Northern shrimp, coldwater prawns, pink shrimp — whatever Pandalus borealis is called in a given market, it is one of the few major commercial species where the problem is not supply. Right now, the resource, especially in the Northwest Atlantic, is strong and appears to be building.

That’s the good news for shrimp producers in the U.S. and Canada.

The bad news is that prices are low. The biggest problem for coldwater shrimp is warmwater shrimp — the largest-selling seafood commodity in the U.S.

The supply of various varieties of large, warmwater farmed shrimp and the low prices caused by this huge worldwide supply, keeps prices of all varieties of wild-caught shrimp low. In recent years, farmed shrimp has attracted consumers who never ate shrimp, and it is making inroads into traditional markets for coldwater shrimp as well.

“The E.U. [European Union] consumes up to 75 percent of the world supply of peeled coldwater shrimp,” where shrimp are known as prawns, said Gerry Donovan, director of shrimp marketing for the Barry Group, Inc. of Newfoundland. “The U.K. consumes 50 percent of that and it’s a very demanding market.” The Barry Group sells 85 percent of its shrimp into the European market, cooked and peeled — mostly to the UK and the Scandinavian countries.

Coldwater shrimp, smaller and more delicate, than the warmwater varieties “don’t lend themselves to further processing,” said Donovan.

“Warmwater shrimp is marketed in the U.K. as `King Prawn’,” said John Norton, president of Cozy Harbor Seafood of Portland. Like many Pandalus suppliers, his biggest export market is the U.K. But consumption in the world’s biggest market has been dropping gradually in the past few years as warmwater shrimp imports increase and last year in the U.K., he said, sales were off by 15 percent.

“The consumer sees `King Prawn’ as something exciting and new,” said Norton. “Consumption is not growing in the U.K. Most of it is now sold `under promotion’ in retail – in bags as BOGOFs – Buy One, Get One Free,” explained Mike Hawco, direction of international sales for Fishery Products International Ltd. in Newfoundland.

If the worldwide coldwater shrimp industry totals around one billion pounds and Canada harvests around 100 million of those pounds, Maine’s industry is a blip on the radar at around 8 to 10 million pounds. However, while the entire New England contribution to the overall Pandalus harvest is small, the product is bigger and better-tasting, said Norton, and it’s not just his opinion. “We’re promoting high-quality, good flavor, texture and succulence,” said Norton. “There is a difference. Ours grow faster and don’t live as long (around five years) and they grow bigger. It could be environmental. But the food supply in the Gulf of Maine is rich and the type of feed the shrimp get gives them a different flavor.”

Sizes really are different. Maine’s counts average around 90-120 per pound, while shrimp from the Gulf of St. Lawrence might average 125-175. Newfoundland’s range in size from 150-250, but the Scandinavian shrimp start at 250 and can go all the way up to 800-plus per pound, the larger size making Canadian and U.S. Canadian product attractive to consumers.

Hawco agrees it’s more difficult to further process the delicate shrimp. “Coldwater shrimp doesn’t lend itself to traditional value-added treatment because it’s already cooked and doesn’t cook well again, which means it’s not in the same range as warmwater shrimp. Most of what we do is bulk — our 2.5- and 5-lb. packs.”

“Coldwater shrimp doesn’t lend itself to heated applications,” agreed Donovan. In Northern Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, a lot of product goes into brine shrimp, which holds up only for six to eight weeks. The prawn cocktails popular in the U.K., using a light mayonnaise dressing, have a short shelf life.

“The big, warmwater shrimp are easy to cook because they’re not as sensitive as Pandalus so they work well with a variety of cooking methods. They’re versatile,” said Norton.

Another challenge for coldwater shrimp producers are the tariffs levied by its biggest consumers — the E.U., which levies a 20 percent tariff on shrimp imports from Canada and the U.S. “Since 1999, they have allowed a certain quantity to come in at 6 percent, if it’s going to further processing,” said Donovan.

Pandalus borealis are very sensitive to water temperatures, which accounts in part for the large fluctuations in stocks. This year’s harvest still shows good size and volumes are fairly high “but because of the warm water temperatures, the shrimp moved inshore late,” said Norton. The average Maine shrimp counts are smaller this year than last, when the bulk of the catch was 4- and 5-year-old shrimp. This year it’s mostly comprised of a very large 3-year-old year class, said Norton. “The quality is still excellent. The day boat fishery we have in Maine produces and excellent quality shrimp no matter what size they are.” More boats are fishing and more buyers are buying this year during the longest season in many years, 151 days. q