By Chef Bryan Szeliga, February 2012
My dad loves shrimp, along with the rest of America! Shrimp is the #1 seafood consumed by Americans. Globally, shrimp have the highest economic value of all seafood, accounting for nearly 20% of the total value of all seafood combined. The average American consumes more then four pounds of shrimp per year.
On a recent visit with my family, the first words from my dad as I walked in the door were, "That shrimp is from Canada!" I have been telling my dad that he has to ask where the shrimp is from before he buys it. My response, "Is it sustainable?" My dad couldn't look me in the eye as he replied, "I don't know.”
Unfortunately just asking where our seafood comes from is not enough. It is important to know if the seafood is sustainable!
Thirty-five percent of all shrimp consumed in America is from Thailand, making Thailand the largest supplier of shrimp to America. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch divides farm raised shrimp from Thailand into two categories based on how the farm discharges the water into the external environment.
Seafood watch assigns Yellow as a "Good Alternative" to those using an "Infrequent Exchange System." This means the production systems maintain, treat and reuse water for more than one production cycle without discharges to the external environment. This is the only acceptable system currently available for farm raised shrimp from Thailand. All other farm methods from Thailand are assigned Red (Avoid).
View Video: "The High Environmental Cost of Global Shrimp," produced by Organic Ocean.
Best Choices: Seafood in this category is abundant, well managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
Good Alternatives: These items are an option, but there are concerns with how they're caught or farmed-or with the health of their habitat due to other human impacts.
Avoid: Take a pass on these items for now. They are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
There are other considerations when it comes to farm raised shrimp from Thailand. The environment and biodiversity are at the top of the list. Many of the farms are located near or have displaced mangrove habitats.
The non-native white shrimp has replaced the native tiger shrimp as the domesticated shrimp of choice. Currently 99% of all farm raised shrimp from Thailand are the non-native white shrimp. It is native to the Pacific coasts of Mexico, Central America and the northern portion of South America and has been introduced to SE Asia specifically for aquaculture.
These invasive shrimp risk the introduction of new diseases and parasites to wild stocks and have already begun to reproduce naturally in the wild!
There are some responsible farm raised and wild shrimp options. North Carolina shrimp ranks second for commercially harvested species for both pounds and value!
British Columbia (BC) Spot Prawns are not only among the most sustainable shrimp options, but also are wild caught and in my opinion the best tasting shrimp available. Retail and restaurant buyers can purchase BC Spot Prawns from Organic Ocean. Other wild caught options are Oregon Pink Shrimp and shrimp supplied by CleanFish, which connects seafood producers to chefs and consumers.
When purchasing any of these three wild caught shrimp you can be confident you are making a sustainable decision!
When you buy farm raised shrimp from Thailand be sure to ask: “Is the farm raised shrimp from an "Infrequent Exchange System?” Meaning is water from the farm raised fish treated and reused for more than one shrimp production cycle or is untreated water released into the environment during each production cycle and harvest?
Fact: Only 10 years ago aquaculture was responsible for approximately 30% of world shrimp production. In 2007 farm-raised shrimp resulted in over 50% of total production.
Source: “Farmed Pacific White Shrimp – Thailand." Seafood Watch, Seafood Report, Monterey Bay Aquarium, September 2, 2010 by Irene Tetreault Miranda, Ph.D., Independent Contractor.
“Farmed Pacific White Shrimp – Thailand,” Seafood Watch, Seafood Report, Monterey Bay Aquarium, September 2, 2010 by Irene Tetreault Miranda, Ph.D., Independent Contractor.