We hear about all these food campaigns encouraging us to eat locally and be mindful about where our food comes from. It supports local farmers, it’s fresher, it’s less susceptible to harmful contamination, etc. But we tend to forget (or the media doesn’t focus on) the environmental impact.
I’m doing a bit of research about shrimp aquaculture, or shrimp farming, and the environmental damage is disturbing. Due to the farming practices, we’ve lost almost two and half million acres of coastal wetlands. These artificial shrimp breeding grounds are destroying the endangered mangrove forests and the habitats they create.
There are projects out there like the Mangrove Action Project who are offering sustainable alternatives. One of based off of Indonesia’s traditional “Tambak” system that combines shrimp farming with rice paddy production. While the rice paddies are producing, an ideal environment is created for shrimp production. The second model is Hong Kong’s Gei Wai system, which is even simpler. Farmers use the mangroves natural habitat to raise various seafood, including fish, crabs and mollusks. The problem is that these aren’t scalable to the level of U.S. shrimp demand. A more technologically advanced system is the closed-system, which re-circulates production pond waters. This can be done in various ways; the innovation is still in progress. Some shrimp facilities have moved entirely indoors to remove the harsh impact on the environment.
So what can we do as consumers? There are organizations out there like the Aquaculture Certification Council and the Global Aquaculture Alliance that have set environmental standards that shrimp producers can meet. By adhering to these standards, aquaculture producers can receive a seal of certification. This way, consumers will (hopefully) recognize this seal and choose a certain brand of shrimp over another. Yet multiple studies have shown that the average consumer has no idea what these certification stickers mean nor does it have a greater pull with people. So environmental organizations need to step up their educational awareness campaigns, or the environmental destruction will continue unnoticed. Or the next time we eat that shrimp scampi from Red Lobster, we can be more aware of where the shrimp is coming from and at what cost.