US embargo hits Mexican shrimp industry​

The United States has suspended certification of wild-caught Mexican shrimp, preventing producers from export part of their production to the USA. Already financially weakened Mexican shrimp exporters are confident that the decision will be reversed soon, but have concerns about the severe economic consequences.

The US decision was announced on 30th April, following months of inspections conducted among fishing ports at different points along the Mexican coast. The US inspectors identified non-conformities in the turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in dozens of fishing gears inspected at Sonora, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Campeche ports.

According to the National Fishing and Aquaculture Industries Chamber (Canainpesca), in 2020 the Mexican fishing industry exported 25,750 tonnes of shrimp to the US, generating a a total revenue of US$263 million. About 7500 tonnes comprised wild-caught shrimp. The shrimp industry creates 42,000 direct jobs and 400,000 indirect jobs.

Around 30% of Mexico’s shrimp production goes to US markets. Image: Gobierno de Mexico / Alrededor del 30% de la producción de camarones de México se destina a los mercados estadounidenses

‘No fishing boat in Mexico was missing its TEDs. What the US report said is that the inspectors identified technical problems with them,’ Canainpesca’s President Humberto Becerra said.

According to him, the problem is that the Mexican government failed to respond to the US requirements in due time.

‘The government wasn’t able to demonstrate the efficiency of its programme of regulation, inspection and sanctions,’ he stated.

News of the embargo was received with concern by the shrimp fishermen all over Mexico.

The US embargo on Mexican shrimp could hit the industry hard. Image: Francisco Romellon / El embargo de EE.UU. al camarón mexicano podría golpear fuertemente a la industria

‘But we haven’t felt any impact yet, given that we had already exported all stocks and we’re now waiting for the next shrimp season to start in September,’ explained Francisco Romellon, general manager at Productos Pesqueros del Sureste and Canainpesca’s director in Campeche.

He explained that up to 30% of the shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico is exported to the US, where premium-sizes fetch the highest prices possible.

‘Smaller grades go to the domestic market. We’ll have considerable losses if we have to sell big and extra big shrimp to Mexican buyers,’ he added.

Canainpesca and other fishing associations are pressuring the government to act fast and try to restore the Mexican shrimp certification before the beginning of the next season. According to Humberto Becerra, Mexico has had conversations with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Larger grades of shrimp are premium export products. Image: Gobierno de Mexico / Las calidades más grandes de camarón son productos de exportación de primera calidad

‘As soon as all requirements [of the turtle conservation programmes] are again fulfilled, the US inspectors will come back and re-establish our fisheries’ certification,’ he explained.

In a press conference at the beginning of May, Mexican Senator José Narro Céspedes, who leads the House Agriculture, Livestock, Fishing and Rural Development Commission, stated that the Mexican authorities must provide an action plan of sea turtle protection to the US before August. He urged the Mexican government to strengthen its policies to secure the conservation of turtles and the suspension of the embargo.

The Mexican shrimp fleet has been facing difficult times over the past few years and can’t afford any new loss. The segment’s central complaint has been the high price of the Mexican fuel.

‘Fuel prices have been going up since at least 2017. There’s no way of competing with any other country with the costs we have. That’s why many companies have been shutting down,’ Francisco Romellon said.

The Mexican shrimp fleet is already struggling with the high cost of fuel. Image: Francisco Romellon / La flota camaronera mexicana ya tiene problemas con el alto costo del combustible

Humberto Becerra added that about 40% of the shrimp fleet didn’t operate last year.

‘After only three months, the season ended for 70 percent of all boats in Mexico,’ he said, commenting that fuel prices in the country can be more than those in Ecuador, for instance, which is one of Mexico’s main competitors in the U.S. market.

‘The US shrimp fleet also has much cheaper fuel. We can’t compete with it,’ he said.

The shrimp exporters still remember the good old times when they produced Mexico’s second most important source of income, only behind oil.

US inspectors identified non-conformities in (TEDs in dozens of fishing gears inspected in Mexican ports. Image: Francisco Romellon / Los inspectores estadounidenses identificaron no conformidades en (DETs en decenas de artes de pesca inspeccionadas en puertos mexicanos

‘Now most shipowners are in trouble. We’re decapitalised, the banks have cut all credit for the agribusiness,’ Francisco Romellon claimed.

Canainpesca has been in touch with Octavio Aldama, the new head of the National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission (Conapesca), the government agency that deals with fishing issues.

‘He heard our demands and agreed we’re right,’ Francisco Romellon said. ‘We’re hopeful that the President will listen to us and this negative scenerio will be turned around.’