GAA responds to activists' attack on shrimp farming

GAA says anti-aquaculture campaign spins misinformation to sway shrimp consumers
April 30, 2004

In a veiled attempt to "highlight the real costs of shrimp," a new public relations campaign by Public Citizen attacks shrimp farming with inflammatory claims and emotional verbiage.

Shrimp farming, however, has not "devastated many nations." In a position statement the Global Aquaculture Alliance says that in dozens of developing countries around the world, the industry provides needed jobs and economic development. In addition, farmed shrimp supplement the finite resources of global fisheries to efficiently deliver healthy seafood to the expanding global population.

Like every industry, shrimp farming has had to master developmental challenges. But early reliance on wild shrimp populations and natural estuarine environments has given way to modern systems of animal husbandry based on sustainable practices such as selective breeding of disease-free stocks, productive ponds with ever-declining water usage, and efficient feeds with reduced reliance on fishmeal.

Modern ponds are now seldom located directly on coasts. Mangroves are not "being hacked down to make room for shrimp farms," as claimed by Public Citizen. Farmers respect the value of mangroves and site their facilities accordingly or mitigate mangrove loss.

Since the old practice of "continuously pumping sea and groundwater to keep the ponds cleaner" poses significant biosecurity risks, today's farmers circulate much less water. They also recognize that "staggering amounts" of chemicals, as Public Citizen calls them, are ineffective in maintaining shrimp and pond health and not tolerated by increasingly stringent international food safety regulations.

Producers recognize that the primary disease organisms affecting shrimp, crustacean viruses, can not be controlled by antibiotics or chemicals. These pathogens, which do not affect people, are best controlled through the use of certified viral-free shrimp reared in ponds with little or no water exchange.

Public Citizen's material specifically targets shrimp farming in Honduras. Through its campaign, Honduran shrimp activist Jorge Varela said, "World Bank officials disrespected our national laws" by financing farm expansion in the country during governmental moratoriums on farm construction.

Honduran government decrees 05-96 and 105-97 declared 12- and eight-month moratoriums, respectively, on new farm permits and land concessions in the Gulf of Fonseca region of Honduras in 1996 and 1997. However, construction projects that occurred during the moratoriums did not violate them because their permits were previously granted.

Granjas Marinas San Bernardo is an example of a farm project that generates positive benefits, not negative impacts, in the region. Development of its 3,600 hectares of shrimp ponds began in 1984 on salt flats near the Gulf of Fonseca, not mangrove habitat. In a 2001 study by the University of Louisiana, satellite imagery showed that overall mangrove mass in the GMSB area had increased by 88 hectares as the trees took hold along supply canals and ponds.

The Gulf of Fonseca region is one of the poorest in the nation. GMSB and its affiliated farms and processing plants employ about 2,000 workers. The farm offers free medical care and matches employee contributions to credit and investment funds managed by a democratically structured employee association. These funds subsidize an employee-run supermarket, trucking company, cafeteria and laundry.

As a group, GMSB and other farms on the Gulf of Fonseca have monitored water quality at 17 estuaries on a weekly basis for 11 years. Although the first five years of the program were funded by the United States Agency for International Development, farms in the region continued the program at their own expense. 

A review of the water quality data by Auburn University stated, "Although shrimp farm area has grown substantially since 1993, and production has grown some, no increase in eutrophication of estuaries in southern Honduras has been found over this period." Shrimp farming in Honduras is simply not the great polluter Public Citizen frames it as.

Nor does it produce shrimp that are unhealthy for humans to consume. Honduras exports to the European Union and is therefore required to maintain a monitoring program for antibiotic residues in Honduran shrimp products. In addition, shrimp are routinely tested for residual pesticides, heavy metals and other chemicals. Microbiological parameters must also be complied with, and these can only be achieved following best food-manufacturing practices.

Through a number of mandated and self-imposed measures, many shrimp farmers in Honduras and other areas are continuing to improve food safety and lessen the environmental and social impacts of their facilities. By implementing best management practices outlined by the Global Aquaculture Alliance Responsible Aquaculture Program and others, they are producing more and better shrimp.

Despite the misinformation from Public Citizen, the "real cost of shrimp" is declining and consumers are the beneficiaries. For they can now purchase more sustainably produced seafood of higher quality at lower prices.

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