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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
"That which you have wasted will not be there for future generations"

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Guest Column, February 2004

Steve Trent has over 15 years experience as an environmental advocate working to expose and resolve threats to our global environment. Steve worked as Campaigns Director for the Environmental Investigation Agency (UK) for several years, during which time he undertook investigations into the illegal international wildlife trade, illegal logging and the illicit trade in ozone depleting substances.

In 1999, Steve became a founding director of WildAid (USA) and the Environmental Justice Foundation (UK). As EJF director, Steve is pivotal in providing video, camera and advocacy training to the next generation of environmental campaigners in the developing world and heads EJF's Shrimp Campaign. steve.trent@ejfoundation.org

Why we must green the Blue Revolution

Steve Trent, Director, Environmental Justice Foundation (UK) and WildAid (USA)

For the past 15 years I have worked as an environmental campaigner on issues ranging from illegal logging, the international illegal wildlife trade and the illicit trade in ozone depleting substances. From the forests of Indonesia to back street brokers of Hong Kong, rarely have I been so shocked as by the abuses I have witnessed in relation to the farming of shrimp.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) began a shrimp campaign in the UK in 2003 following requests from organizations in the South who are peacefully resisting the spread of this US $7 billion a year industry. Over the past three decades the global shrimp farming industry has burgeoned. Promoted by governments and international finance institutions as a means to alleviate poverty and speed development, the main beneficiaries appear to be private companies and we, the western consumers who have benefited from the ready availability of this tiny, tasty, crustacean.

Around one-third of all shrimp (mainly tiger prawns) eaten comes from farms, situated in over 50 largely tropical and sub-tropical countries. Shrimp recently overtook tuna as the top seafood in the US and the expansion of farms to meet the growing demand in the US, Europe and Japan is carrying a great environmental and social cost that is only now being realized.

In all too many ways the problems of salmon business can be seen in shrimp farming. Issues of pollution; use of prohibited antibiotics, disinfectants, steroid hormones and pesticides; introduction of non-native species and disease and depletion of wild fish stocks will be all too familiar to visitors to these pages. Yet shrimp farming has carried other costs: sited on land rather than in coastal waters, shrimp ponds have expanded over a massive area, largely in developing nations.

Mangrove forests, unique wetlands, corals and seagrass beds have all been damaged or destroyed by shrimp farming. Estimates suggest around 30% of mangrove loss over the past 3 decades can be attributed to shrimp farms. In turn the people who depend on the forests for food, fuel, medicines and building materials have been denied access and are witnessing their livelihoods dwindle. In Ecuador, a single hectare of mangrove can provide food and livelihoods for 10 families: by stark contrast a shrimp farm of 110 hectares employs just six people during the preparation and a further five during the short harvest period.

Rather than contributing to global fish production, shrimp farms – as with salmon farms - are undermining the sustainability of catches in a number of ways. Much of the world’s commercial fish catch depend upon mangroves for some part of their lifecycle: in Southeast Asia where shrimp farms have devastated mangrove forests, mangrove-dependent species account for about one-third of annual wild fish landings. As with salmon production, shrimp feeds are commonly made from wild fishmeal and fish oil and as such can represent a net local loss of protein for the production of a luxury export product. Finally, the wild capture of young shrimp fry and broodstock to stock farms has the highest by-catch of any fishery in the world. In Bangladesh alone an estimated 98 billion individuals of other species are captured in this highly indiscriminate fishery each year.

It has not only been fishing communities that have an axe to grind with shrimp farmers. In countries such as Bangladesh where shrimp farming now covers an area the size of Belgium, vast tracts of agricultural land have been inundated with saltwater, seized by force, or deliberately inundated or polluted to render it infertile. Local communities have lost their traditional way of life that depended on small-scale poultry, cattle rearing or crop cultivation; and many freshwater supplies have been depleted. Having lost their livelihoods, many have turned to shrimp fry collection that involves adults and children spending long, hazardous hours in the water, to stock the very ponds that have deprived them of their traditional lands.

Across shrimp farming countries, opponents of the industry have been threatened, intimidated, beaten or silenced for good by bullets, bombs and machete blades. Murders linked to shrimp farming have occurred in at least 11 countries. In Bangladesh, protests have resulted in almost 200 murders and countless incidences of rape and attack. One peaceful protest against illegal land seizures was brutally quelled by police whose bullets killed four and injured 250 people. In Honduras, another major exporter of shrimp to Europe and North America, 12 small-scale fishermen have been killed in as many years. Jorge Varela, director of a local human rights and environmental group who has himself received numerous death threats summed the situation aptly ‘We have turned the blood of our people into an appetiser’.

Whether stir-fried, barbecued or curried, our passion for this tender crustacean is undeniable, but to sate our appetites, communities in some of the world’s poorest countries are becoming hungrier, thirstier, poorer and less empowered to determine their own lives. As Shri Banke Behary Das, the late Indian campaigner wrote, ‘I say to those of you who eat shrimp – and only the rich people from industrialised countries eat shrimp – I say they are eating the blood sweat and livelihoods of the poor people of the Third World’. It is up to each and every one of us to help end this bloody trade.

Ask your supermarket, fishmonger or restaurant to tell you exactly where their prawns come from and precisely just how they ensure that these supplies do not contribute to environmental and human rights abuses. For more information: www.ejfoundation.org