Just days after commercial fishermen accused them of price fixing during a protest at the State Capitol last month, shrimp processors began meeting with members of Louisiana's congressional delegation to tell their side of the story.
Last week, the American Shrimp Processors Association, a nonprofit advocacy group, put their best arguments into a seven-page follow-up with Louisiana's nine-member congressional delegation. "We write to address the underlying market issues causing the current conditions and to clarify some misconceptions and misstatements regarding the role of the shrimp processing industry in this current market," ASPA President Andrew Blanchard wrote.
So far, commercial fishermen have dominated the public debate, drawing statewide press for protests and strikes as they face a 25-percent dip, or more, in prices. U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, has called for congressional hearings, and Gov. Bobby Jindal is asking the Commerce Department and International Trade Commission to investigate. Melancon and Jindal have focused their requests on possible violations of trade practices by foreign countries, although many harvesters say they're more concerned about potential price-fixing among middlemen like brokers and processors. As for how prices got to where they are, the ASPA argues that low demand and a worldwide oversupply of shrimp are forcing prices down, not processors. "Shrimp processors are not engaged in any type of price manipulation, and any suggestion to the contrary is false," Blanchard says. "The worldwide recession has caused demand for luxury items, such as seafood, to drop significantly."
Blanchard closed by noting that the divide being drawn in the industry — harvesters versus processors — will only exacerbate the current challenges. "This is not an easy task and it cannot be achieved by an industry divided by unfounded allegations of price fixing and collusion that only stoke resentment and create an atmosphere of desperation," he wrote. — Jeremy Alford