Farmed Shrimp

I’ve been trying hard not to get on the ‘buy this not that’ bandwagon but this is a place where I feel I must weigh in. There is a lot of mis- and bad information about the different types of shrimp. I’ve talked previously here about northern, cold-water (pandalid) shrimp versus southern, warm-water (penaeid) shrimp but I haven’t talked about farmed versus wild penaeid shrimp (pandalid shrimp are not farmed). The relative wealth of western society and our love for eating shrimp has created an ecological nightmare in Mexico, and in South American and Southeast Asian countries where mangrove beaches and estuaries are being converted into shrimp farms. This eliminates vital mangrove rearing habitat for fish and invertebrates, harming local wild fish populations and the fishermen who depend upon them, all the while creating additional demand for wild fish as shrimp food, and virtually enslaving the disenfranchised local fishermen. The environmental practices associated with these shrimp farms are poor, resulting in an environment and a shrimp product contaminated with PCBs, bacteria, antibiotics, and other chemicals. When this contaminated shrimp hits U.S. docks, the problem worsens, as the lack of an effective seafood labelling program soon renders them indistinguishable from U.S. wild penaeids.
Happily, farmed penaeids can be fairly easily distinguished from wild pandalids, which are an excellent choice from a health standpoint and a decent choice from an environmental standpoint. Penaeids have a strong dorsal ‘vein’ (actually the digestive tract) which is often removed and are never found with eggs attached as they are broadcast spawners. In pandalids, the digestive tract doesn’t need to be removed and there are often eggs attached to the abdomen. Finally, the first three penaeid legs but only the first two pandalid legs, have pinchers. Wild pandalid shrimp are high in protein, and rich in the antioxidant astaxanthin, as well as in selenium, and copper. Although pandalid shrimp are high in cholesterol, their strong, 1:1, omega3:omega6 ratio makes it healthy to consume in moderation even for people with elevated cholesterol. Wild pandalid fisheries are conducted with midwater trawls, beam trawls and pots, all these gears have low bycatch and low to moderate habitat impacts, depending on the substrate.