In general, many Americans adore the notion of wild caught seafood. They imagine a fish peacefully swimming along in the wild ocean before it is gracefully captured and mercifully executed. The fish is perfectly fileted and then promptly delivered to their dinner plates. But with shrimp, in particular, this perception is terribly misguided and catching the crustacean in the wild can actually cause great harm.
But before we explain in further detail, there are a few important facts about shrimp that you should know. It is by far the most consumed form of seafood in America, according to the USDA. Of the roughly 15 pounds of seafood consumed by the average American each year, about 4 pounds are shrimp (27%).
In order to feed Americans with a healthy protein that is a staple of their diets, the shrimp farming industry has emerged over the past few decades, to keep with rising demand. Today, over 90% of the seafood in America is imported from overseas, much of which is farmed. And while there is a common debate over wild-caught vs. farm-raised seafood, fishing for shrimp in the wild isn’t as innocent as people want to believe.
Three of the major flaws with wild caught shrimp are bycatch, trawling, and overfishing.
· Bycatch occurs when other wildlife is accidently captured, as fisherman use massive nets to catch shrimp in the wild. For each pound of shrimp caught in the wild, it results in an average of 6 pounds of bycatch, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But in some extreme cases it has been found to be as high as 20 pounds of bycatch per pound of shrimp. Think about that for a second. In order to catch a single pound of shrimp in the wild, 20 POUNDS of additional marine life, like sea turtles and starfish, can be harmed or even wastefully killed.
· Trawling is where shrimp fishermen use machinery to scrape the ocean’s floor, in order to access the wild shrimp. This is done because shrimp typically reside at the bottom of the ocean. Trawling is especially damaging since the majority of marine life lives near the ocean floor. So even when species aren’t snared by bycatch, trawling can “leave the marine ecosystem permanently demanded,” according to the Marine Conservation Institute.
· Overfishing occurs when the aggregate amount of shrimp caught in the wild exceeds the amount naturally reproduced. Overtime, overfishing of any species threatens the population and can even lead to extinction in the wild.
Why Shrimp Must Be Farmed
Shrimp farming protects the natural shrimp population (overfishing), other wildlife (bycatch), and the marine ecosystem itself (trawling). And by leveraging best practices, farming provides a reliable, sustainable, and traceable food source for the US population.
· Nourished Population — farming shrimp helps supply the population with a healthy protein, without overharvesting the oceans. If shrimp weren’t farmed, demand would far exceed supply, and shrimp would be too expensive for most people to consume.
· Quality Control — Countries like Ecuador and Thailand are often lauded for the quality of their farmed shrimp, for they commonly apply the latest technologies and best practices. For example, some best practices include adequately lining the shrimp farms, properly aerating the water, not overpopulating their ponds, and utilizing polyculture.
· Traceability — Similar to farming carrots or strawberries, farmed shrimp affords the opportunity for consumers to ascertain a product’s origin and how it was raised. On the other hand, a wild-caught shrimp could have been feeding in an oil spill for all you know.
Now, farming shrimp isn’t without its flaws, too. When best practices aren’t implemented, the product quality can be poor or even become contaminated. And in certain parts of the world, there are unfortunately reprehensible labor practices that are utilized. For any company or consumer, it’s critical that farmed-shrimp providers are properly vetted. However, shrimp farming as a whole, helps feed the US population with a sustainable, high-quality seafood product, resulting in less damage to the ocean and its wildlife.