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Chinese shrimp exports to USA could surge if TED-inspired environmental lawsuit wins.

Exports of frozen shrimp from China to the United States continue to be strong. According to the US Commerce Department, roughly $1.9 billion worth of the popular shellfish was imported from global suppliers last year -- of which one-sixth came from China.

"China has basically become a major factor in the American market during the last five years," said Richard Gutting of the National Fisheries Institute. "It could shortly become number one."

When it comes to shrimp farming, the Chinese have the advantages of cheap labor and abundant land, Gutting said. And climate in some regions of the huge country is ideal for farming the white shrimp which many consumers prefer over the larger, black tiger variety successfully farmed in Southeast Asia.

China may also be about to receive a great windfall since it would be exempt from a possible decision to ban imports into the USA of shrimp caught with nets that kill endangered sea turtles. As many as 44,000 turtles are killed every year by shrimpers, according to a 1990 Academy of Sciences study.

If a lawsuit by the Earth Island Institute in California against the US government is successful, turtle-safety requirements could be required on all shrimp products imported into the USA sourced from trawler operations based in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Malaysia, Brazil, South Korea and Japan.

Compliance with turtle safety requirements does not come cheap to struggling fishermen. The Texas Shrimp Association estimates that turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) have cost American trawler operators up to $35,000 per boat in annual yield losses as a lot of shrimp escape their nets along with turtles.

The lawsuit, initially rejected by a Federal District Court, is currently being decided by the Ninth Circuit Court. If it is overturned, one of the biggest beneficiaries would be China, whose shrimp sales to the USA could surge dramatically once other supplies are locked out.

Whether or not the decision on turtle-safe shrimp turns against trawling countries, China's aquacultural approach seems set to pay off for some time into the future. In fact, said Deborah Crouse of the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington, in the long run, turtle exclusion devices are not as much of a threat to shrimp trawler operators as are shrimp farms in China and elsewhere. Trawlers do not achieve the same yield and quality that aquaculture techniques can guarantee.

At the same time, according to the NFI's Gutting, China's aquaculture methods are more productive in the long run than intensive methods developed by Taiwan and used by the majority of countries in the Pacific Rim. Taiwan's experience shows the drawbacks of such farming: while the technique uses less land than other methods, it loses yield after a few years because the water becomes polluted. Taiwan's impressive growth in shrimp production six years ago has been followed by a steep drop more recently.

And yet there have been drawbacks to China's aquaculture program as well. There is evidence that some farmers have been using antibiotics on their shrimp to ensure good health. According to Al Montgomery of the Food and Drug Administration, so far only one shipment of Chinese shrimp has been stopped because of antibiotics, and on-site inspections will be conducted in China by an FDA team visiting Thailand.

By using its natural advantages to good effect, China's shrimp industry has achieved remarkable growth in a few years. Although turnover declined sharply in 1991 from a peak of $353 million in 1990, it rose in 1992 and is expected to rise again this year. Even without a ban on some of its competitors, China can be expected to gain a stronger hold on the US shrimp market in the coming years.

Shrimp on Conference Agenda

A World Shrimp Seminar is one of the programs on the agenda of the International Seafood Conference in Bangkok Nov. 28-Dec. 2.

Set for Monday, Nov. 29, the seminar will cover such topics as the outlook for major markets, progress in aquaculture, the world shrimp supply and the Thai shrimp industry. Other sessions will cover groundfish and additional topics.
COPYRIGHT 1993 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Title Annotation:turtle exclusion devices
Author:Kupperman, Charles
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:679
Previous Article:Tuna, shrimp top favorites in USA; pollock and salmon rise in popularity.
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