Prawn (or Shrimp?) Prices on the Rise in the US

Spend Matters welcomes another guest post from Nick Peksa of Mintec.

When I am on business in America, I encounter plenty of cultural differences, but one that always amuses me is the fact that some of the terminology I use on a day-to-day basis is so different. I have a complete glossary of these terms back in the office. However, I have picked out a few of my favourites below.

UK word US translation
Aubergine Eggplant
Biscuit Cookie
Caster sugar Super fine sugar
Chips French fries/fries
Courgette/Marrow Zucchini
Crisps Chips
Maize Corn
Petrol Gasoline
Prawns Shrimp
Rapeseed Canola


The most confusing one has to be shrimp and the whole family of decapods surrounding it. Shrimp is a general term for a decapod, and in US terminology a shrimp is a prawn. However, a warm water prawn in the UK is a shrimp. So when we move onto looking at Norwegian lobsters, which should also be shrimp, we call them langoustine or scampi.  So to cut a long story short - when I am talking about shrimp below– I am generalising around all warm water shrimp (prawns): tiger prawns, brown-legged prawns and white-legged prawns.

US shrimp prices have increased steeply since the end of last year as disease decimated production in South East Asia and led to a sharp drop in world supplies.


In the US, shrimp consumption each year reaches around 600,000 tons with total domestic production accounting for less than 10% of consumption. As a result, the US must rely on imports from other origins to meet demand.

In 2012, total US shrimp imports fell by 8% year-on-year to 533,500 tons. Shipments from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Malaysia all fell as production was harmed by a shrimp disease known as Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS). Production in Thailand, the largest supplier of shrimp to the US, was down 8%, while exports to the US dropped a significant 27% to 135,600 tons.

The disease has continued to affect Thailand’s production this year, most notably in the east of the country. Thai production is expected to decline by a further 30% year-on-year in 2013, and Thai shipments to the US have already been affected, falling by 21% year-on-year in Q1 2013 to 23,800 tons.

EMS is a disease that usually affects newly stocked ponds, where it leads to widespread losses within 30 days of stocking. Some ponds are reported to have been completely lost. The cause of EMS remained a mystery until recently, when the bacterium responsible for the disease was discovered.

As the pathogen causing EMS has now been revealed, better efforts to combat the disease can be brought in. This should bring the disease under control and allow production to recover. However, this is not likely to be seen until next year at the earliest, and global shrimp supply will remain tight in 2013, possibly maintaining prices close to the current high level for the rest of this year.

The learning here is pretty simple. Prices are going up for shrimp, and if you want to communicate to anyone in the fish markets, always stick to Latin!

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First Voice

  1. william smith:

    When is a prawn a prawn,and a shrimp a shrimp,what is minimum size for a “prawn”?

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