Cheap foreign shrimp blamed in plant closure

About 350 Tampa workers will lose jobs.

By Christina Rexrode
Published April 4, 2007

If there's one thing to blame for the closing of Tampa's Singleton Seafood plant, it's foreign shrimp, a union leader said Tuesday.

The plant notified the state on Monday that it will close in May, putting about 350 people out of work. Singleton processes seafood - mostly shrimp - and sells it wholesale.

"I just think it's a sad situation when the American government allows foreign shrimp producers to sell shrimp here at a price lower than they U.S. shrimpers can produce it," said Ed Chambers, president of the chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers based in Lakeland. His union represents some of the Singleton workers who are being laid off.

The company has likewise blamed foreign competition. In the company's notice to the state, Singleton president Dennis Reaves said simply that the plant is closing "for business reasons."

In recent years, U.S. shrimpers have been hurt by a flood of cheap, pond-raised shrimp imports that have driven down prices. According to the Wall Street Journal, almost 90 percent of the shrimp Americans eat comes from foreign producers.

"I see in the next year or two all the shrimp plants in the United States going belly up," Chambers said.

Singleton was sold in March 2006 by the food conglomerate ConAgra as part of a strategy to exit the seafood processing business, to a private company in Tampa called Singleton Fisheries Inc.

The UFCW is negotiating for severance packages for its members. A few employees in sales and administration will move to a new office in Plant City.

The state Agency for Workforce Innovation said it would work with the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance to help the displaced workers find new jobs.

"We're trying to find jobs," Chambers said, "but there's not a whole lot of job openings for people who run shrimp machines."

Christina Rexrode can be reached at rexrode@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8318.