WASHINGTON – They survived hurricanes and oil spills, but Gulf Coast shrimp processors say there’s no way they can battle foreign governments to stay in business.

While Americans gobble up imported shrimp as never before, processors from Florida to Texas say they can’t compete with billions in subsidies that are propping up shrimpers in places such as China and Thailand while driving down the price for American consumers.

“You can buy shrimp cheaper than you can buy bologna right now. We just don’t have the kind of money and backbone to stay in business competing against these countries,” said Richard Gollott Sr., a co-owner of Golden Gulf Coast Packing Co. in Biloxi, Miss.

With imports now accounting for more than 90 percent of the U.S. shrimp market, processors say it’s time to fight back: They want the federal government to put new tariffs on imported shrimp, making it more expensive to sell in the United States.

“We’re trying to survive, and that’s what this is all about,” Gollott said.

As two federal agencies prepare to begin considering the tariffs case this week, opponents say it would be misguided for Washington to intervene.

“Instead of seeing our friends in the (Gulf Coast) industry innovate and try to improve their practices in the marketplace, they’re just trying to regulate the competition out of the business,” said Travis Larkin, president of Seafood Exchange, a seafood importing company in Raleigh, N.C. “If you look at the big picture of it, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Processors such as Gollott, part of a group called The Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries, predict that they’ll win. They say that foreign governments in the seven biggest importing countries have engaged in unfair trade by giving more than $13.5 billion in subsidies to their shrimp industries since 2009.

The processors say the case bears close watching, with Gulf Coast shrimp sales amounting to hundreds of millions a year and their industry employing thousands.

“The public ought to care, because what’s happening with the shrimp industry is symptomatic of what’s happening to many industries, maybe most industries in this country,” said David Veal, the group’s executive director and a former professor of agricultural engineering at Mississippi State University.

The coalition is challenging seven countries that exported $4.3 billion worth of shrimp to the United States in 2011, accounting for 85 percent of all imports and more than three-fourths of the U.S. market: China, Thailand, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The group, which represents processors in Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, said it had documented more than 100 programs that provided benefits to shrimp producers in those countries, including grants, low-interest loans, tax breaks, even shrimp feed.

Among the examples cited: Thailand buys shrimp from farmers and sells it to processors at low prices; India provides subsidies to reduce ocean freight costs; China has provided financing to build the world’s largest shrimp-processing and export plant; Malaysia is spending millions to build shrimp farms and processing plants aimed at exporting more shrimp.

On top of that, Veal said, the countries pay lower wages.

The Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission are looking into the case. On Thursday, Commerce officials will decide whether there are sufficient grounds to proceed with an investigation. On Friday, the International Trade Commission will have its first staff hearing to begin examining data. It could take a year or longer to resolve the case.

Nkenge Harmon, the deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for public and media affairs, said President Obama’s administration “has demonstrated that we will make our trading partners play by the rules.”