A Sustainable Shrimp’s Tail
Thanks to his best friend Bubba, Forrest Gump made his fortune on shrimp. He certainly isn’t the only shrimp fan. Shrimp are a delicious and versatile fish and even more popular than the omega-3 filled salmon and tuna. The average American consumes 92 shrimp per year. Whether you choose shrimp cocktail, grilled shrimp skewers, or even shrimp scampi, shrimp dishes can offer a nutritious, low calorie protein source that also provides a significant amount of selenium, vitamin B1, and copper.
Where is our shrimp coming from?
Despite its popularity, sustainable shrimp that are clean, good for you, and good for the environment are hard to find. Aquaculture is a relatively new and unregulated industry compared to the other of proteins of poultry, beef, and pork. The business of shrimp is challenged because it is fraught with sustainability issues such as environmental, employee welfare, and food safety.
80% of the shrimp harvested in the US comes from the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic region. The most common varieties are brown, pink and white shrimp. There are more than 1,900 species of shrimp, but less than 20 are important for commercial purposes. Pictured: Brown shrimp – the official state crustacean of Alabama and Texas. image
Most common types of shrimp found in the US. image
In 2015, the estimated production of farmed shrimp was about two million tons. The majority of shrimp farms are located in China (41%), Indonesia (13%), Vietnam and India (8%). USDA data shows that the United States imports most of our shrimp from India (23%), Indonesia (17%), Thailand (16%), Ecuador (14%), and Vietnam (10%).
What happens once the shrimp are harvested?
Once these farmed shrimp are harvested, they are transferred to a processing plant where they are either cleaned, beheaded, breaded, canned, shelled, and/or packaged. Each processing plant has their specialty, and of course, some processing facilities are cleaner and better than others. If gloves are not worn or proper precautions are not taken, shrimp can carry diseases such as staph infections and food poisoning.
The shrimp industry is changing
The majority of shrimp farming is loosely regulated and this just may dissuade you from ever cooking coconut sautéed shrimp forever. But that does not mean that ALL shrimp are poorly managed. In 2006, the World Wildlife Fund, the FAO, the Network of Aquaculture Centre’s in Asia-Pacific, the World Bank, and the United Nations Environmental Program all recognized that shrimp farming needed stronger guidelines. These organizations established a set of eight principles that are recommended and encouraged for shrimp farmers around the world. These standards take environmental sustainability, food safety, feed management, and social responsibility into consideration.
Ecuador, Belize, United States, and South American countries have also recognized that consumers and buyers alike are searching for more transparency in their food supply. They are regulating food safety, employee welfare, and environmental standards on their farms as well as incorporating modern technology in their farming practices. The World Wildlife Fund also works closely with shrimp farmers in Thailand to eliminate mangrove destruction, pollution, and illegal fishing and labor practices.
How do you know what shrimp to buy?
Third party certifications below can help you quickly discern which shrimp follow sustainable standards. You can also check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for information on specific species.
The Bottom Line:
Bubba was right. Shrimp can be a nutritious and enjoyable source of protein. But, pay attention to where your shrimp is coming from. Although not a total guarantee, for now you want to buy shrimp that comes from the United States, Canada, and South America. In order to protect our oceans and coastline, properly farmed shrimp are certainly a great alternative. But, it depends on the farming practices. Look at the certification and if your restaurant or grocer doesn’t know exactly where their shrimp is coming from, consider ordering something else! As a consumer, your purchasing choices can make a difference
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