Fish and Seafood, Green Living

The Environmental Problem With Shrimp

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The Environmental Problem With Shrimp
Look for certified sustainable wild or farmed shrimp.
I have known for a long time that shrimp gets a poor environmental rating which presents an eco- conundrum in our household since shrimp is everyone’s favourite seafood.

Shrimp is North America’s favourite seafood. The average American eats about four pounds of shrimp each year and global production of farmed shrimp is more than 200 times what it was 15 years ago.

The environmental problem with shrimp:

About 90 per cent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported and about half of the shrimp consumed in the world is farmed. Most of those shrimp farms are in Asia and Latin America and the aquaculture industry is a major polluter in those regions. Most of the shrimp farms release antibiotic and fish waste-laden waste water into local water ways, spreading disease and causing general havoc in local ecosystems.

As well, shrimp farms are destroying coastal mangrove forests which are essential to healthy coastal ecosystems and also store great amounts of carbon. The devastation has been equated to clear cutting rainforest to raise beef.

Because of the environmental impact of shrimp farms it is estimated that farmed shrimp has a carbon footprint 10 times that of beef.

Another concern brought to light late last year are human rights issues in the Asian seafood industry. Investigative reports from Associated Press uncovered slavery and abuse of migrant workers in seafood plants.

How to find eco-friendly shrimp:

It isn’t all gloom and doom in the shrimp lover’s world. According to Seachoice, a healthy oceans and seafood sustainability organization, some shrimp available receives a reasonable environmental rating.
  • About a quarter of the shrimp farms in Thailand now use wastewater recirculation systems instead of releasing waste water. Referred to as closed-system farmed, these shrimp get a moderate rating. This sustainably farmed shrimp will have some sort of certification symbol on their package such as Best Aquaculture Practices Certified (BAP). If there is no certification statement on the package you can be sure that they aren’t from sustainably managed shrimp farms.
  • U.S. farmed shrimp gets a moderate rating because these farms are subject to more stringent environmental standards.
  • Freshwater farmed shrimp gets a good environmental rating because it is farmed in a closed system.
  • Pacific White Shrimp gets a moderate rating, unless it’s from Mexico, in which case it gets an “Avoid” rating.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is another helpful source of credibility when it comes to sourcing sustainably caught wild shrimp. The MSC ecolabel certification is your guide to shrimp from well-managed fisheries that are guided by best practices that ensure species and environmental sustainability. The blue stylized fish symbol can be found on some brands of Atlantic cold water shrimp.

Finding sustainable shrimp takes searching and label reading but it can be found. And fortunately eco certified seafood, including fish, is becoming easier to find as we consumers learn more about how we can play a part in helping to manage our oceans.

One Comment

  1. Thanks Bridget, Like almost everyone else, I love shrimp and they have lots of great nutrients in them but I have heard such horrible stories I'm hesitant to buy them. This info helps my buying decision. I'll be glad when most of the fish we eat is produced in closed inland systems. They are so much healthier and more environmentally friendly.


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