Celebrating Lunar New Year: Prawns

Planning your New Year dinner soon? Prawns sure are yummy!

But what is the true price of the prawns in your dinner?

While traditional small scale prawn farming is sustainable, the explosion of large scale prawn farming has destroyed many mangroves and coastal habitats. With a particularly enormous price paid when these coasts are impacted by disasters such as tsunamis and cyclones.

How do large scale prawn farms impact the environment?

  • Large tracts of mangroves are cleared.
  • Non-native prawns are used (requiring foreign exchange).
  • The prawns are fed with wild caught fish.
  • The prawn ponds are treated with antibiotics, pesticides and water additives.
  • Water from these farms, laden with prawn waste and chemicals, further damage the surroundings.
  • Diseases that develop resistance to antibiotics devastate not only prawn farms but also other aquacultures and marine wildlife.
  • Salt water from mangrove clearance intrudes inland, affecting supplies of drinking water and inland farmlands.
How do large scale prawn farms impact the local population?
  • These farms are capital-intensive and do not generate jobs for the low income low skill people that live near the mangroves.
  • The farms displace these locals, who previously relied on the mangroves for food and income.
Why should we care that mangroves are lost?
  • Mangroves provide income and food for subsistence coastal dwellers. These families are displaced in such developments.
  • Mangroves are an important part of the spectrum of marine ecosystems that extend to reefs. Many commercially important fish and other seafood spend their younger days in the shelter of mangroves.
  • Mangrove protect the land from events such as tsunamis, cyclones and high waves.
"The economic value of mangroves is high (because they play such a pivotal role in coastal protection from storms and tsunamis compared to the cost of recovery in their absence). However, these benefits are only felt locally, whereas the profits from shrimp farms line pockets around the world. " Journal Watch Online 17 Jan 08

How is traditional prawn farming conducted?
A live, hands-on demonstration of this is conducted at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. The earliest upcoming demonstration is scheduled for 15 Mar (Sat). Bring the kids, it's a fun and very educational activity.

How about prawns caught by trawling?
  • Dragging trawl nets on the ocean floor to catch prawns is equivalent to strip mining the reefs and shores.
  • In some estimates, for every 1kg of prawns caught, 9-12kg of 'by-catch' are thrown away, amounting to 55 000 tonnes of discards every year. The 'by-catch' includes juvenile fishes and sea turtles.
  • Trawling is seen by some to be a key cause of the decline of some sea turtle species.
So what should we do about eating prawns?
  • Find out where your prawns come from.
  • Tell your supplier and supermarket you prefer prawns from sustainable sources.
  • Eat less prawns.
  • Eat what you take. Don't throw away prawns! (or any food for that matter). Many marine animals have died and people have suffered to put that prawn on your plate!
More links

Shrimp Farming will Ruin Nigeria’s Environment
Akie Hart and IH Pepple, thisdayonline 14 Jan 08;
with lots of details and case studies of the impact of large scale prawn farming in various countries.

A little bit of shrimp farming is OK, environment economists say
Journal Watch Online 17 Jan 08;

Top Tips for ethical eating
On the Environmental Justice Foundation website with a Prawn Consumer Guide (PDF file) of how to make a choice about the prawns that you buy.

Food detective: Tiger prawns
Sheila Keating, The Times 5 Jan 08;

Rainforests of the sea: mangrove forests threatened by prawn aquaculture
Alfredo Quarto, The Environmental Magazine Feb 1994

Great Barrier Reef Prawn Trawling Campaign - The Toll of Trawling
on the Wilderness Society website

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