Did you know that when shrimp are trawled, only 10-20% of the sea life captured is shrimp? That means the remaining 80-90% consists of unwanted by catch, which is thrown overboard either dead or dying. Fish and sea turtles are the primary victims.
Not only does bycatch harm current population levels by needlessly killing creatures, but it limits future populations as well. Dead fish can’t exactly breed. Shocker, I know.
Scientists have made efforts to reduce the incidence of bycatch in shrimp trawling. For example, the turtle excluder device (TED)–a grid placed in the trawl that prevents larger creatures from traveling through, offering them a chance to escape–was introduced back in the 1970s. However, these devices are not perfect and are not used universally.
It’s all too easy to remain ignorant to industry practices. We don’t see the bycatch that’s discarded in the same way that we watch food degrade in our refrigerators. Also, shrimp are rather delicious. But, bycatch contributes to the 40%. Ignorance is bliss, but is it right?
Fortunately, some shrimp are better than others. Monterey Bay Aquarium offers charts on its website, indicating which varieties of shrimp, as well as numerous other edible sea creatures, are your best choice with regard to sustainability. Purchasing seafood consciously requires a bit of effort–you have to take into account the variety, region, and catch method–but I think it’s a step worth taking.
If you’re curious about how shrimp trawls work, watch this little video.