Walking through the fresh markets and grocery store isles, shrimp are easy to spot in their multiple varieties. They come in many forms, from frozen jumbo, frozen cooked, pre-fried, butterflied, popcorn, cocktail, previously frozen and sometimes if you are in the right place at the right time, fresh never frozen. The price ranges are even more difficult to sort through. You can find deals for as low as $2.99/lb to staggering prices of $29.99/lb and beyond. Here is where you should tread lightly. Prices usually reflect quality, so before you condemn your local fishmonger for gouging and reference the fact that your local grocery store is selling shrimp for a third of his cost, it might be best to take a look at what you are actually paying for.
Shrimp are becoming more and more popular for U.S. consumers as a seafood choice because it is an item that they can afford and recognize. As a seafood choice, shrimp ranks at the top of all seafood sold in the U.S. But not all shrimp are created equal. Most of the imported stuff that you can find 'deals' on is farm raised and comes from India, Vietnam, or China. Taking a look at the conditions of some of these overseas farms, you might want to reconsider what kind of deal you are getting when you purchase imported farmed shrimp.
Lets begin as if we are going to prepare one these shrimp ponds for harvest. To prepare an area for becoming a shrimp pond you have to first spread urea and superphosphate to encourage plankton growth. Next, the pond must be filled with brackish water, in many cases the source of this water can be questionable to say the least. Sometimes it's a nearby creek, sometimes it's from an area that is laden with industrial pollution. Your solution is going to be the closest available water source, not necessarily the fittest. After the water level is where it needs to be, diesel fuel is usually poured into the pond to kill off insect larvae. The water is then treated with a piscicide, basically an aquatic poison that eliminates the shrimps natural competitors. Congratulations, your shrimp are now ready to be grown, but don't forget to continue the addition of pesticides, piscicides, and of course antibiotics during the grow-out process. Antibiotics are necessary to keep your shrimp alive long enough to harvest. Especially dangerous, some of the chemicals that are used to grow shrimp have been linked to Parkinson's disease, dermatitis, and cancer. Most companies will claim that their shrimp are chemical and antibiotic free, but it has become a common habit to halt the addition of chemicals weeks before harvest so that they will not show in tests that are required after harvest.
After 6 months your shrimp are ready to be harvested. Now the pond will be drained and the shrimp will be stuck in the mud at the bottom, in the chemical soup that you have slowly created over the past few months. Here is where you will pay slave wages to poor young personnel to collect the squirming shrimp. Not through just yet, before the shrimp are processed and shipped they usually are soaked in sodium tripolyphosphate - a suspected neurotoxicant - to prevent the shrimp from drying out. In some cases borax and caustic soda are used for color retention. This is your popcorn shrimp. This is where your affordable farmed shrimp, the all you can eat shrimp, the endless shrimp - these are the conditions in which they are grown and harvested.
There are options though. Usually wild shrimp from domestic waters are the best. Fresh wild shrimp are even better, the less processed your shrimp are, the better. Maine shrimp, fresh NC shrimp, Texas shrimp, Oregon pinks, Florida Rock shrimp are just a few options. Your are most likely going to have to pay a little more for these options. When choosing shrimp, or any seafood for that matter, you will in most cases get what you pay for. There are many different products out there at many different price points. Just remember that what you get in that deal, your body might be paying for it.