27 March 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Shrimp madness

Don’t be too quick off the mark to order those prawns – your choice is not doing our environment any good.

You’re sitting in a restaurant, scanning the mains. There are prawns. Fabulous. Choice made. But, tragically, prawns (shrimps) are 1 of the worst possible culinary choices you could make. Their carbon footprint is humungous.

Most shrimps or prawns come from Asian prawn farms, created by destroying mangrove forests.

According to Canadian researchers, a 100g serving of shrimp cocktail costs a staggering 198kg of carbon.

And, after the mangroves have been destroyed, the prawn-farm ponds are abandoned after 3 to 9 years because of acidification, disease and general contamination.

Okay, but isn’t this just a bad choice for people living far from prawn fisheries, like in North America? What about South Africa, which is close to Mozambique, which in turn has long been justly famous for its plentiful prawns?

The most credible source on these matters is the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi). It classifies fish and shellfish according to 3 categories: red (don’t order it, don’t eat it); orange (be cautious because the fishery is in trouble); and green (sure thing, order up).

Sassi classifies prawns in the orange zone. On its website, www.wwfsassi.co.za, it explains why.

You have no idea where your prawns come from. They may be from Indonesian prawn farms, or they may be wild-caught.

Ah, wild-caught. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

Actually not. Prawns are bottom-feeders. Catching them means trawling the bottom of the ocean in shallow, sensitive areas. Your prawn meal contributes to critical ecosystem degradation. Also, of all the fisheries, prawn has the greatest ‘by-catch’. In fact, 90% of what is brought up is actually another species.

Your prawn meal contributes to critical ecosystem degradation. Also, of all the fisheries, prawn has the greatest ‘by-catch’. In fact 90% of what is brought up is actually another species.

Perversely, those other species then have to be tossed overboard. They don’t go on to live happy other lives. By then, they are dead. They just spiral to the bottom.

Just in case you’re shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘meh’, some of the more notable prawn by-catch includes charismatic species like turtles.

But there is good news in all of this. Sassi notes that there are some responsible prawn farms that do things right. Unfortunately, they don’t have any ecolabel certifications yet.

So it suggests the following: if you have an unquenchable yen for shellfish, try the West Coast lobster, which is locally caught and has a mostly well-managed fishery. You could also go for oyster or mussels. All are classified as ‘green’.

Failing that, it says, keep the prawns for a really special occasion.

Category: Food & Wine


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