Americans love shrimp! We eat 4.1 pounds of it every year. But you might want to think twice next time you pick up a bag of frozen shrimp at the grocery store. It turns out that the process of getting shrimp into those convenient frozen packages wreaks havoc on the environment. Farmed shrimp are pumped with chemicals that end up in people’s bodies, and shrimp cultivation can render huge swaths of the sea into barren wastelands for decades. Wild shrimp aren’t any better, as harvesting them kills droves of other sea animals in the process.
Farmed shrimp are raised in pools on the coast, where the tide can refresh the water and carry waste out to the sea. But according to Treehugger, these ponds are prepared with heavy doses of chemicals, such as urea, superphosphate and diesel. Then the shrimp receive pesticides, antibiotics, piscicides, sodium tripolyphosphate, borax and caustic soda. In addition, shrimp farmers have permanently destroyed an estimated 38 percent of the world’s mangroves to create these shrimp ponds. Treehugger’s Stephen Messenger wrote last year, “it takes five square miles of cleared mangrove forest to produce just over two pounds of shrimp — and that land is typically left depleted within 10 years and rendered unusable for another forty.”
Wild shrimp don’t fare any better when it comes to the environment. Harvesting wild shrimp is usually done by using deep-sea trawlers, which kill 5 to 20 pounds of “bycatch” (unwanted species accidentally scooped up by the trawler’s net) for every pound of shrimp. That’s like bulldozing an entire section of the rainforest to catch one single species of bird. The bycatch can include animals like sharks, rays, starfish, juvenile red snapper, and sea turtles among others. Jill Richardson tells us in her article “Shrimp’s Dirty Secrets: Why America’s Favorite Seafood is a Health and Ecological Nightmare” that while shrimp trawl fisheries only represent 2 percent of the global fish catch, they are responsible for over one-third of the world’s bycatch.
With both farmed and wild shrimp in question, what kind of shrimp is good to eat? Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options. Some wild pink shrimp from Oregon and spot prawns from British Columbia are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, but are not widely available. The best option, which is a tough one, is to just stop eating shrimp at this point.
Photos by Renee Comet (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by Unknown photographer (NOAA) (Image ID: fish0775, NOAA’s Fisheries Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons