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IN SEASON

Shrimpy and Getting Shrimpier

November 30, 1995|RUSS PARSONS

Mexico's economic woes are good news for American buffet tables. Among other effects of the peso's plummet is a drop in shrimp prices. Some sizes of shrimp are selling for more than 20% less than this time last year.

"Our wholesale price on large shrimp right now is $4.95 a pound," says John Filose, president of the National Fisheries Institute and vice president of Ocean Garden Products, a seafood wholesaler. "At this time last year, it was $6.40. That's a huge, huge drop."

By the time those shrimp reach the retail markets they'll sell for more than that, but they'll still be a bargain compared to years past. And the slide in price seems to be continuing.

"We've got three kinds of Mexican shrimp, and the price for each of them has gone down a dollar in the last month," says Rene Gonzalez, assistant manager at Santa Monica Seafood.

The decline in price is the result of a number of factors, the peso's fall being one. Ironically, another major reason is the success of Mexico's shrimping industry.

"The peso collapse in Mexico coincided with a huge increase in output," Filose says. "What happened is Mexico switched from being a net consumer of shrimp to a net supplier. Millions of pounds of shrimp that would have stayed in Mexico came to the United States."

On top of that, American shrimpers in Texas, Louisiana and Florida had good summer crops, as did the Ecuadorans. With 22,900 tons of shrimp exported to the United States in 1994, Mexico is the third-leading supplier, after Thailand (80,000 tons in 1994) and Ecuador (48,100 tons).

How low can prices go? Filose hopes they've reached bottom and points to the upcoming holidays as one good reason.

"December and January are justhuge shrimp consumption months," he says. "You've got the NFL games starting to mean something and people eat shrimp on those weekends. You've got the bowl games, you've got the holidays . . ..

"It would appear that prices have reached the level where we're starting to see pretty good movement in the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, Christmas and Hanukkah are not going to be canceled."

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