America’s Shrimp Gluttony Is Bad for the Planet and Maybe Worse for Human Health
Not so long ago, most Americans regarded shrimp as a delicacy. While residents of Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states enjoyed seasonal access to abundant quantities of locally harvested shrimp — and so could indulge in shrimp-loaded dishes like gumbo and po’ boys — the rest of the country tended to make do with an occasional shrimp cocktail.
Those days are over. According to the most recent figures from the National Fisheries Institute, shrimp is by far the most heavily consumed seafood in the U.S. — and has been since at least 2006. The average American gobbles up more than 4 pounds of shrimp each year. By comparison, the per-capita annual consumption of salmon, the second most popular seafood, is just 2.4 pounds.
Nearly all of the shrimp we eat — greater than 90 percent of it — is foreign. Even if you live in New Orleans or some other place on the ocean, at least 50 percent of the shrimp you’ll find in your local grocery store — and probably an even greater percentage of the stuff you’re served in restaurants — is imported. “We do have domestic shrimp production, but it’s not nearly enough to meet demand,” says Ryan Bigelow, Seafood Watch senior program manager at the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the world’s leading ocean conservation organizations.
According to the latest numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, America imports more than 1.1 billion pounds of shrimp annually. Pretty much all of it is farmed, not wild, Bigelow says. And most of it is raised and harvested in India, Thailand, Vietnam, and other parts of Southeast Asia. This presents a number of serious concerns for the planet and also for the health of the average shrimp-loving American.
“One of the problems with [Asian shrimp] farming is that, historically, it involved cutting down mangroves to make room for shrimp ponds,” Bigelow says. Mangroves act as natural bulwarks, protecting humans and wildlife from the perils of rising waters, storms, and tidal…