July 25th is Culinarians Day and we want to thank all our favorite chefs, cooks and culinary artists for making delicious food for all of us!

Since food sustainability, packaging and sourcing is such an important issue here at Blue Ocean Network, we decided to take a deeper dive on the shrimp industry. What you’ll learn will surprise you, and maybe even make you decline a shrimp cocktail during your next restaurant visit.

Shrimp, the Most Popular Seafood in U.S.

Each year, Americans eat 1.3 billion pounds of shrimp, which equates to nearly four pounds per person. The demand continues to grow and nearly 90 percent of shrimp is imported.

Most shrimp sold in the U.S. and Europe comes pre-peeled, but have you ever thought about how that shrimp lost its shell?

It turns out that the shrimp on your party platter ring was likely peeled by a modern-day slave in a shed. In fact, the U.S. State Department has identified 55 countries that are linked to shrimp slavery. Despite that statistic, slavery-laced shrimp still make it to market due to supply chains that are so complicated it makes tracking incredibly challenging. From Whole Foods, to Red Lobster, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly and more, the Associated Press found shrimp products tainted with forced labor in all 50 U.S. states.

One of the worst offenders is Thailand that exports half of its shrimp to the U.S.. In 2015, the Global Slavery Index estimated Thailand was home to nearly half a million enslaved workers. The jobs in shrimp farm peeling sheds is backbreaking and long, often starting at 2 AM and finishing at 7 PM.

Gwynn Guilford has written extensively about slave labor in the seafood trade, describing the role of migrant workers in a 2013 piece:

Unsurprisingly, Thais long since stopped taking those jobs. Migrants, mostly from Myanmar, can earn more there than they would at home, and thus send money to support their families. Though Thailand’s estimated 3 million migrants make up 10% of its workforce, in seafood processing, they compose 90%.

 The life of enslaved shrimp peelers is heartbreaking. You can read their stories here and here.

Ecosystem Devastation

Shrimp is either wild-caught or farmed. Both have devastating consequences on the environment.

Wild shrimp are caught using deep-sea trawlers. For every pound of shrimp caught, five to 20 pounds of by-catch are also brought up in the nets. Shrimp trawl fisheries represent 2 percent of the global fish catch, yet are responsible for one third of the world’s by-catch.

Farmed shrimp account for 55 percent of all shrimp stocks. The shrimp are kept close to the coastline and their ponds are dosed with chemicals like urea, superphosphate and diesel. The shrimp also are given pesticides and antibiotics. As the tides come into the pools, the chemicals are brought out to sea.

Additionally, most shrimp farming takes place on land that was previously covered in mangroves, which are critical carbon-storing trees. It’s estimated that 38 percent of the world’s mangroves have been decimated to build shrimp ponds. According to Stephen Messenger,

“It takes five square miles of cleared mangrove forest to produce just over two pounds of shrimp — and that land is typically left depleted within ten years and rendered unusable for another forty.” 

In parts of Bangladesh, shrimp farming has “caused massive depeasantization and ecological crisis throughout the region.”

The sheer size of shrimp farming operations is shocking – check out this drone footage to see for yourself.

What You Can Do

With links to slavery, mangrove devastation and high amounts of by-catch, shrimp is far from sustainable or ethical. If this article didn’t convince you to stop eating shrimp, then consider these tips from the Washington Post when buying and consuming shrimp:

  1. Ask these questions before buying:
  • Is it legal? As in, has it been caught where fishing is allowed while abiding by regulations regarding amounts and protected species?
  • Is it sustainable? As in, is it fished or farmed in a way with minimal environmental impact? (See: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.)
  • Is it ethical? As in, are workers being treated properly?
  1. Read labels and look for certification by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council If you see the shrimp is from Thailand, chances are it’s been tainted by labor abuses.
  2. Think domestic. Domestic sustainably-raised shrimp can be found in stores.

See these related Blue Ocean Seafood articles:

Major Victory In the Tuna Seafood Industry
Do you Know Where Your Canned Tuna Was Last Night? A Seafood Update
First-Ever World Tuna Day – May 2, 2017
International Sushi Day, Can Sushi Be Sustainable??
DiCaprio Finds Ocean Conservation in Farmed Seafood
If You Love Seafood – You Might Not Want to Read This
Sustainable Seafood, Everything You Need to Know
96 Percent of Pacific Bluefin Tuna Have Died. Take Action!

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