Americans love shrimp! It’s estimated that the average American eats 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 swathes 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 rife with massive amounts of chemicals including superphosphate and diesel. In addition to that hideous cocktail, the shrimp are exposed to even more chemicals. Pesticides, antibiotics, sodium tripolyphosphate, and borax are just a few of the toxins that get slathered over these sea bugs before people dive in with knives and forks. To make it worse, it’s estimated that nearly 40 percent of the world’s mangroves have been decimated in order to create these shrimp ponds, and those aren’t likely to recuperate any time soon: 5 square miles of mangrove is required to cultivate just a couple of pounds of shrimp, and after just a short decade of production, the area will be too toxic for use for another 40 to 50 years.
If you think that eating wild shrimp is the better/more ethical option, that’s a big “no” too. Deep-sea trawlers are used to harvest wild shrimp, and they’re not the only creatures that end up in trawling nets: up to 20 pounds of bycatch (aka unwanted species that end up netted by accident) such as sea turtles, rays, and sharks, are killed for every pound of shrimp. Try to wrap your head around that one. Some people estimate that the wild shrimp harvest is responsible for over 1/3 of the world’s bycatch, and with ocean species dwindling by the day, this method is pretty much the antithesis of sustainability.
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 those aren’t exactly widely available. The best option, which is a tough one, is to just stop eating shrimp altogether.
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