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The shocking environmental cost of the West's love of shrimps

Environmental Justice Foundation

25th May 2004

Revealed: The shocking environmental cost of the West's love of shrimps

Growing demand for one of the West's most popular seafood treats - shrimps - is fuelling a shocking environmental crisis in some of the world’s poorest nations, a new report published today by the London -based Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) reveals.

Based on extensive global on-site investigations, and backed up by significant scientific research, Farming The Sea, Costing The Earth exposes a plethora of environmental degradation directly attributable to shrimp farming, including the destruction of mangrove forests and other critical wetlands, pollution and depletion of wild fish stocks upon which millions of people depend for food security and livelihoods.

Steve Trent, Director of EJF, said: ‘Our report reveals a truly shocking catalogue of environmental damage that has occurred as a result of a ‘get-rich quick’ attitude by shrimp farmers, egged on by governments and development agencies. It is time for the seafood industry and governments to take a stand and end these abuses. To fail to do so will spell long-term disaster for some of the world’s poorest, marginalized coastal communities and for unique wildlife habitats.’

Farming the Sea, Costing the Earth reveals that the unregulated expansion of shrimp farming has caused:

Destruction - often illegal - of mangrove forests and other wetland areas: in some countries shrimp farming is the biggest single threat to mangrove forests. As much as 38% of global mangrove destruction has been linked to shrimp farm development. Globally, mangrove deforestation rates now exceed those of tropical rainforests.

Use of chemicals that includes pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers and disinfectants with proven detrimental impacts on the environment and human health.

Marine and terrestrial pollution caused by organic and inorganic wastes and salinisation of soils and freshwater supplies.

Depletion of wild fish stocks as a result of:

- Habitat destruction. Globally, nearly two thirds of all fish harvested depend upon mangroves, wetlands and associated seagrasses and reefs at some stage in their life cycle.

- Massive accidental capture (‘by-catch’) of other marine life during shrimp fry and broodstock collection to stock shrimp farms: as many as 1,000 non-target individuals may be harvested for every shrimp fry caught. In Bangladesh alone, an estimated 200 billion organisms of other aquatic species are caught during collection of fry each year.

- Inputs of fish meal (produced from wild fish) of more than double the weight of the farmed shrimp produced, leading to a net loss of protein.

EJF is campaigning for seafood producers, traders, retailers and governments to take immediate action in curbing the environmental destruction associated with the US$ 50-60 billion shrimp farming industry. EJF is calling for clear, robust standards and labels to be adopted to give consumers a choice.

Steve Trent continued: ‘We are calling upon UK retailers and importers to demonstrate precisely what steps they are taking to ensure that none of the shrimps on sale are linked to the environmental problems we have witnessed. Right now, there are very few means by which consumers can be reassured that the shrimps they buy in the High Street are not linked to environmental abuses thousands of miles away’.

For further information or copies of ‘Farming the Sea, Costing the Earth’ contact Steve Trent or Annabelle Aish on +44 20 7359 0440 or +44 7974 925659. The report can also be downloaded from: Broadcast quality footage and stills available.
{If you experience difficulty click here to download “Farming the Sea, Costing the Earth” - pdf - 4.03Mb from the current web site}

Shrimp farming is worth US$6.9 billion at the farm gate and US$50-60 billion at the point of retail.

Around one third of global prawn production is from farming (the remainder are wild-caught).

Shrimp are farmed in about 50 countries – 99% of farmed production is from developing countries. Leading producers (2000) were Thailand, China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Ecuador, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Mexico and Brazil.

In a few countries, such as Malaysia and China, up to 50% of farmed shrimp are consumed domestically, but for most of the leading producers, shrimp are farmed for export, mainly to Europe, the USA and Japan.

In 2001, the UK imported 83,196 tonnes of shrimp worth over 353 million. 43% came from Asia and Oceania; 40% of the total were warm-water shrimp.

Professor Ivan Valiela and colleagues at the Boston University Marine Program reported (2001) that conversion to shrimp aquaculture is responsible for 38% of total mangrove destruction, and that ‘shrimp culture is, by a considerable margin, the greatest cause of mangrove loss’

In at least 12 countries, wetland sites listed as having international importance under the Ramsar Convention have been damaged or destroyed.

Harmful chemicals include antibiotics that persist in the environment and others such as chloramphenicol which are banned for food production by the EU and the USA because of severe risks to human health (links between their use and diseases such as aplastic anaemia and leukaemia). Pesticides such as endosulfan that are proven to be highly toxic and fatal to marine and other organisms are widely used.

There have been incidents where banned antibiotics have been discovered in shrimp consignments entering Europe (food safety agencies test consignments and have rejected or destroyed contaminated consignments).

The terms ‘shrimp’ and ‘prawn’ can be used interchangeably – EJF makes no distinction between the two.

for further information, please contact
Annabelle Aish
Environmental Justice Foundation
5 St Peter's Street
London N1 8JD
TEL +44 (0) 20 7359 0440
FAX +44 (0) 20 7359 7123