Guest columnist: Support sustainable harvesting methods for shrimp

Dec. 09, 2012 @ 06:33 PM

This holiday season, many Americans will feast with family and friends to celebrate a most joyous time of year. Shrimp, a perennial Christmas favorite, will surely embellish the rims of cocktail glasses and serving platters everywhere. Unfortunately, satisfying our Pac-Man-like consumption of shrimp requires the use of harvesting methods that imperil the ecological security of our planet. We must change the way we approach shrimp in our diets. Perhaps, the perfect way to start is with this holiday season.

Only two short decades ago, shrimp was a delicacy reserved for special occasions. Today, it is the most widely eaten seafood in America. To acquire the sheer volume of shrimp that we, as a nation, annually consume, we have turned towards two dubious harvesting techniques -- aquaculture and bottom trawling. One method is worse than the next. Both exact a high planetary price, according to research supported by the United Nations. Rather than indiscriminately buying the shrimp we find conveniently located in our grocery stores for the upcoming holidays, we should look to purchase shrimp that is sustainable, local, and caught using environmentally sensitive methods. Not only will it honor the planet that sustains us (look at it as a way of giving back this season!), but will be much more delicious for all of your guests.

Aquaculture is a farming technique where shrimp grow in specially constructed ponds that are built upon bulldozed mangroves. Mangroves are vital breeding grounds for many species of fish and plant life and are considered to be the rainforests of the sea. Aquaculture farms wring these areas dry. Once the farm has depleted all of the natural resources in that area, it simply picks up and leaves. This highly unsustainable method is responsible for the elimination of multiple species, the destruction of delicate marine ecosystems, and the further contamination of our waters, as an abundance of chemical runoff and shrimp excrement is left to free-flow into our waterways.  

Trawling, a second method, drags a voluminous net along the seafloor to capture the shrimp that dwell there. Unfortunately, trawling results in remarkable levels of bycatch, the indiscriminate and unintended slaughter of all marine life in the net’s path. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, shrimp trawling nets alone are responsible for upwards of 1.9 million tons of unusable bycatch each year, which is more than likely thrown, dead, back into the water once the shrimp have been filtered out. Sea turtles suffer disproportionately from trawling, which is responsible for the critical endangerment of all seven sea turtle species. Upwards of 50,000 loggerhead turtles are killed each year in trawling nets. Moreover, it uproots the seafloor as the net is dragged along, destroying invaluable ecosystems.

When purchasing shrimp for the upcoming holidays, pay close attention to the label (shrimp are required to have labels identifying how and where it has been caught). Shrimp caught as locally as the Gulf Coast can be sustainable -- so long as it is harvested without trawling. The shrimp we buy should be harvested by a fisher who drags a handheld net across the top of the water, or employs the use of traps. Though it may be slightly more expensive, your money would then be supporting a process that nurtures our planet, rather than compromises it. We must refuse to pay the price of convenience, and start paying for what is important.

If bolstering the environment isn’t incentive enough, gulf shrimp is probably the most delicious you can eat! Shrimp that reproduce and develop freely in a natural, unsuppressed environment are plumper and much more flavorful than the less-healthy alternative. A few dollars is certainly worth the difference between serving a bland entree and one worthy of Iron Chef at your holiday party.

So, when composing your shopping list for this upcoming season, make sure to put down “locally caught and sustainable shrimp.” We can make an enormous difference, can have our shrimp and eat it too, if we include enlightened environmental stewardship in our celebration of all that is good and blessed this holiday season.

 

Sophie Corwin is a sophomore at Duke University, where she is currently majoring in public policy.