Last week, Mother Jones ran an article titled “As If Slavery Weren’t Enough, 6 Other Reasons to Avoid Shrimp,” which accurately details the growing concerns associated with imported, farm-raised shrimp, as well as the devastating human trafficking on certain foreign shrimp vessels and farms around the world.
However, the proposed solution of avoiding shrimp consumption entirely may be unfounded.
What many people may not know is that wild-caught, domestic shrimp has the potential to be a safe and sustainable choice if the U.S. seafood and fishing industries just make a few simple changes.
First, there needs to be more traceability in the seafood supply chain as well as more information provided to seafood buyers at the point of sale. By knowing where and how your shrimp was caught, as well as whether it was farmed or wild, consumers can make more informed decisions about what’s on their dinner plates. Tracking our seafood from boat to plate is the only way for us to know 100 percent that our shrimp is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.
Second, the government needs to require all shrimp fishing boats using trawl nets in the U.S. to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), grates inserted in the nets that have been proven to allow captured sea turtles to escape. The government has required TEDs on certain shrimp trawls, called otter trawls, since the mid-1990s, but other types of trawl boats have been exempted from the requirements, even though testing has shown TEDs are 97 percent effective at reducing the number of sea turtles killed. Currently, more than 50,000 sea turtles are killed in the Southeast shrimp fishery every year, but this simple requirement would mean thousands of sea turtles saved and more sustainable shrimp on our plates.
Some fishermen in the U.S. are already leading the way, by voluntarily using TEDs in their trawl nets to reduce bycatch as well as using traceability to track their product through the supply chain. These leaders should be rewarded by having American consumers purchasing their products. But until the U.S. requires full-chain traceability, tracking the product from the TED-equipped fishing vessel to the dinner plate, it is hard for consumers to distinguish which shrimp is the best choice, and the bait-and-switch of seafood fraud will continue to steal profits from honest fishermen and rip off consumers.
The U.S. government has the ability to allow Americans to feel more confident in eating wild-caught, domestic shrimp. It is time for it to take action by requiring TEDs in all trawl nets and traceability for all seafood.