Battle in the Bay: Part I

You don't have to look far to find sinking shrimp boats in Franklin County. A sign of the times? Perhaps. The problem shrimpers say is foreign competition.

Tim Saunders has been shrimping along the Gulf of Mexico since 1977. He says business was great, but times have changed.

The door to Saunders seafood was designed for wholesale trucks, Saunders says it used to be that there were nine trucks rolling up per month; these days they're lucky to see one. Saunders’ son Timothy grew up working alongside his dad. He says the cheap price of imports is threatening business.

“For our $2-5 [for a] pound [of] shrimp, theirs runs for 88 cents,” says Timothy.

That's a price local seafood wholesalers say is too good to pass up.

‘We have the demand for fresh seafood, if we can't get it out of the Gulf we have to get it somewhere,” says Steve Rash of Water Street Seafood.

Rash has been buying imports for 20 years. In the beginning, 90 percent of his seafood came from the Gulf. Today, less than 50 percent of his fish and shrimp are domestic, as is the case for many retailers.

Eyewitness News looked at three local grocery chains. All sell about 50 percent imported frozen shrimp such as tiger shrimp, and medium white shrimp. All offer pink shrimp frozen and packaged from Key West, and the only fresh shrimp found comes from Mayport near Jacksonville, which begs the question: do you know where your shrimp is coming from?

“They can certainly ask, we want folks to ask where the shrimp is coming from,” says Martin May of the Florida Department of Aquaculture.

Recent statistics show 70 to 80 percent of the shrimp consumed in America is imported, but that's not slowing down Saunders and son.

“A lot of people are saying ‘what are you doing, are you crazy? You're jumping into a sinking boat?’” says Timothy.

But Saunders is resilient, saying the difference is in the taste. Most imports are pond-raised shrimp and lack the nutrients and freshness of Gulf shrimp. Saunders says all it takes is word of mouth by simply asking for Florida fresh seafood so Florida shrimp boats can stay afloat.

Grocery stores do state the origin of the shrimp on each package, but it's written in fine print. Friday night we'll take another look at the seafood industry, this time on the Gulf with oystermen.