The truth about shrimp

Article by Isabel Key and Mina Frost.

Shrimp and prawn are closely related species that people like to eat [1]. Have you ever thought about how they get to your plate?

There are many different methods of producing shrimp and prawn, which vary in how much they harm the environment [2,4].

Since shrimp and prawn live on the seabed, they are often fished by ‘bottom trawling’ – this involves dragging a weighted net across the seabed, pulling up everything in its path [4]. This is the most damaging type of fishing since it also catches everything else in the path of the net, often including endangered species like sea turtles [4]. The whole seabed can be left devoid of life, taking months or decades to recover [4,5,6,7].

55% of shrimp produced globally is farmed [3]. Coastal ecosystems, especially mangrove forests (trees that grow in coastal water), are often destroyed to make way for shrimp farms [3,9]. Since the farming is often unsustainable, once a bit of land becomes unusable more mangrove has to be removed [9].

Loss of mangrove trees means loss of the services they provide: carbon storage, flood protection, erosion reduction, timber, habitat for mammals, birds and fish [9,11]. The latter, combined with fishing of wild fish to feed to the shrimp (they are fed 2-3x their weight in wild fish) means wild fish stocks are depleted, causing problems for local people [9].

The profits from shrimp farming are rarely felt by local communities, but often by corporations which export the shrimp [9]. Whilst shrimp farming can be made more sustainable by integrating it within mangrove trees [9], some argue it would be better for shrimp farmers to find alternative sources of income [10]. For this to happen we need to reduce demand for shrimp – that means not buying it [8].

What you eat is a personal choice. Here you have three options: buy any shrimp/prawn, buy Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified produce that has passed certain standards [12,13], or buy more sustainable plant-based food [8]!


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