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Tropical Shrimp

Overview

Tropical shrimp has become one of the world´s most valued seafoods over the past decade and accounts for 20% of internationally traded seafood products in market value. Shrimp fishing generates income for 900,000 fishermen worldwide with 1.3 tons caught annually. Fleets have increased rapidly over the last 30 years to more than 400,000 trawlers from approximately 65 countries. They engaged in an activity that is considered to be one of the most damaging and non-selective fishing methods in the world.

There are also hundreds of thousands of coastal/artisanal fishers using a variety of fishing gear, including small trawls, trammel nets, bag nets, and seines to catch all varieties of shrimp. However, it is estimated that these small-scale fishermen catch less than 5% of total production by volume.

Unfortunately, due to their high popularity as a food item, important tropical shrimp species caught mainly for consumption in North America, the European Union, Japan, the Coral Triangle, and the Indian subcontinent are experiencing a sharp decline in fishery output.

900,000

Shrimp fishing generates income for 900,000 fishermen worldwide with 1.3 tons caught annually.

Why It Matters

  • Overfishing Makes Stocks Less Stable

    Very few shrimp stocks appear to be stable. Examples of stocks harvested to optimal levels include fisheries in Australia, the U.S., and two stocks in Mexico (Pacific and Atlantic brown shrimp). All other stocks, including most other stocks in Mexico, are experiencing strong declines. In fisheries with open access regimes (e.g. India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico, Nigeria, and Guyana) fishing effort may need to be cut by at least 50 percent in order to restore fisheries to sustainable levels.

     

  • Shrimp Fishing Causes Conflicts

    The growth in artisanal fisheries which often catch smaller-sized shrimp from inshore breeding and nursery areas is having a severe impact on both shrimp stocks and the economics of offshore vessels. The focus on managing larger vessels in the absence of similar management efforts for inshore fisheries is a significant shortcoming, and often results in conflicts between small fishers and larger ones. This is especially relevant when industrial vessels operate illegally in nearshore areas reserved for artisanal fishermen.

     

  • Governmental Short-Sightedness

    Many governments focus on food security and the political risks of limiting access to shrimp harvesting rather than on long-term environmental, economic, and social sustainability issues. This short-term outlook has spawned a reluctance to adapt management initiatives that focus on limiting bycatch. Markets have consequently developed for bycatch species, which may include food for coastal populations and, in some cases, inputs to fishmeal used as feed in the aquaculture sector. Short-term focus is ill founded and contradicts the rationale for supporting long-term sustainability of the resource in the interests of food security and benefits to coastal communities.

Impacts

Shrimp trawler

Tropical shrimp trawling has one of the highest bycatch rates of all fishing techniques and often damages the ocean´s seafloor. Large trawl nets dragged along the sea bottom scoop up everything in their path. Species caught include marine turtles, juvenile fish, small whales, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs, sharks, seahorses, seabirds, sea snakes, corals and other invertebrates such as crabs and starfish. Trawlers destroy important and sensitive habitats such as sea grass and corals that serve as vital nursery and spawning grounds for juvenile fish and other species. For example, in the Gulf of Mexico, shrimp trawlers catch as many as 35 million juvenile red snappers each year, enough to harm the population. While in the Gulf of California, entanglement in shrimp trawler nets threatens the vaquita —the world's smallest and most endangered small marine porpoise—with potential extinction.

What WWF Is Doing

Shrimp fishery, Mexico

This shrimp fishery in the Gulf of California uses a Turtle Excluder Device in the upper part of its net. Turtle Excluder Devices save up to thousands of marine turtles per year.

Promoting Bycatch Reduction Devices

We promote the installation of Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRD), installed in shrimp nets to provide a small opening in the top of the shrimp trawl for finfish such as red snapper to escape while retaining the shrimp catch. We have also helped to reduce bycatch through implementation of tools such as the Turtle Excluder Device, which saves up to thousands of marine turtles per year.

Advancing Well-Managed Shrimp Fisheries

WWF works with other non-governmental organizations, governments, scientists, the shrimp industry, retailers and buyers on the market to find effective ways to make shrimp fishing production and consumption more sustainable. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), co-founded by WWF in 1997, promotes consumer initiatives and trade management measures that encourage sustainable, traceable fisheries and responsible market products. The MSC framework assesses fisheries against performance indicators for three main principles:

  • the status of stocks
  • impacts on the ecosystem
  • management conditions

It also includes economic and social considerations. Shrimp fisheries have been certified in many countries all over the world. Recently, the first prawn fishery in Southeast Asia, and the first king prawn fishery globally, was certified in Australia.

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