Giant tiger shrimp

The giant tiger prawn, also known as the tropicalshrimp, is incredibly popular worldwide. When ordering tropical shrimp in a restaurant, chances are big you could receive eitherwhite-legged shrimp or giant tiger prawns. Unfortunately, there are multiple issues when these species are farmed.

For example, many mangrove forests used to be cut down for the construction of farming ponds. Nowadays, these ponds are built near coastal areas, which are valuable and vulnerable natural areas as well. Because shrimp easily transmit diseases many medicines, antibiotics, and chemicals are used which are very harmful to the environment, and because of the poor laws and regulations in the countries where this species is farmed, little is being done about it.

Wild prawns

Tropical shrimp are also caught in the wild but are severely overfished and the fishing method used has serious consequences for the ecosystem. There are also many problems with fisheries management and illegal fishing.

VISwijzer advice

Because of all the problems surrounding tropical shrimp, it is better to avoid these species. An exception to this, are prawns with the ASC ecolabel, which are sustainable. See our extensive VISwijzer for more details.

Where do the tropical shrimps on my plate come from?

Tropical shrimp, or prawns, which we have on the market in the Netherlands can be found in all tropical regions around the equator. Various shrimps are fished worldwide. From 2008-2013, most shrimp were caught around Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines (also known as the ‘Coral Traingle’), 43% of the total shrimp catch came from this area, 30% around India and 21% from North and South America. Shrimp is, therefore, one of the most popular fish products imported into the Netherlands from developing countries.

Because the demand for tropical shrimp continues to rise, more and more shrimp are being farmed. At this moment 55% of the global supply of shrimp comes from farming. Tropical shrimp farming takes place in Asia and South America, including the countries of Ecuador and Brazil.

How does tropical shrimp aquaculture work?

Aquaculture of tropical shrimp makes use of different methods. The most common being pond systems. For extensive aquaculture these ponds are in constant contact with tidal waters, this way the water is refreshed in a natural manner. In addition the shrimp are provided with naturally occuring food, enough to not need additional feed because of the low amount of shrimp being kept in the ponds. Organic shrimps on the Dutch market mostly come from these kind of extensive aquaculture systems.

Non-organic shrimp is kept in more intensive aquaculture systems. Pondsystems are still used, but with many more shrimp per pond. Here, additional feeding becomes necessary and natural water exchange can no longer be considered enough, as every day 10-40% of all water needs to be refreshed.

Extensive shrimp aquaculture in Malasia where there was once mangrove forests (Viva, 2021).

Besides pond systems, shrimp are sometimes cultured in recirculation systems on land. Here one has much more control of what goes in and out of the system, resulting in a potentially cleaner intensive aquaculture system. The energy costs do get higher, however.

Are there any tropical shrimps that are sustainable?

Shrimp stand low in the food chain so it could be an ideal product to eat provided that the fishing or farming takes place in a sustainable manner. Unfortunately, there are still many shrimp that are not sustainable on the Dutch market.

If you would like to eat tropical shrimp, Good Fish recommends extensively farmed organic shrimp. The ASC certified shrimp is also a responsible choice. Both standards address the negative effects of shrimp farming, including the pollution of the farm’s immediate environment by the discharge of farm manure, the excessive use of antibiotics and chemicals, the risk of disease, and unsustainable or excessive use of feed and the clearing of mangrove forests.

Check the Fish Guide for more details and choose a ‘Good’ shrimp.

Are there any welfare issues with tropical shrimps?

Every year, more than a hundred thousand breeding shrimps worldwide have their eyes cut off or squeezed out. The cutting of the eyes only takes place with broodstock, specifically the mothers, because it encourages the shrimp to lay eggs sooner. This is related to the hormonal gland that lies behind the eye; when the eye is cut off, this gland no longer functions and the eggs will ripen more quickly.

The eyes have not been cut off in relation to the farmed shrimp that are sold in shops but they have been cut off in relation to the mothers of these shrimp. If you want to eat shrimp whereby the mother is not exposed to these practices, it is best to choose organically farmed shrimp. Here the practice is prohibited. Wild caught shrimp are also not exposed to this practice.

ASC is currently working on a standard for welfare and will also include the welfare of tropical shrimp in this standard. However, currently ASC certified shrimp can still originate from hatcheries where this technique is used.

Is antibiotics a problem in shrimp farming?

There is still little work being done on disease prevention within shrimp farming. As a result, antibiotics and other disease-fighting chemicals are still too often used on a large scale for breeding tropical shrimp worldwide. If antibiotics are used too often and are taken carelessly, an increasing number of bacterial species can resist the effect of antibiotics. In the worst case, bacterial infections can no longer be treated in the future.

If you want to eat shrimp, buy shrimp with a quality mark that stands for Best Management Practices such as ASC certified shrimp or organic shrimp where antibiotics may not be used.

Is eating tropical shrimp healthy?

Like fish, crustaceans and shellfish are generally rich in vitamin B12 and the minerals iodine and selenium. In addition, they contain varying amounts of B vitamins depending on the species. Shrimp and mussels, for example, are a source of vitamin B2. Shellfish, such as lobster, oysters and mussels, are officially not fish, but they do count as a weekly portion of (low-fat) fish in the ‘Schijf van Vijf’ according to the Voedingscentrum.

Because shrimp are at the bottom of the food chain and have little fat, they only accumulate small amounts of heavy metals such as mercury. Wild caught shrimp therefore have a low risk.

Farmed tropical shrimp are another story. Here there are some reasons for concern. The use of antibiotics in farmed tropical shrimp can be significant. In 2015, a Consumer Reports investigation found that of 205 shrimp samples imported, 11 were found to be contaminated with antibiotic residues.

Is there a vegan alternative for shrimp?

Few vegan alternatives are known on the Dutch market. One of these is the Zeastar Crispy Lemon Shrimpz.

Despite the limited availability of vegan shrimp on the Dutch market, there are many such products available on the European market. The availability of vegan shrimp in the Netherlands will likely increase in the coming years.