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But, in the back of your mind, are you thinking about the horror stories of industrial sized shrimp farms causing massive pollution and deforestation; or of slave trade on shrimp boats in South East Asia and then feeling a little queasy or guilty? Maybe you try to limit your purchasing to sources you think you can trust; or maybe you just give up and don’t eat shrimp anymore.
Small landholders become shrimp farmers: Cà Mau province is at the southern end of Viet Nam and is part of the Mekong Delta. If you look at a map, it’s a series of small canals or channels, like a little fringe of fingers that lead into the South China Sea. Along these canals, there are mangrove forests that act as a barrier reef housing a vibrant habitat for birds and aquatic animals.
Large scale industrialized shrimp farms in the area had cut down the mangrove forests in order to create breeding ponds, as happens with commercial-scale intensive farming. Small farmers who joined in this business found they had good yield and profits for the first year or so, but then as disease and pollution affected the yield, they were no longer making money.
They are nurturing a network of fisherman, processors and exporters, working in conjunction with local legal authorities to create the globally recognized brand of sustainable Selva shrimp.
Those same small farmers who were eligible to participate in this program were able to replant or maintain the mangrove forests, and grow premium quality shrimp while making a profit and maintaining their traditional lifestyle and culture.
Here’s how it works: Organic root stock of black tiger prawn “PLs” (Post Larvae) shrimp are introduced into the mangrove forest canals and are allowed to grow and lead a very natural life. They are not given any sort of feed or antibiotics as the mangrove forest provides all the nutrients they need and the shrimp are kept at a reasonable and sustainable density level.
Twice a month, according to the moon cycles and tidal flush, mature shrimp follow their natural cycle and flow out of the nurturing canals and head to the South China Sea. It is at this point they are carefully purse netted and processed. Because this is a natural selection process, the sizes will range, with most shrimp in the 16-20 per pound range. Minh Phu Seafood processes the shrimp and maintains the records for traceability. This is a critical step in ensuring the integrity of the Selva Shrimp brand.
Each country has different rules and priorities regarding importing shrimp. Blueyou is working to get Selva Shrimp into Japan where the product is being appreciated because of its superior flavor and texture, while being applauded for its efforts in providing a natural and sustainably raised product. Australia has been more challenging due to its strong import regulations that help protect their own prawn industry. Canada has embraced the brand, and the U.S is just beginning to import these shrimp that have received a “Best Choice” ranking from Seafood Watch.
This seems to be a win-win situation all around: the mangrove forests do their job protecting against flooding and erosion, the forest actually absorbs more carbon that it produces so it is carbon negative and the shrimp can live in their natural habitat. Small farmers are now connecting into a larger system that finds a market for this premium product.
Knowledgeable consumers understand they will need to pay a bit more for this product because of the commitment to developing a stable sustainable supply chain for shrimp. Hopefully this initial project will spread to other vulnerable areas of South East Asia and make a significant change in the shrimp industry.
*Special thanks to Neil Radix, North American Managing Director of Blueyou and Ned Ligenza, of MSeafood Corp. for taking the time to explain the complex supply chain and environmental impact of sustainable shrimp farming.
-Judith Klinger is a Founder and Director of World-Eats.org