The next time you sit down to a shrimp po-boy or some crawfish étouffée, you have the right to know if the seafood you’re eating is imported.
Louisiana House Bill 335, passed and signed into law June 19, mandates that restaurants serving foreign shrimp or crawfish post this information on their menus. In the absence of menus, a restaurant must post it on visible signage.
“This was our second attempt to get something like this passed in the last four or five years,” says veteran Louisiana shrimper Lance Nacio, owner of Anna Marie Shrimp Company in Montegut. “It’s time people understood more about what they’re really getting.”
Grocery stores and fish markets are already required to specify the country of origin and whether or not a product is farm-raised or wild-caught, but until now restaurants have escaped such notification. American Shrimp Processors Association Executive Director David Veal says the Louisiana law could be a model for other states.
“There certainly is talk in the trade that this may spread to many of the Gulf Coast and southern Atlantic coast states,” Veal says. “You would be hard pressed to walk into a restaurant and get a straight answer about whether shrimp is domestic or not.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration FishWatch, the United States imports more than 80% of the seafood Americans eat. Top seafood exporters to the U.S., according to NOAA, are China, Thailand, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam and Ecuador. Much of imported seafood is farm-raised, often in crowded conditions as the aquaculture industry tries to meet the world’s growing demand for seafood. The global industry has risen steadily as supply in international waters becomes stagnant due to overfishing.
Popular across the U.S., shrimp is the single largest type of seafood imported. Americans consume 1.5 billion pounds of shrimp a year, with only about 100 million pounds coming from the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Biloxi-based American Shrimp Processors Association.
It makes it almost impossible for American shrimpers to compete on price, says Veal. Government subsidies in foreign countries, along with cheaper labor and less regulation, have depressed the prices for shrimp for years, he says. Gulf of Mexico shrimpers like Nacio and others have been part of a movement that started after Hurricane Katrina to brand their wild-caught American shrimp as higher quality. They’ve been working for years to demand a fair price for a boutique product.
Previous attempts to send a fair trade-type bill through the House Commerce Committee failed, says Rep. Jerry “Truck” Gisclair, D-Larose. Conversely, the recently-passed law speaks to the possibility of foreign seafood carrying health risks, including high levels of veterinary antibodies commonly used in foreign aquaculture.