Shrimp: Farmed Shrimp vs Wild

14176568063_33a7aa4bff_zJune 11, 2014

Seafood season is here! Did you know that the  most loved seafood in the United States is shrimp? Each American eats about 4.1 pounds of shrimp each year. Although you may love shrimp, what you may not know is that the majority of the shrimp you consume is farmed shrimp vs wild shrimp and that shrimp farming has an impact on the environment. Here’s a little insight about how it gets to your plate.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says 91 percent of seafood in the U.S. is imported from countries such as China, Thailand, Indonesia, etc. and the majority of that  imported seafood is shrimp.  But not all shrimp is the same and you have a choice– farmed shrimp vs wild.

Wild-Caught Shrimp

Wild-caught shrimp are caught by shrimp trawlers – fishing nets dragged along the bottom of the sea. This can result in bycatch –other species being caught in nets – and can damage the ocean floor. Regulations for the types of nets and escape mechanisms for the bycatch including sea turtles are in place and enforced in the U.S. but may not be as stringent in other parts of the world.

More expensive than its farmed counterparts, wild-caught shrimp are also better for you. The Huffington Post reported that wild-caught shrimp are better for the environment and health and also taste better. They say choosing to eat wild shrimp helps sustain American jobs and fishing communities.

Farmed Shrimp

4478993436_c501b6dc0a_zFarmed shrimp are grown in “freshwater” ponds. According to NOAA, about half of the shrimp imported to the U.S. is farmed in this way.

Maintaining the shrimp farms requires seafood farmers to use large amounts of harsh chemicals, such as superphosphates, diesel and  antibiotics, which pollute the water and the shrimp while also harming other fish. The antibiotics are used to combat diseases in the cramped ponds and to increase shrimp growth, according to Public Citizen.

But not only do shrimp ponds have pollutants in them, in many places, the creation of the ponds also destroys natural mangrove swamps and the wildlife that live there including crocodiles, birds, and monkeys. In fact,  shrimp farming has destroyed about 38 percent of the world’s mangroves.

But what does this mean for public health? Farmed shrimp can contribute to allergic reactions and can also create bacterial resistance which makes it harder to fight infections. But despite some of the negative effects of shrimp farming, it is not all bad. The United Nations says shrimp farming has been a major economy booster for foreign countries and has offered significant employment opportunities while also sustaining international relations and trade.

Worldwide eco-friendly shrimp farming regulation is needed to protect public health and the environment. And awareness of the different shrimp available, where they come from, and how they were harvested is key to enjoying this tasty treat and staying healthy at the same time. As is the case with many of the foods we eat, it’s important to read the label when choosing which shrimp to buy and to not just look at the price. And ask you local seafood market, grocer, or the restaurants you frequent where the shrimp they are serving come from and how they were caught. The decision of what you eat is yours.

When you can, consider wild caught shrimp from the U.S. or U.S. farmed shrimp. They may come with a higher price tag but what higher price can you pay than for that of your health.

To learn more about aquaculture regulation click here.

For more info on shrimp imports to the U.S:

-Sheila Headspeth

Photo credits: Flickr/Bernal Saborio; Jack Parkinson

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