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Local businesses feeling the pain of soaring shrimp prices

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Updated: 9/04/2013 2:58 pm
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Local restaurants are forced to weigh options of hiking up prices after global shrimp supplies plummet amid a disease outbreak in southeast Asia.

Local restaurant owner Laura Barnes makes frequent trips to Restaurant Depot in order to stock her two restaurants. Shrimp is always a tall order.

"We have various dishes with shrimp," said Barnes.

From now on, putting together those dishes will take a big bite out of Barnes' bottom line.
"I had no idea. I even took a picture with my cellphone because I was going to show my suppliers," said Barnes.

Food distributors like Restaurant Depot are feeling the pinch, too. The shrimp shelves in their seafood section have been nearly empty for weeks. Red-colored "out of stock" signs are plastered on freezer doors and warning signs to customers are also visible.

India, China, Vietnam and Thailand have been battling a shrimp disease called early mortality syndrome which is killing off shrimp before they mature. These countries are home to the world's leading shrimp producers that export their goods all around the world, including the United States.

According to University of North Florida economics professor Dr. Paul Mason, because of the massive shortage, wholesale shrimp prices are now approaching $6 per pound.

"If you go to a restaurant to get a pound of shrimp and you're used to paying $9.99 in a restaurant you might be paying $15.99 so they recoup the differential on the cost," said Mason.

But there is some good news. Local shrimp farmers may benefit from this shortage.

"That increases the amount of shrimp that restaurants and consumers will buy that come from the Gulf Coast and other parts of the United States. So they're going to see higher prices for their shrimp than they're used to and presumably make higher profits as a consequence," said Mason.

Food distributors warn customers there is no end in sight. For Barnes that means having to find ways to make up for the loss.

"If it does go up for a long time I'm pretty sure we're going to have to also raise our prices on items that contain shrimp," said Barnes.

According to Restaurant Depot, another reason prices are up is because the U.S. has imposed a higher tax on Ecuador. As a consequence, that country has stopped exporting shrimp to the United States.

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