From: Marc Gunther, Yale Environment 360
Published August 8, 2012 12:06 PM

Shrimp Farms and Sustainablity

As shrimp aquaculture has boomed globally to keep pace with surging demand, the environmental toll on mangroves and other coastal ecosystems has been severe. Now, conservation groups and some shrimp farmers are creating a certification scheme designed to clean up the industry and reward sustainable producers.


Carlos Perez, a well-to-do businessman, has been farming shrimp in Ecuador since 1979. He has seen the industry boom: Ecuador exported about $1.2 billion worth of shrimp last year, and its shrimp farmers employ about 102,000 people. He has also watched as shrimp farms have played a major role in the destruction of two-thirds of the country's mangrove swamps — rich ecosystems that serve as buffers against storms, store carbon, and support fish, birds, and small mammals.

There's got to be a better way, Perez says, and so he is working closely with a global alliance called the Aquaculture Stewardship Council to develop, test, and deploy new standards for shrimp aquaculture. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council, or ASC, hopes to do for fish farming what its sister organization, the Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, has done for ocean fishing: Reward the most responsible producers. "It is the most demanding standard that has ever been produced for shrimp and fish," Perez says.

Perez, who is 59 and grew up in the Galapagos Islands, has environmental credibility. A Georgia Tech-educated engineer, he was one of the inventors of a patented system to filter the water that flows out of fish farms. But the ASC standard for shrimp, which will be rolled out later this year, has run into resistance in the U.S. Big buyers of fish like Walmart and Darden, the restaurant chain, are instead working with an industry-led organization called the Global Aquaculture Alliance that has its own, less stringent certification standards. "With shrimp," Perez says, "there's going to be a huge battle."

Shrimp farm photo via Shutterstock.

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