Shrimp's Success Hurts Asian Environment, Group Says

James Owen
for National Geographic News
Updated December 20, 2004

Whether baked, barbecued, curried, grilled, stewed, or stir-fried, shrimp are palate pleasers throughout the Western world. The crustacean is the top-selling seafood in the United States. But shrimp's meteoric rise has come at a heavy cost, say environmentalists.

A report issued by the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation earlier this year claims that the West's appetite for jumbo-size tiger shrimp (also known as tiger prawns) is degrading the environmental health of many of the world's poorest nations.

The impacts of shrimp farming range from wrecked mangrove forests and decimated wild fish stocks to pollution- and disease-prone coastal communities, according to the environmental nonprofit.

The foundation's report questions the sustainability of the industry in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and other developing countries.

"Our report reveals a truly shocking catalog of environmental damage that has occurred as a result of a get-rich-quick attitude by shrimp farmers," said Steve Trent, director of the Environmental Justice Foundation.

Damage detailed in the report includes the destruction of coastal mangrove forests; threats to human health and wildlife from antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals; a rise of sea-polluting waste effluents; and the depletion of wild fish stocks due to habitat loss and the growing demand for fish meal fed to shrimp stock.

"It is time for the seafood industry and governments to take a stand and end these abuses," Trent added.

The shrimp-farming industry is now worth at an estimated 60 billion U.S. dollars globally. In 2001 shrimp overtook canned tuna as the top seafood choice in the U.S. Japan is the world's biggest per capita shrimp consumer.

Around 99 percent of farmed shrimp is produced in developing countries in tropical regions such as Southeast Asia. These countries now have some 110,000 warm-water shrimp farms, covering around 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres).

The majority of these shrimp farms are located in coastal areas defined by coastal mangrove forests. The saltwater-tolerant, intertidal forests are some of the world's most threatened habitats.

Globally, more than a third of mangrove forests have disappeared in the last 20 years, according to researchers at Boston University's Marine Biological Laboratory. They note that as much as 38 percent of this decline is due to shrimp farm development.

Mangroves 'Vital'

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