Do you know where your shrimp has been?

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Shrimp and prawns are some of the only seafood that I will buy in the grocery store.  I love shrimp, but alas, my husband does not fish for them, so I must resort to buying them.  But lately I have been having a really hard time finding US caught shrimp in our local grocery stores.  Even as recently as a couple years ago I could easily find a selection of shrimp from different sources; some from Asia, some from South America, Mexico, and the (more expensive) US caught option.

I always check the seafood section when I go grocery shopping, but at several different grocery stores around Bellingham I have been finding nothing but farmed shrimp from Thailand.  EVERYTHING is from Thailand.  Peeled, tail-on, cooked, raw, every option, every brand = Farmed/ Thailand.  What gives?  I understand that the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery has had a rough go of it, what with the BP oil spill and all, but I was under the impression that the industry has since made a recovery.

The problem is that Thailand’s aquaculture industry has been booming in the last few years.  Thailand is now the biggest supplier of seafood to the US, and shrimp is one of the top products imported. In fact, Thailand is now the world’s biggest supplier of shrimp.  Shrimp farming has been wildly successful in Thailand, where farmers clear mangrove forests along the coasts to make way for shrimp ponds (60% of Thailand’s mangrove forests have been cleared – read Cheap Shrimp: Hidden Costs).  Due to poor farming practices, like overcrowding, the use of harsh chemicals, fertilizers, and antibiotics, these ponds are often unusable after a couple years.  The farmers then abandon the polluted ponds and move on to start new ponds along the coast.

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an example of a shrimp pond, this one in South Korea

Even though Thailand has been increasing it’s environmental and health regulations, the fact is, their standards are just not the same as ours.  Don’t even get me started on their (lack of) labor laws, or the destruction done by their wild-caught shrimp fisheries.  And it’s not just Thailand – China’s fish farms have been growing at frightening speeds and they have the same disregard for environmental, labor and health regulations.

To add to the problem, only 1% of imported seafood is inspected, and only 0.1% is tested for residues of drugs that are banned in the US.  It is simply not feasible to test all seafood that comes into our country.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to eat shrimp from a country that has a reputation of feeding it’s farmed seafood with untreated animal manure and human waste (read this), I want it tested first.  And this is why I won’t eat imported shrimp, no matter how cheap it is, or any other imported seafood for that matter.  So until I find US shrimp back in the freezers at my grocery store (or even better, down in the harbor, fresh off the boat!) I will sadly not be eating any of those tasty little crustaceans, and I would advise all of you readers to do the same.  Read the fine print on the packaging – know where your seafood is coming from!