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Shrimp Suck

June 14, 2011
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The world would be a better place if nobody ate shrimp.

Shrimp is the number one seafood in the United States; however, eating shrimp is probably the most environmentally irresponsible thing one could do. I will never ever eat shrimp again, which sucks because I loved Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, Cajun jambalaya, and the Symphony Roll, from Symphony Sushi in Boston—all three are made with shrimp. But, I am willing to give it all up for the sake of our beautiful oceans that we are presently destroying.

Here are a few things you need to know about the shrimp you may be eating:

Shrimp trawling is not an efficient fishing method in any way, shape or form. Bottom trawls drag a net along the seafloor to scoop up the shrimp. The physical dragging of the nets along the bottom of the ocean causes serious damage to highly sensitive corals, sessile organisms, and pulls up sea grass or seaweed beds that many species of fish and sea turtles feed on. Bottom sediments are also stirred up through the trawling activity, suspending persistent organic pollutants up into the water where they may be ingested by other organisms. Those organisms, such as fish we eat, will become poisoned with POPs and then those chemicals make their way into our own bodies. Trawling is comparable to clear cutting rainforests—it basically destroys all in its path, kills valuable ecosystems that recycle crucial nutrients in the global system, and it stirs up pollutants that in turn harm us.

Shrimp trawling is also extremely irresponsible is because of the considerable amount of bycatch that is obtained in the trawl net. The nets scoop up everything and anything in their paths, not just shrimp. Sharks, rays, sea turtles, large fish, small fish, coral and sea grass may also find their way into the shrimper’s nets. Once the nets are hauled back up to the boat, the shrimp fishermen sort through their catch and toss the unwanted bycatch overboard—dead or alive. Sea turtles, which need to surface to breathe air like you and me, are often drowned in these nets if they do not have Turtle Excluder Devices.

bycatch

Accidentally caught bycatch is thrown overboard—dead.

What is a Turtle Excluder Device? A fisherman by the name of Sinkey Boone invented the TED so he could reduce his bycatch. What a smart guy! It usually features a metal grid worked into the netting that blocks larger animals from getting caught in the net. These larger animals may escape through a hole or trap door in the net. This way, if a sea turtle got caught in a shrimp trawl net, it could escape and swim free. Hooray!

"And the turtles, of course, the turtles are free..."

Be free, little buddy!

Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of enforcement when it comes to the use of TEDs. The U.S. required all shrimp fishing boats to be equipped with TEDs back in 1987, but since then laws have been passed in Louisiana to work around this mandate. In addition there are several loopholes that allow fishermen to continue their bottom trawl fishing without the use of TEDs. Even if shrimp fishermen install the TEDs it is often done incorrectly, so the larger animals still end up trapped.

So farmed shrimp is better? Wrong. Thirty-eight percent of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed for shrimp farms. Mangrove forests are a hugely important ecosystem because they buffer coastal areas from the damages caused by hurricanes and tsunamis. They also play an important role in the carbon cycle, sucking tons of CO2 out of the air. Shrimp farmers clear out sections of mangroves at a time, and once the mangroves are gone the area becomes a complete “dead zone” that is unable to sustain life.

Alternatively, inland pools and ponds are also used to farm-raise shrimp, however there are many problems with these methods as well. Heavy amounts of antibiotics and fertilizers are used to grow more food for the shrimp, but these chemicals are unhealthy for the surrounding environment. These chemicals may even accumulate in the shrimp, which could be toxic for you to eat.

In the long run, it’s just better not to eat farm-caught shrimp unless it was farmed in a fully recirculating system or inland pond in the United States. See the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for more details—please eat only those listed in GREEN!

Currently in the Shrimp Fishing World: Not sure if you’ve been reading the news, but the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Sea Turtle Conservancy have recently filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service for not effectively protecting the most critically endangered sea turtle species, the Kemp’s ridley, as well as other sea turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico. Usually about 100 sea turtles wash ashore each year on the beaches of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, but over 320 sea turtles have been found dead already this year.

Initially it was thought to be an after-effect of the BP oil spill, however it was recently concluded that the most likely cause of these sea turtle deaths was shrimp trawling. One hypothesis is that many animals may have been weakened by the oil spill, which is why more are drowning in nets than usual. They are unhealthy and cannot escape as easily from the nets as they may have been able to before.

Do your part to keep oceans healthy and reduce the harmful impacts of shrimp fishing:

  • Choose shrimp from clean sources, or none at all.
  • If you must eat shrimp or prawns, eat the ones listed in GREEN on the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch
  • Get in the habit when you’re at a restaurant or at the grocery store of asking where they get their shrimp. Only support restaurants and stores that offer clean shrimp.
  • Spread the word around to your friends and family. Use the ShrimpSuck.org banner!
  • Encourage your government officials to take action against unsustainable and unhealthy shrimp farms and shrimp trawling activities.
  • Get stickers, learn more and donate at www.shrimpsuck.org

Sources for this post: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Shrimp’s Dirty Secrets, I probably used Wikipedia.

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