Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Shrimp Dilemma: Wild or Farmed?

By: Cecily Costa

We Americans eat about 3x more shrimp than we did 35 years ago, says Consumer Reports—that’s about 4 pounds per person, per year. Over 90% is imported, primarily farmed from India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Most shrimp labels are confusing and deceptive. “Natural” or “wild “shrimp does not necessarily mean fresher, more flavorful or safer. Organic? There is no US standard for organic labeling of shrimp and “natural” or worse, “environmentally aware” mean nothing. Sometimes shrimp is mislabeled. If your wild shrimp is consistent in size, shape and color, it may not even be wild. If your wild shrimp has the shell still on but has a clean vein, it is probably farmed (farmed shrimp stop being fed before harvesting so that their veins empty). Consumer Reports even found some “chemical free” shrimp tested positive for antibiotics, which, of course, are chemicals. As far as taste, wild shrimp can often have a briny flavor because of natural compounds called bromophenols as well as iodine. This flavor is generally stronger from shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico and milder in the Florida Keys and the Atlantic. Nutritionally, they are the same.

Consumer Reports recommends buying shrimp certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and those listed as “Best Choices” or “Good Alternative” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide. Up until now, only WILD shrimp had this certification.

We are the first in the United States to stock 'Pond To Fork' shrimp from Sustainable Shrimp Initiative™ (SSI) - which is labeled “Good Alternative” or “Yellow”. SSI has created a sustainable solution for shrimp. This is NO commodity shrimp. Traditional farmed shrimp uses 1 pond per crop, SSI uses 3 ponds—one to grow, one to clean the just used water and one to hold the cleaned water for the next cycle. And it’s “Never Ever” - no drugs or antibiotics are used, at any point in the production process. When working at the pond level of the supply chain, not only is sustainability addressed, but flavor and eating characteristics are also brought into consideration.

SSI’s water management method of infrequent exchange ponds is a game changer. Contained Aquaculture (CA) farm raised shrimp from Thailand is the first generation of environmentally sound, sustainable farm raised shrimp to receive the positive Monterey Bay Aquarium rating. In addition to water management, the CA method of farm raising shrimp continuously monitors other factors such as habitat, chemicals, feed, and disease. The process is one where water is naturally cleansed with plant and wildlife. This allows the water to be reused for multiple harvests or grow cycles. It should be no surprise that Europe, with its higher food quality standards, is the largest consumer of CA shrimp (they even call it out on the menus). CA farm raised shrimp are significantly better for the environment in several ways:
  •  CA shrimp is the ONLY “Good Alternative” or “Yellow” rated in the world!!
  •  3 pond versus 1 pond system
  •  Committed to producing good shrimp that doesn’t hurt the environment
  •  Complete traceability
Though wild shrimp from the US were among the least likely to test positive for bacteria or chemicals, there is still need for concern. Nets dragged along the ocean floor can severely damage the ecosystem. Though there are nets to protect turtles and other fish from shrimp nets, some estimates say that at least 1 to 3 pounds of other species can be killed for every pound of wild shrimp. There is a US federal law requiring shrimpers to have these nets, though a law on Louisiana’s books prohibits the enforcement of those rules for their local fisherman. Despite the fact that some nets have roller balls which are gentler on the ocean flour, the majority use heavy nets that grate the fragile floor and everything in its path. Basically, the bigger the trawler, the bigger and heavier the net. The fact is, the majority of wild shrimp on the market is caught on big trawlers. Google it, you will see that “wild” is not always the environmentally best choice.

True, farmed shrimp are usually grown in huge industrial tanks or shallow man-made ponds where they are fed commercial pellets, sometimes containing antibiotics to ward off disease—one pond per crop. Though imported farm-raised shrimp is NOT supposed to be raised using antibiotics or pesticides, the fact of the matter is that the FDA “examines” (i.e. reads the label) less than 4% of imported shrimp and “tests “under 1%. Consumer Reports found that 28% of raw imported shrimp tested positive for antibiotics. Environmental pollution and disease, which are symptomatic of traditional aquaculture methods, are the reasons why other Asian farm raised shrimp continue to receive the negative rating of “AVOID” or “RED” by watchdog groups that monitor sustainable and environmentally sound aquaculture practices. Note, traditional farmed shrimp from Thailand have had the cleanest record regarding bacteria over Vietnam, Ecuador, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh.

We think our farm raised CA shrimp from SSI is the answer to this dilemma. Pricing for this shrimp is really good too. It will save you about $1.50-$2.00 per pound over wild and only cost around $1.00 more per pound ($0.25 portion) over traditional farm raised. Available now — 21/25 (#477500) and 26/30 (#457870) peeled, deveined, tail on, IQF. Ask your sales rep for a sample and do a cutting on what you are using now. Maybe this is your answer to the dilemma too!