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Greening Shrimp
Erica Barnett, 27 Dec 07


Good news for consumers of these delicious but often unsustainable crustaceans: Oregon's pink shrimp fishery has become the first large-scale commercial shrimp fishery in the world to be certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, the most respected and strictest certification group in the world--a major step that could create a market for more certified-sustainable shrimp farms and fisheries in the future.

Since commercial shrimp farming began in the 1970s, shrimping has evolved into a vast international industry, with much of the world's market produced on large commercial farms in China, Thailand, and other Asian countries. Shrimp farms, which can stretch over many acres, consist largely of rows of vast ponds; each produces a single variety of shrimp. These massive monocultures, unsurprisingly, have huge ecological impacts. In many areas, shrimp farmers cleared out native trees and grasses, particularly coastal mangroves, to make room for the massive farms, with predictable consequences: Reductions in biodiversity and an increase of erosion in areas that were already prone to flooding. Wastewater from shrimp farms typically contains shrimp waste, fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics that end up contaminating wastewater and polluting coastal areas. And while you might think wild shrimp fisheries would have a smaller impact than vast monocultural farms, they're actually not that much better, with impacts including by-catch (unwanted fish and animals that are caught as the nets drag along the ocean floor and tossed back into the water dead) and damage done by nets to the ocean floor itself. So finding better, smarter ways to farm and fish for shrimp is critical for this large and growing industry.

That's where sustainability certification comes in. During the certification process, an agency approved by the MSC takes a look at the farm's harvest management, the health of the shrimp stock, enforcement systems, by-catch numbers, and the impacts a fishery has on the surrounding ecosystem. A certified-sustainable fishery must be one that does not lead to over-fishing or that leads to the recovery of species that have already been over-fished; that maintains the diversity, productivity, and structure of the ecosystem; and that can be continued indefinitely "at a reasonable level."

Certified shrimp, which will bear the blue MSC seal, will appeal to environmentally conscious consumers who are willing to pay more for sustainable shrimp. Economically, that's an unadulterated win for the shrimping industry point. In addition, the certification could boost Oregon's reputation as a leader in sustainability—helping a $20 million industry that has been badly beleagured by competition from Canadian and Norwegian imports. If the move proves successful for Oregon's shrimp fishery, though, the implications will be much larger. A successful certified operation could create a competitive market for sustainable shrimp, prompting other fisheries—and, eventually, farms (MSC does not yet certify shrimp farms as sustainable)—to seek certification too.

Creative Commons photo credit

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Great post !

I have seen the effects of shrimp farming in Vietnam and this is certainly an important topic. I teach in a MSc program Industrial Ecology in the Netherlands and one of our case studies has been the so-called "Happy Shrimp farm" ( It is located in one of the most heavily industrialized areas in Europe: the Rijnmond area in the harbor of Rotterdam (the Netherlands). It uses waste energy from a nearby powerplant as a source of energy. Although the guys running the plant are running a business they also keep an eye open for other options to 'green' there operations.

Posted by: Rene Kleijn on 29 Dec 07

Hi Erica,

Thanks for mentionting the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and the recently certified Oregon pink shrimp fishery. I just wanted to add that you can find out where to buy MSC-labelled certified sustainable seafood at

Alli, MSC Information Officer

Posted by: alli on 2 Jan 08

In your article called Greening Shrimp, Erica, you state that there is hope in establishing "a market for more certified-sustainable shrimp farms and fisheries in the future."

While we at Mangrove Action Project would agree that such sustainable seafood production is desirable, we also must strongly caution that the current appetite for shrimp in the US is far beyond a sustainable level, and that in fact the consumer demand for farmed shrimp is itself unsustainable and quite destructive. The per capita consumption has doubled in the last 10 years from 2.2 lbs. of shrimp consumed in the U.S. in 1997 to 4.4 lbs. now consumed.

No matter how many "certifiable" shrimp production enterprises are established today, the safe consumption levels go far beyond these certified levels, thus still engendering an expanding ecologically and socially destructive market, leading to expanding mangrove loss and local community disruption in the affected production areas of Asia, Latin America and Africa.

MAP is currently preparing to launch a Seattle-based Consumer Awareness Campaign on farmed shrimp. Please check our website at for more information.

Posted by: Alfredo Quarto on 3 Jan 08



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