Florida's Shrimp Industry
From Miami, the Moreira family runs an operation that's one of the biggest players in producing, distributing and marketing shrimp coming out of Central and South America.
Moreira's family has been in the shrimp business since 1960. His father, Domingo A. Moreira, ran 25 fried chicken restaurants in Cuba until concerns about Castro led him to move to Guatemala, where he branched out from poultry by buying shrimp boats. Moreira joined his father in business after graduating from Florida Southern College in 1967, and the family, from a South Miami headquarters, exported shrimp from Guatemala and expanded into a broad range of business and political activities.
BIG DEAL:The Moreiras are building margins with value-added products like grill-ready shrimp on bamboo skewers."We don't want to compete on price," says son Domingo A. Moreira (with father Domingo R. Moreira). "The mission is geting highest value on the shrimp possible.
Meanwhile, shrimp was evolving from a luxury item gathered by boat to a commodity harvested from farm ponds. A little more than a decade after the Moreiras got into shrimp farming in 1990, shrimp became America's most-consumed seafood per capita. Today, most of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. -- 4.2 pounds per capita -- is farm-raised, and the Moreiras have become, as producer, marketer and distributor, the largest single source of shrimp coming out of Central and South America.
"I think wild shrimping is probably a dead end sooner or later," Moreira says. "Very few people go out hunting for wild berries anymore." Today, the industry is consolidating. Production is up, but prices to farmers have plummeted -- a pound of imported shrimp sold for 28% less in 2005 than it did in 1996, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. "Shrimp farms are going out of business all over the world," says Bob Rosenberry, editor and publisher of Shrimp News International in San Diego. The industry in Thailand is seeking government aid, he says, and banks no longer will lend to Vietnamese farms.
Moreira isn't immune from the competitive pressures. "It used to be a seller's market," he says. But the lament comes with the confidence of someone who's taken a long view of the business and likes his chances.
In part, the Moreiras are banking that shrimp production will follow the trend line of the poultry business. Years ago, he says, it took his father 80 days to raise a 2.5-pound chicken; now it takes 46 days to raise a five-pound chicken. Poultry mortality before harvest runs 4% to 5%, while shrimp mortality is 35% to 40%. "You're learning every day what makes it grow better quicker so you can turn around and provide more product at a cheaper price," he says.