Shrimp or prawns are one of the world’s most popular type of seafood, but unfortunately are one of the least sustainable.
Shrimp can be farmed or fished for in the wild, and in many parts of the world that means using weighted nets to trawl the seabed, damaging sensitive ecosystems for up to a decade, and scooping-up pretty much everything over a wide area, including turtles, sharks, rays and juvenile fish and invertebrates in huge numbers.
Most of this bycatch is simply discarded dead back into the sea, and can often be up to 80% of the weight of the total catch. In fact although shrimp fishing produces around 2% of the world’s annual fishing production, it produces a third of the bycatch!
Farmed shrimp are little better, with shrimp farms often replacing other sensitive ecosystems, such as mangroves, and being reliant on large quantities of chemical nutrients and antibiotics. These energy intensive inputs, along with the transport, mean typical Asian farmed prawns have a very significant carbon footprint. Even locally caught prawns, from around the British Isles, can have a significant associated carbon footprint, as many are transported to Asia for processing by hand, before being packaged and returned to UK stores.
As with many rapidly expanding forms of cheap labour, many of those working in the shrimp industry in East Asia work in very poor conditions, with debt bondage, child labour and threats and violence all recently reported by several investigations.
More sustainably produced shrimp is available, though it can be hard to find. Several organisations, such as Sea Food Watch provide detailed buying guides.
Photo by from Ben Sutherland, via Flickr