The following letter was sent to IntraFish by fisherman Jeremy Zirlott, in response to the article: Tom Mazzetta: Instead of erecting trade barriers, the US shrimp sector should invest in itself
I just read your letter in response to the domestic shrimp industry trade action. I'm going to attempt to open your eyes to some facts concerning the global shrimp market.
First, I would like to give you a little background.
I come from a fishing family. Every generation of my family, both sides, have been dependent on commercial fishing going back over 150 years.
Many times, they struggled for a mere existence. But exist they did and were able to raise families because of the availability and marketability of the seafood they produced. My ancestors were good, honest, God-fearing, hard-working people, and I am proud of that heritage.
I followed their lead in fishing, and after spending many years at sea, I now own and operate a small fleet of shrimp trawlers based out of Bayou La Batre Alabama. I also have a wholesale distribution business that purchases and markets our unique Gulf of Mexico shrimp.
As to your insinuation that the Gulf shrimp industry has not invested, branded and marketed, you are completely off key.
Every domestic shrimp business remaining in the industry today depends on a niche. Even the largest processors have depended on their niche marketing efforts until the flood of imports turned our world upside down.
My niche is a process of packing shrimp at sea. The market is very small and limited, though I was still able to continue slow business growth despite foreign competition. That is until 2021. Since then, growth has been halted, inventories continue to increase, vessel maintenance has to be postponed, and profits are basically nonexistent.
You also stated that the "federal government essentially subsidizes domestic shrimp producers."
I can assure you that my business has not received a direct subsidy. No other domestic shrimp producer that I know has either. If you are talking about the USDA purchases, then let us also take into account the billions of dollars that World Bank has poured into foreign shrimp production over the last 50 years. Much of which comes directly from US Treasury. USDA domestic shrimp purchases pale in comparison.
These World Bank "loans," many which are never repaid, continue to present day. The loans go back to the early 1980s or before and are intended to ramp up foreign shrimp production, which directly coincides with the slow, continued decline of profitability of domestic shrimp industry over the last decades. Without our niches, we would have been long gone.
Present goals of World Bank and United Nations call for massively increasing funding for aquaculture while condemning wild-capture fisheries. This despite a global glut in the shrimp market.
Read the conclusion of a Wilson Institute article about the World Bank's Blue Economy goals: "The commercial fishing industry, dominated in most of the world (and the High Seas) by large industrial operations, has provided tremendous amounts of seafood to consumers for decades, but with tremendous environmental costs. New and expanding Blue Economy sectors—sustainable aquaculture, cultivated seafood, and plant-based seafood alternatives—have the potential to dramatically increase seafood production while easing (or even completely removing) pressure on wild species and sensitive marine ecosystems, while reducing the overall climate footprint of the seafood sector. The question is not so much ‘if’ but ‘when’ these sectors will mature and capture significant market share; the more the global community can do to accelerate these sectors the greater the benefits to the ocean and human health."
Is this the "even competition' or " free market" that you speak of? Where do these efforts described above leave us in the domestic shrimp business?
Every vessel owner and processor that relies strictly on domestic shrimp production is questioning the ability to remain in business.
Year over year, the number of producers has been in decline and the current shrimp market will ensure many more business go by the wayside.
Foreign imports, much of which have been developed and funded by the "global community" is the driving force behind this decline.
Once we are gone, these vessels and infrastructure will never return, bringing an unjust end to the strong family heritage that many of us enjoy. That seems to be the goals set forth by the powers that be.