Local firms can see positives to blocking Chinese seafood
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A local importer and distributor of seafood says a Food and Drug Administration decision to effectively block the sale of most shrimp and other farm-raised fish from China may have an impact on consumers in the short term.
But in the long run, "the consumer will get a good product," said Sabrina Vaughn, the purchasing manager of Hilo Fish Co.
The FDA put five types of farm-raised seafood from China on an "import alert" yesterday because of contamination from unapproved animal drug and food additives.
The FDA stressed that there is no immediate health threat from the seafood and did not order the products pulled off grocery shelves.
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Hawaii businesses see both opportunities and challenges after the Food and Drug Administration issued an "import alert" on five species of farm-raised seafood from China.
The FDA action effectively blocks the import of farmed shrimp and other fish from China until importers and Chinese farmers can show their products no longer contain antibiotics and other unapproved food supplements.
Brian Goldstein, the chief executive officer of Kona Bay Marine Resources, said his company is already the largest foreign supplier of disease-resistant breeding shrimp to China. "That will create additional demand for us," he said. "The Chinese (and other shrimp-farming countries) will realize, 'We can't just throw these chemicals into the ponds. We've got to have disease-resistant shrimp and that starts with breed stock.' "
Goldstein's company raises its shrimp at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii in Kona and at a farm on Kauai.
On the other side of the Big Island, Hilo Fish Co., a large importer and distributor of fish, is working with its supplier in China so it can resume bringing in frozen fish*.
The FDA action was expected, said Sabrina Vaughn, purchasing manager for Hilo Fish Co.
The company's supplier in China already has been working with the FDA to make sure its products are tested and will be free of contaminants, Vaughn said.
"It (the FDA action) will weed out the bad seeds," she said. Once shipments resume, however, it's uncertain how consumers will react, Vaughn noted.
In the meantime, she expects other fish-producing countries will step up exports.
Foodland spokeswoman Sheryl Toda said the supermarket gets its seafood from a variety of sources and that consumers will have "the same great selection and variety of seafood."
China is the world's leading producer of farm-raised fish. Its shipments to the United States were valued at $1.9 billion last year, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The Oceanic Institute in Waimanalo, which developed the disease-resistant shrimp stock and techniques to raise shrimp without the use of antibiotics and anti-fungal additives, also sees potential opportunities to export its technology.
"The global shrimp aquaculture industry loses billions of dollars a year because of disease," said Shaun Moss, the director of shrimp development at the Oceanic Institute. "The protocols we've developed here at the institute for both fish and shrimp would serve the industry well."
This week, the institute is harvesting a record crop of 9,000 pounds of shrimp produced in a 0.08-acre pond (less than the size of a basketball court) using what Moss called a "biosecure shrimp-farm environment," which minimizes the chance of disease.
Moss visited a shrimp farm in Guangdong province in southern China just three weeks ago. The farm he visited uses technology to eliminate the need for additives.
"They have their act together," he said.
On another visit to Vietnam, however, Moss said he saw towns with pharmacies specifically for shrimp farmers.
"A lot of it (promoting better farming practices) is altering human behavior," Moss said.
Many of the techniques, like minimizing water use and exchange, not overfeeding fish and keeping the environment sterile, are not expensive for fish farmers, he said. "What we rely on here is good animal husbandry."
The New York Times contributed to this report.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
» Hilo Fish Co. sells frozen fish from a supplier in China. A Page A6 article Friday incorrectly reported that the company sells frozen shrimp from China.