Can fishermen benefit economically from doubling as environmentalists? A recent article on seafoodnews.com revealed that the Gulf of Mexico shrimp industry, which has historically fought sea turtle conservation, is now advocating for it in their campaign to promote the sale of “Wild American shrimp.” In fact, they are taking credit as one of the main groups responsible for the comeback of the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle population in the Gulf. This recent campaign is a new effort by the industry to shed some positive light on their “dirty” reputation and to take back a share of the shrimp market in the United States.
Historically, the shrimping industry has been blasted by environmentalists for its poor environmental record. Ask any ocean advocate what comes to mind when he/she hears the words “shrimp trawler” and the usual response is disgust at the obscene amount of bycatch that is discarded. In fact, in 2002, the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery was considered the “dirtiest” in the United States, catching 3.41 times more ocean life then actual shrimp. That equals a lot of marine destruction to satisfy America’s taste for shrimp.
One of the shrimp industry’s main arguments for why Americans should buy their product is that 89% of the shrimp consumed in the United States has been imported by nations that do not uphold the same environmental regulations present in the U.S.
I see this change in attitude as a great step forward for an industry that once saw sea turtles as a nuisance and goes to prove that environmental conservation can be a great economic incentive. However, I also realize that this is just the first of many steps necessary to clean up the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery. What are the next steps? Clean up the finfish and crustacean bycatch.