If You Want Good Shrimp, You Might Have to Pay the Price

Fresh never frozen comes at a price

Can we separate shrimp from ethical concerns?

Shrimp is more popular than ever. According to the New York Times, Americans consume nearly four and a half pounds of the stuff per person per year, up from just four pounds a mere five years ago. Thanks to lower prices and increased supply, the shrimp boom is thriving in restaurants, grocery stores and kitchens across the country.

Unfortunately, like most good things, there’s a catch. Americans may love their shrimp more or less unequivocally, but the industry itself is plagued by questions surrounding environmental sustainability, slave labor practices, disease, antibiotics, pollution and other issues related to the fishing and farming practices on which America’s growing shrimp habit hinges.

Fortunately, in the face of these harrowing questions standing between you and your next plate of shrimp scampi, the Times has a few answers to help us become more informed shrimp consumers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out fresh is best. Wild-caught, never frozen shrimp offers peak flavor, health and sustainability. Unfortunately, shrimp that fit this bill are hard to come by these days, especially if you don’t live near a coast. According to the Times, domestic, wild-caught shrimp accounts for less than 10 percent of the shrimp consumed in America, and while coast-dwellers may have access to this premium product in local grocery stores and fish shops, most will still have to pay premium prices. In some areas, chains such as Whole Foods and upscale markets like New York’s Eataly may also carry shrimp of the fresh-never-frozen variety, but it retails at a pricey $14.99 to $18.99 per pound.

Frozen wild shrimp is much more widely available throughout the country, but consumers run the risk of purchasing low-quality shrimp treated with chemicals and often frozen and refrozen several times.

Farmed shrimp has the lowest reputation, and the industry is plagued by stories of slave labor, disease-ridden products, and heavy use of antibiotics. However, the increasing demand for inexpensive shrimp means the shrimp farming industry probably won’t be thinning any time soon. Fortunately, the industry also operates many well-run farms with fair labor practices that produce healthy products.

That said, if you’re looking for the best shrimp the sea has to offer, you’re better off going straight to the source, even if you have to pay the price.

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