raw shucked, and counter stock sold in the shell. Production is largely raw shucked oysters. Counter stock oysters are those of the highest grade, the most carefully cultivated that are served on the half-shell at restaurants and oyster counters.
In the United States, processed eastern oysters are almost exclusively fresh, raw product. From 1970 to 1990, the percentage of oysters processed as fresh, raw shucked product increased from 76% to 92%. The only other significant processed oyster product is breaded oysters, which are available fresh or frozen, either raw or cooked. Breaded oyster production fell by one-half from 1970 to 1990, down to less than 726 metric tons (1.6 million pounds). Production of canned oysters and oyster stews from eastern oysters had virtually disappeared by 1990. Stews are increasingly being made with imported oysters. Only one firm reported processing smoked eastern oysters in 1990 (Lipton & Kirkley 1994).
Because Louisiana accounts for about half the annual Gulf region oyster harvest, oyster processing activities in the state are generally well below 50% of the Gulf region total and appear to be declining. Louisiana's share of the Gulf region oyster processing activity has fallen from 38.5% by value during 1971 to 1975 to only 28% by value during the 1981 to 1985 period. No further value-added processing activities beyond shucking, such as breading, were conducted by the 30 Louisiana first buyers interviewed by Keithly and Roberts (1988). An examination of the Thomas Food Industry Register (1995 edition) identified few oyster processors in Louisiana. Only nine companies processed fresh, canned, or frozen oysters. Three companies were involved with private label manufacturing. No Louisiana companies were identified as producing breaded oysters, stew, or chowder.
Keithly and Roberts (1988) offered 3 possible explanations for Louisiana's small and declining share of Gulf region oyster processing activities. First, much of Louisiana's harvest leaves the state to be processed in other Gulf states. Second, "though Louisiana oyster companies do conduct primary processing activities (i.e., the shucking of oysters), they perform very little additional value-added services, such as the breading of oysters." Finally, the declining share could reflect the demise of the Louisiana oyster canning business, which had disappeared by the early 1980s, a victim of canned oyster import competition from South Korea and Japan.
Retail Consumer Products
Five supermarkets in Baton Rouge, Louisiana were surveyed in October 1997, during the oyster season, to identify value-added processed oyster products readily available to consumers. Four of the stores represented large supermarket chains that had extensive fresh and frozen seafood departments, and offered a wide assortment of value-added seafood products. The fifth supermarket was a locally owned, independent supermarket. Oysters were available in 4 product forms: fresh shucked, canned whole, canned smoked, and canned oyster stew. Five Louisiana brands of fresh, refrigerated shucked oysters, packaged ungraded in several different sizes of plastic containers, were readily available in 4 of the 5 stores. One store offered a brand of Washington State farm-raised fresh oysters. Four brands of canned whole oysters were identified, 2 from California companies, 1 from a New Jersey company, and 1 from a Louisiana company. However, the canned oysters from 3 brands, including the Louisiana brand, were products of Korea. A similar situation exists with smoked oysters, which were available from 6 companies. The products from 5 of the 6 companies, including the Louisiana company, originated in Korea. Only 2 brands of canned oyster stew were identified. One of the stews contained Pacific oysters, whereas the source of the oysters in the other stew was not identified.
The absence of local, further processed oyster products in Louisiana supermarkets mirrors the situation in the Mid-Atlantic states. In March 1999, during the Mid-Atlantic oyster season, three supermarkets in the Newark, Delaware area were inspected to identify local and value-added oyster products. Two of the supermarkets are national chains, and the third is part of a large regional supermarket chain. The results were virtually identical to the situation in the Louisiana supermarkets. The fresh, shucked oysters were harvested locally from surrounding Mid-Atlantic states. No other locally produced value-added oyster products were identified. All value-added oyster products, primarily whole canned and smoked canned oysters, were products of Korea or China. Lipton (1999) confirmed the lack of local value-added oyster products in the Mid-Atlantic region. "Oysters are either being sold in the shell or as raw shucked oysters. I haven't seen any local oysters in the value-added market for years."
The market for shucked and half-shell Louisiana oysters is primarily domestic, located in coastal states, and segmented geographically by region. Only three Louisiana companies export oysters outside of the United States. The primary market is Louisiana and the surrounding Gulf states. Additional strong markets exist in the Mid-Atlantic states and the West Coast, to fill excess demand created by declining oyster stocks in those regions.
Dealer Numbers and Behavior
As of May 2003, the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List reported 50 shellstock shippers, 48 shucker-packers, 18 reshippers, and 2 repackers as certified dealers in the Louisiana shellfish industry (Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference 2003). According to the National Marine Fisheries Service Seafood Processor's Survey, the largest four oyster processors in Louisiana represented over 70% of the state's shucked oyster market in 2000 whereas the top 10 processors represented over 91% of the market (Isaacs 2003).
Keithly and Roberts (1988) surveyed 30 primary dealers to document procurement and marketing activities in the Louisiana oyster industry during the 1985 to 1986 season (September 1985 to August 1986). Figure 4 provides an overview of oyster procurement and product form distribution for the 30 dealers. The dealers reported obtaining nearly 55,000 metric tons (120 million pounds or 1.2 million sacks (2)) of oysters from independent oystermen or their own leases. The dealers also secured another 11,000 metric tons (24.7 million pounds or 247,000 sacks) from out of state, primarily Texas, and another 10,600 metric tons (23.3 million pounds or 233,000 sacks) from other Louisiana dealers. The dealers had a total of 77,000 metric tons (170 million pounds or 1.7 million sacks) for processing and/or sale. The majority of the total (60%) was resold as sacked oysters. A small amount (7%) was boxed. The final third were shucked and marketed in various sized containers.
Thirty-five percent of the sacked and boxed oysters were directed to in-state markets, whereas the other 65% was directed to out-of-state markets. The majority of these out-of-state shipments were sacked oysters, which were primarily destined for processing plants in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. The survey results indicated that 30% to 35% of Louisiana's 1985 to 1986 harvest was processed out-of-state. Of the shucked product, 58% was directed toward out-of-state markets, while 42% was sold in-state. An unknown amount of the in-state sales may have left Louisiana through secondary outlets and been subject to additional value-added services.
OYSTER MARKET STRUCTURE
According to data from the National Marine Fisheries Service report, Fisheries of the United States, and authors' calculations, total US consumption of oysters was over 26,000 metric tons (58 million pounds) and per capita consumption was 0.09 kg (0.20 pounds) of meat in 2001. Figure 5 depicts the US per capita consumption of oysters from 1971 to 2001. Per capita consumption was highest in 1972 at 0.19 kg (0.42 pounds) of meat, and lowest in 1999 and 2001 at 0.09 kg (0.20 pounds) of meat (National Marine Fisheries Service 2002a). Limited evidence cited by Lipton and Kirkley (1994) suggests that the decline in demand for oysters is a result of health/nutrition concerns, product safety, water pollution, economic fraud (adulterated product), and media publicity.
[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]
There has been extensive publicity about dangers of consuming shellfish, particularly raw molluscan shellfish. In July 2003, a Louisiana court found a restaurant and the State Department of Health liable for the death of a person who ate raw oysters containing Vibrio vulnificus (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services 2003a). On May 1, 2003, the state of California imposed an emergency regulation limiting importation of summer harvested Gulf oysters to "only those oysters subjected to post harvest treatments that reduce Vibrio vulnificus to non-detectable levels will be allowed during April through October" (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services 2003b). Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi have challenged this rule, stating that it violates the policies of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference.
Two post harvest treatments designed to combat Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria are currently in use in the Louisiana oyster industry. Ameripure Processing Company, Inc. uses a warm water bath followed by an ice-cold shock bath to reduce the existence of pathogens to undetected levels in raw oysters (Ameripure 2004). No chemicals or irradiation are used. Oysters are sold raw in the shell and must be shucked fresh. The process also reduces aerobic bacteria, which slows the natural rate of spoilage, extending the shelf life of the product (Ameripure 2004).
Motivatit Seafoods, Inc. uses a high-pressure processing technology, Fresher Under Pressure developed by Avure Technologies, Inc. (Motivatit Seafoods Inc. 2004). The oysters are exposed to 45,000 pounds per square inch of pressure for 2 minutes. Much like the Ameripure process, high-pressure treatments reduce harmful bacteria to nondetectable levels and decrease spoilage microorganisms. In addition, when placed under pressure, oysters release their adductor muscle from the valve freeing them from the shell, essentially shucking themselves (Food Engineering 1999). No heat is used in this process.
Determinants of Consumer Behavior
In a nationwide study, Cheng and Capps (1988) found that own price elasticity and household size were generally the key factors in explaining the variation of household expenditures on oysters for at-home consumption. The study measured own-price elasticity of demand, which describes the relationship between price and quantity demanded of a good. They found that own-price elasticity for oysters was statistically significant and had a value of -1.1320. This means that a 1% increase in the price of oysters would decrease the quantity of oysters demanded by -1.1320% (Penson et al. 2002). The Cheng and Capps' study also measured income elasticity of demand, which describes the changes in quantity demanded of a good based on changes in income. They found household income elasticity of oysters was statistically significant and had a positive value of 0.1769, indicating oysters to be a normal good. For normal goods, in this case oysters, large increases in income are required to generate substantial increases in consumption (Penson et al. 2002).
Lin and Milon (1993) used a double-hurdle model to investigate whether the decision to consume oysters (participation decision) has determinants different from the frequency of consumption (consumption decision). A rating scale was used to measure perceptions of 5 food attributes commonly cited as the basis for food choices: safety, taste, nutritional value, freshness, and cost. Taste perceptions were highly significant determinants of oyster participation and frequency decisions. Nutrition perceptions were positive and significant in frequency decisions only. Cost perceptions negatively influenced oyster consumption frequency but did not affect oyster participation. Thus, the decision whether to consume oysters was primarily determined by taste perceptions. Once that decision was made, taste, nutrition, and cost perceptions determined consumption frequency. Of the personal characteristic variables, age, gender, and race were significant in the frequency decision for oysters, but only education was significant for oyster participation, with more educated persons being more likely to consume oysters. A similar study by House et al. (2003) found that concern for product safety did not significantly influence whether participants consumed oysters, but did significantly influence the decision of how frequently oysters were consumed. Twenty-five percent of consumers indicated they ate oysters less frequently due to product safety concerns.
Capps and Lambregts (1991) used scanner data to study the demand for fish and shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, and scallops) products in a Texas retail food firm predominantly catering to high-income customers. Own-price elasticity and seasonality were not statistically significant factors in purchases of oysters. Demand for oysters was affected by advertising. Own-advertisement elasticity (0.059) was positive. Cross-advertisement elasticities for finfish (-0.224) and poultry (0.473) suggested that advertisement space for finfish and poultry influences oyster purchases.
Little is known about the at-home demand for specific forms of oyster products (i.e. canned and stews), demand for away-from-home consumption of oysters, or changes in oyster demand over time. Lipton and Kirkley (1994) evaluated the trends in at-home oyster consumption, comparing data from the 1977/1078 and the 1987/1988 USDA National Food Consumption Survey. They found that the share of oyster purchases represented by each of 3 oyster product types (fresh/frozen shucked oysters, canned smoked or salted oysters, and oyster stew) had changed over the 10-year period. The share of fresh/frozen-shucked oyster had decreased only slightly, from 54% to 50%. The share of canned oysters doubled, from 25% to 50%. The share of oyster stew fell from 21% to 0%. The increasing share of canned oysters, combined with a high price for smoked eastern oysters compared with the Pacific oyster counterpart, led Lipton and Kirkley (1994) to conclude that canned, smoked eastern oysters is one product for which "there appears to be wide open market" for oyster producers.
"The changing socio-demographic and economic structure of the US population, as well as changes in consumer lifestyles, has contributed to the increased popularity of food away from home." Nayga and Capps (1995) measured the effect of socioeconomic factors on the probability of consuming fish and shellfish away from home. The findings generally indicated that older people, people with higher income, people with smaller household sizes, and people on a special diet are more likely to eat fish and shellfish away from home. The study recommended that fish marketers and processors emphasize these factors when formulating marketing strategies designed to promote consumption.
Complements and Substitutes
According to Cheng and Capps (1988), the cross-price elasticity (0.1991) between red meat and oysters suggested that red meat and oysters were gross substitutes. Cross-price elasticity between oysters and poultry was not statistically significant.
Capps and Lambregts (1991) found that, in Texas, cross-price effects for other shellfish (1.21) are positive and statistically significant, supporting the notion that other shellfish species (shrimp, crabs, lobster, and scallops) are substitutes for oysters. Cross-price effects for finfish, pork, poultry, and beef were not significantly different from zero.
The major competitor for Louisiana oysters are oysters produced in other regions of the United States. Oysters are harvested in 18 of the 21 contiguous coastal states. Four species of oysters are presently being cultivated in the United States. Crassostrea virginica, the eastern oyster, is the principal species on the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, and accounts for most US oyster landings. Crassostrea gigas, the Pacific oyster, is the primary culture species on the West Coast and second in volume produced, with approximately 3,600 metric tons (8 million pounds) produced annually (National Marine Fisheries Service 2003). Two species of the genus Ostrea are also cultivated at low levels. Ostrea edulis, the European oyster, is grown in Maine, and Ostrea lurida, the native West Coast Olympia oyster, is the basis for a small industry in the states of Washington and Oregon (Burrell 1985).
The catastrophic decline in natural eastern oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay left the Maryland and Virginia oyster industries in near collapse. Because the main cause of the historical decline is most likely overharvesting, Dermo and MSX, occurrences caused by parasitic protozoa, have essentially wiped out remaining natural stocks and made traditional culture methods in the region unproductive. Figure 6 shows eastern oyster harvests in Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana from 1950 to 2001. In Virginia, oyster production peaked in 1958 with 11,800 metric tons (26 million pounds) and has declined drastically ever since, reporting just over 91 metric tons (0.2 million pounds) in 2001. In Maryland, the harvest peaked in 1954 and again in 1973 with 9,000 metric tons (20 million pounds). The Maryland industry produced 590 metric tons (1.3 million pounds) in 2001 (National Marine Fisheries Service 2003).
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
Other species of bivalves, including clams, mussels, and scallops also compete with Louisiana oysters for market share. The main non-oyster bivalve competitor is the hard clam, Mercenaria mercenaria, which is widely distributed throughout the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal waters, and has long supported a major commercial fishery in the New England and Mid-Atlantic coastal states. US cultured clam output was 4,900 metric tons (10.7 million pounds) in 1999, with a reported value of $42.0 million. On the top ten US seafood list for the last decade, per capita consumption of clams was 0.22 kg (0.49 pounds) in 2000 (Johnson 2001).
Imports and Exports
The United States imports, largely from the Asian region, are principally low-value canned or smoked oysters. Imports were high in 1987 at 23,600 metric tons (52.0 million pounds), however they declined to 12,500 metric tons (27.5 million pounds) by 1990 (Lipton et al. 1992). In 2002, US oyster imports totaled 8,700 metric tons (19.1 million pounds) worth $36.9 million (Economic Research Service 2003). Imports of fresh and frozen oysters accounted for approximately one-third of total oyster imports in 2002, whereas canned oysters accounted for the remaining two-thirds imported for consumption (National Marine Fisheries Service 2002b). The United States exports far fewer oysters than are imported. Oyster exports in 2002 totaled 1,800 metric tons (3.9 million pounds) with a value of $8.7 million (Economic Research Service 2003). The United States oyster exports are comprised of fresh and frozen product; no canned oysters were exported by the United States in 2002 (National Marine Fisheries Service 2002b). Because little of the United States oyster harvest is canned, the degree of competition between imports and Louisiana oysters is debatable. In a survey of United States oyster wholesalers by Lipton and Kirkley (1994), 44% of the Louisiana dealers believed imports posed a problem for increasing domestic sales.
This analysis has identified and explored several key issues that the Louisiana oyster industry must confront and solve to assure future industry growth and success. There seems to be room for expansion in the United States and Louisiana oyster-processing sector, especially value-added services such as breaded or smoked oysters. There are now basically only 2 eastern oyster products, whole oysters and fresh-shucked oysters. As oyster production increases through industry revitalization efforts and aquaculture production, new product forms will have to be developed (Lipton & Kirkley 1994). Expansion of the processing sector will generate increased oyster industry revenues through time. Other value-added shellfish products (especially shrimp and clams) have been created for the institutional trade and as convenience items for home use. Specialty products such as soups, stews, and breaded oysters prepared for institutional service would take advantage of the increase in the number of people eating out. Consumer preference studies may provide direction for product development (Supan 2000).
Oyster processors wishing to exploit value-added product opportunities should follow the example of Tallmadge Brothers Inc. of Connecticut, which added to its product line of oysters, clams and shucked meats by investing in a blast freezer and introducing individually quick frozen half-shell oysters and clams on vacuum pack trays. Tallmadge's Marketing Director provided the rationale for the new product introduction by stating that "to penetrate the retail sector we are going to have to find a way to make clams and oysters accessible to today's busy two-income family" (Rheault 1997).
Finally, efforts to combat the market impacts of shellfish contamination, through harvesting regulations and innovations in post harvest treatments, must continue. Studies of consumer attitudes toward different oyster quality assurance processes may shed light on the relative market merits of the different techniques. Oyster quality assurance may very well be the marketing key to restoring consumer confidence in Louisiana oysters.
The authors thank Steve Koplin, Fishery Reporting Specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service; Walter Keithly, Associate Professor at Louisiana State University; Patrick Banks, Martin Bourgeois and Jack Isaacs, Marine Fisheries Division of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; and Kathy Davis, Coordinator of Economic Analysis at the University of Florida for their assistance in producing this report. The authors also thank Chuck Adams, Peter Stoffella, Suzanne Thornsbury, Al Wysocki, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
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* Real dockside value (nominal prices adjusted for inflation) was calculated in real 1996 dollars based on Producer Price Index, Unprocessed and Packaged Fish and Shellfish, US Department of Labor (Series #WPU0223).
* A sack of Louisiana oysters is 0.045 metric tons or 100 pounds (Keithly 2003).
This research was supported by the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, and approved for publication as Journal Series No. R-09928.
FERDINAND F. WIRTH * AND TARA M. MINTON
* Corresponding author. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Food and Resource Economics Department, Indian River Research and Education Center, University of Florida, IFAS, 2199 South Rock Road, Ft. Pierce, Florida 34945