Shrimp: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

My husband is very kind when he tells people I’m a good cook.  I would never call myself a good cook, but rather something closer to a satisfactory one.   I choose healthy, whole food and make sure there is flavor to be had, but my repertoire lacks spark.  I have a set number of meals that I put together, and I rarely venture beyond them.  This is because, though I honor my role as the cook of the house, I lack the desire to invest time and energy in acquiring new recipes.  I wish it were otherwise, but, as they say, I’ve got better fish to fry.

Given my chef profile, it makes sense that shrimp are an essential component to my weekly meals.  They are so easy to cook, so versatile and can be successfully brought together with other food I tend to have in the house.  Throw in some pesto or red curry sauce a la Trader Joe’s, and I’m set.  Shrimp are a satisfactory cook’s best friend.

Yet, I have quietly known for some time that shrimp were up there when it comes to seafood that is significantly damaging to both human health and the environment.  I didn’t want to do the research to find out the specifics – didn’t want to face it – but I finally did.  And now it is clear to me that, if I’m going to walk the talk on caring for this living planet we call home, I need to let them go.

Break up with shrimp?  They’ve always been there for me when I’ve needed them.  How can I live without them?  I’m a little freaked out.

While reluctantly researching on the Internet, I came across an excellent article, “Shrimp’s Dirty Secrets: Why America’s Favorite Seafood Is a Health and Environmental Nightmare,” which provided the following information I was hoping to avoid:

  • When farmed, shrimp are often soaked in toxic chemicals that end up on our plates.   An example sighted in the article gives the following list of chemicals used on a shrimp farm in India:  urea, superphosphate, and diesel, followed by piscicides (fish-killing chemicals like chlorine and rotenone), pesticides and antibiotics (including some that are banned in the U.S.).  The process ends by treating the shrimp with sodium tripolyphosphate (a suspected neurotoxicant), Borax, and occasionally caustic soda.  Yum!
  • Upon arrival in the U.S. few if any shrimp are inspected by the FDA, and when researchers have examined imported ready-to-eat shrimp, they found 162 separate species of bacteria with resistance to 10 different antibiotics.
  • Shrimp farming is credited with destroying 38 percent of the world’s mangroves, some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Mangroves sequester vast amounts of carbon, which we desperately need, and serve as valuable buffers against hurricanes and tsunamis.  Even after a shrimp farm leaves, the mangroves do not come back.
  • With cleaner farming systems, an estimated average of 1.4 pounds of wild fish are used to produce every pound of farmed shrimp.  These fish are important food for seabirds, big commercial fish and whales, so removing them from the ecosystem to feed farmed shrimp is problematic.
  • Wild shrimp are mostly caught using trawling, a highly destructive fishing method. Football field-sized nets are dragged along the ocean floor, scooping up and killing several pounds of marine life for every pound of shrimp they catch and demolishing the ocean floor ecosystem as they go. Where they don’t clear-cut coral reefs or other rich ocean floor habitats, they drag their nets through the mud, leaving plumes of sediment so large they are visible from outer space.  After trawling destroys an ocean floor, the ecosystem often cannot recover for decades, if not centuries or millennia. This is particularly significant because 98 percent of ocean life lives on or around the seabed.

I was crushed reading this information.

Thankfully I came across some good news, too.  The U.S. has strong regulations for farmed shrimp, and they are a good way to go – though harder to find.  Eighty-five percent of shrimp consumed in the U.S. come from other countries.  Shrimp that are wild-caught are also an option, though it is important to distinguish whether or not they were caught by way of trawling.  Most are trawled.

In conclusion, perhaps I don’t have to entirely break up with shrimp, though they will be more like an acquaintance than the BFF  they once were.  I’ve got some research and legwork to do to see where I can find U.S. farmed or ethically wild-caught shrimp, but this is time I consider worthwhile.  Though I hate to ad yet another grocery store to my list of places I need to go, I can handle a once-every-two-months excursion. After all, it is shrimp.

I am currently mourning the convenience of the always-present shrimp in my freezer, but I feel better knowing I am no longer destroying oceans or unknowingly contaminating my family.  Maybe this is one reason my husband says I’m a good cook – a reason I can agree with.


I encourage you to read the full article, “Shrimps Dirty Secrets” on Alternet.

Monteray Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch does a good job of letting consumers know which shrimp are the best to buy.

2 responses to “Shrimp: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

  1. Oh, dear. Not sure I really wanted to know all of this. Sigh… I absolutely love shrimp… Hmmm… a little education in our environmentally caustic way of live is not such a good thing, for my diet. For my and the planet and the shrimp’s health… maybe yes.

    • I didn’t want to know the truth about shrimp either, Mare. It has been such a staple at dinner — and I love them. After having done the research, though, I had to let them go. Still treat myself to them sometimes when I’m out, but I’m not buying until I find a good source for US farmed. Sometimes it’s hard to walk the talk, but I had to do it after what I learned. I feel your pain…

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