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Dec 3, 2013 3:31 PM by Nathan O'Neal

UA researchers discover disease causing global shrimp shortage

TUCSON – A research team at the University of Arizona discovered a new strand of a disease that is killing off shrimp throughout the world’s largest shrimp farms.

The team is now poised to lead the world in coming up with a cure.

Shrimp has become quite expensive, by some estimates, costing the industry to lose about $2 billion over the last few years.

The new strand of bacteria causes a disease known as Early Mortality Syndrome which has affected shrimp farms throughout Asia and continues to spread globally.

Cirilo Preciado an owner of Mariscos Chihuahua, which serves seafood on a regular basis, knows first-hand the effects of the shrimp shortage, noticing an increase in pricing.

“I would say in the last couple of years, we’ve seen a 30 to 40 percent increase,” Preciado said.

Researchers at the UA said that supply shortage is a direct result of a new strain of bacteria that causes the shrimp to die early.

“It seems to have come originally from the shrimp farming industry in China,” said Kevin Fitzsimmons, the Director of the Office of International Agricultural Programs at the UA.

The problem, Fitzsimmons said, comes from the shrimp living in ‘too clean’ of an environment, which makes them prone to the disease.

The solution? To introduce healthy bacteria to balance things out, Fitzsimmons said.

“It’s just like people eating yogurt to get the right kinds of bacteria, we’re kind of realizing that we have to do this with shrimp as well,” Fitzsimmons told News 4 Tucson.

For now the research team will continue to explore options to find a cure while seafood restaurants cope with the shortage and the pricing fallout.

“If this keeps up we’re probably going to have to raise our prices a bit but right now we’re still holding,” Preciado said.

Several UA scientists are traveling to Vietnam this week to share their findings on what is killing the shrimp and possible solutions.

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