Groups want action on destructive shrimp farms

by Danielle Knight

United Nations, Apr 25 -- Environmental groups at an international gathering here have called for global action to halt the expansion of shrimp farming, blamed for the destruction of local mangrove ecosystems in tropical coastal regions.

Non-governmental organizations held a "Shrimp Sentinel" on 22 April, while environment ministers from around the world met at the conference of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) to assess progress toward implementing agreements made during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

"Vast areas of the coasts in tropical Asian and Latin American countries, particularly mangrove forests, other wetlands, and agricultural lands, including rice paddies, have been stripped away to build shrimp farms," said Michael Hagler, a campaigner with Greenpeace International.

From Thailand to Ecuador, environmental groups also blamed the waste water from shrimp farms for polluting local water supplies.

"There should be no more lands given to shrimp farmers who pollute the water and destroy the mangroves that local villagers depend on for harvesting wild crabs and shellfish," said Lider Gongora, executive director of the Ecuador-based organisation, Fundecol.

Industrialised shrimp aquaculture has expanded greatly since the mid-eighties, with worldwide production rising from 213,000 tons in 1985 to over 700,000 tons in 1995, according to Hagler.

More than 243,000 of these farms operated world-wide in approximately 50 countries.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated that 50% of the world's mangrove forests had been destroyed - about half of which could be blamed on shrimp aquaculture.

Thailand, Ecuador, China, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines are among the world's largest farmed shrimp producers. The biggest markets are Japan, Europe, and the United States - which imports as much as half of the internationally traded farmed shrimp production.

"The main consumers of shrimp in these industrialised nations have no idea that they are the driving force behind the destruction of these mangroves," said Jacob Scherr, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who chairs the Sentinel.

"This is a classic example of how harmful consumption in the North is affecting poor communities in the South," he added. Shrimp farms are often presented as a way to reduce pressure on wild shrimp and fish stocks. Rebecca Goldberg, a scientist with the Environmental Defence Fund, however said that the feed given to shrimp larvae is partly composed of fish caught in the wild.

Since shrimp farms have been plagued worldwide by viruses, farmers are relying on wild shrimp to replenish their stocks. The pools where the shrimp are kept are also exhausted between five to 10 years because of contamination by antibiotics and waste water.

"This is not a sustainable industry by any means," she told reporters.

Greenpeace's Hagler declared "At a minimum, we urge a world-wide moratorium on further expansion of the shrimp aquaculture industry pending the outcome of a global review of the environmental and social impacts of industrial shrimp aquaculture development."

The Sentinel has been meeting during the CSD conferences since 1996. This year it focused on bringing together representatives from environmental groups, industry and the government in Ecuador.

In 1994, the government banned the construction of shrimp ponds in mangrove forests but there have been repeated complaints about the failure of the government to enforce the decree.

Yolanda Kakabadse, Ecuador's Minister of the Environment, who attended part of the Sentinel, said there were many farms that were expanding into mangroves and farmland illegally.

"The legal framework is not effective, slow and cannot deal with all of the cases that come to court regarding these violations, said Kakabadse. "But it is out of my range of action."

She said her department was developing a system of taxing legal shrimp farms to receive revenue for restoration of mangrove forests that have been degraded or destroyed by shrimp farming.

Yet this only encouraged the illegal shrimp farmers not to come forward, said Sandro Coglitore, president of the National Chamber of Aquaculture, an Ecuador-based industry group.

"There is no doubt that shrimp farms are harming the coastal regions of the country," but the problem mostly was due to illegal farms, said Coglitore.

"Ecuador has no further expansion potential for mangroves," he said and he questioned the environmental group's attack on the industry as a whole since, according to Coglitore's group, it employed 250,000 local people.

Fundecol had entered into a co-management plan with the government to reforest 1,200 hectares of mangroves near the

coastal area of Muisne. Last year, a local businessman cut trees and pulled out the mangrove saplings to build shrimp ponds in this same area.

Since local authorities failed to enforce the law, about 200 local villagers - organised by Gongora - dug trenches into the dikes of the shrimp pond to allow the water and shrimp larvae to flow out, and re-planted the saplings. (IPS)

The above article by the Inter Press Service appeared in the South-North development Monitor(SUNS).

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