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Farmed Shrimp Image Improving

But 2015 Was a Bleak Year for the Shrimp Farming Industry


In 2015, the Associated Press published its blockbuster Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation that exposed slavery in Thailand’s shrimp-processing industry and Consumer Reports released a report with all sorts of unsavory findings after testing farmed shrimp for bacteria.


Not exactly confidence-building stuff, and yet, in the United States, we still love and eat our shrimp, to the tune of about four pounds of it per person a year, more than any other seafood.  And whether we realize it or not, the vast majority of it is farmed and imported from Southeast Asia and Latin America.


There is no denying the farmed shrimp industry has been plagued by problems.  It’s a complicated picture to be sure, involving many links in the supply chain.


“It’s all incremental improvements.  You don’t flick a switch, and things are better.  But consumers, as time progresses, should feel increasingly confident about the shrimp they’re buying,” says Steven Hedlund, spokesman for the nonprofit Global Aquaculture Alliance.


“We’re in a different space than we were before,” says Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, the trade group that represents the USA seafood industry, although he acknowledges that there’s no denying there have been—and still are—issues.


“Dig into various countries across the globe, and you will find operations that aren’t certified or that are scofflaws [law breakers],” Gibbons says.  “I’m not saying that’s okay, but you will find that in any commodity.  You have to look at the bigger picture.”



Where Do Things Stand at This Point?


The pervading image of shrimp farming is one of mangrove forests—valuable ecosystems that keep a lid on greenhouse gases—being decimated to make way for ponds teeming with shrimp.  This was, unfortunately, how aquaculture developed, but it’s no longer the case.


“They are not clearing mangroves these days to create shrimp farms.  That is not happening, not for commercial shrimp production,” says Gibbons.  “The sustainability of the environment and therefore the sustainability of the product was very clearly negatively impacted by that practice.”


For a high-intensity farm, feed can make up the largest single operating cost, with between one to two kilograms of feed needed to produce one kilogram of shrimp, according to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund.  That ratio is on the low end compared with terrestrial livestock, says Hedlund.  Cows are at the top, requiring nearly seven pounds of feed to gain one pound of body mass, according to the Global Aquaculture Alliance.  “Seafood, in general, is by far the most efficient converter of protein,” Hedlund says.


The World Wildlife Fund estimates that even a 0.1 percent global reduction in the feed conversion ratio for shrimp would save more than 261,000 acres of land, 141 million cubic meters of water, 486,000 tons of wild fish, and 3.6 million gigajoules of energy.


The industry is moving in that direction, says Hedlund.  “With technology and the use of alternative ingredients like soybeans and vegetable proteins, we’re at a crossroads with new ways to provide protein, and it’s driving down the ‘fish-in, fish-out ratio’, because they’re relying less and less on fish meal as an ingredient in fish feed,” he says.  “There will always be a need, but it’s the degree to which it’s needed that’s changing.”


As for labor and human rights abuses at feed fisheries and processing facilities, which in Hedlund’s view is currently the most pressing issue, reform is happening.  There have been crackdowns on traffickers and seizures of imports and fishing vessels.  In light of the Associated Press investigation, Congress passed legislation banning the imports of seafood caught by forced labor in Southeast Asia, and more than 2,000 enslaved workers have been rescued.


“It’s a problem, and it’s a problem that everyone from the industry to government agencies to the NGO community and organizations like ours is trying to work together to solve,” Hedlund says.


Information: Steve Hedlund, Global Aquaculture Alliance, 2 International Drive, Suite 105, Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801, USA (Email Steven.Hedlund@gaalliance.org, Phone 1-603-317-5000, Webpage https://www.aquaculturealliance.org). 

Source: Epicurious.com.  Is Farmed Shrimp That Bad?.  Janet Rausa Fuller.  August 31, 2017.

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