“Maybe it’s the purity of the water, or the short distance from farm to packing plant. Either way, says shrimp farmer Linda Thornton, “many people remark that our shrimp just taste better.”
Now there’s another reason to choose shrimp from Belize: eight producers recently achieved certification from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) – the most rigorous sustainability standard for farmed seafood in the world. Together, they account for over 90 per cent of the Central American country’s shrimp production.
In an industry that’s been responsible for more than a few environmental and social problems globally, Belize shrimp farmers have always maintained high standards. “We have a long history of not using antibiotics, and we have great respect for the mangroves surrounding our farms,” says Linda, owner of Cardelli Shrimp Farm. “We’ve seen their effectiveness in cleaning our water and protecting our infrastructure from hurricanes.”
“There’s always been a high level of environmental awareness,” agrees Alvin Henderson, Managing Director of Royal Mayan Shrimp Farms. “But ASC certification has upped the ante. “The standard allows us to measure our impact in a scientific way so we can take steps to mitigate harm.”
“There was a perception that effluents from shrimp farms were causing sedimentation and proliferation of algae in the lagoon that killed vegetation and created an unpleasant odour,” says Nicole Auil Gomez, Executive Director of the Southern Environmental Association (SEA), a local NGO. “Research also suggests that manatees were being negatively affected by a parasite proliferating due to increased nutrients in the system.”
Over the last decade, shrimp farmers have been working with WWF and SEA to introduce better management practices and prepare for ASC certification. These include more efficient feeding methods, using less fertilizer for growing plankton, and better wastewater treatment processes – all of which reduce the levels of nutrients and sediment discharged into the aquatic environment. Nicole believes these are paying off, with water quality noticeably improving.
“If all shrimp farms comply with the standard, there should be no negative effect on the lagoon,” she says. “We would expect to see a proliferation of life and a greater diversity of fish and wildlife. The farms will benefit from better water quality, and areas once considered dead or smelly could be used for tourism.”
This encourages innovations that benefit business and the environment. Linda has reduced her fertilizer purchases by 80 per cent by constructing a canal that redirects her neighbours’ untreated discharge water into her ponds, where the nutrients accelerate phytoplankton growth. “This water is already in the system and by helping recycle it and not purchasing additional input, I’ve reduced my operating costs and helped reduce the nitrogen and phosphorous content of the local waters,” she explains.
Now she’d like to see other sectors following the shrimp farms’ lead, particularly the fast-growing tourism industry. In the meantime, tourists can eat local shrimp, safe in the knowledge that it no longer threatens the beautiful natural environment around them.
Better Production for a Living Planet
“We have done an incredible thing by turning our industry into an example, instead of the one that has fingers pointed at it for harm.”
Linda Thornton, Cardelli Shrimp Farm
- Dependency on fish oil and fishmeal, a key feed ingredient, representing a third of the global fish harvest.
- Risk of disease and parasite outbreaks between farmed and wild fish, and among farms.
- Pollution or depletion of local waterways, including salinization in the case of shrimp farming.
- Excessive use of chemicals such as antibiotics, fertilizers and pesticides can have unintended consequences for marine organisms and human health.
- Habitat conversion.
- Farmed species escape can impact genetic diversity of wild species.
- ASC certification reduces adverse impacts on the environment by preserving wetlands and mangroves; addressing the transfer of viruses and reducing disease; bringing cleaner water and ensuring the sustainable use of water; responsible use of feed; and addressing biodiversity issues.
- ASC certification encourages improvements to coastal zones and small pelagic fisheries management.
- Well-managed aquaculture can be part of the solution to feeding the planet. Future increase in seafood production will come from the growing aquaculture industry as many marine fish stocks are overfished.
- Improved social conditions on shrimp farms can lead to equitable solutions for local communities.
- The growth of aquaculture is linked to innovation in production methods and technology, a vibrant environment in which to enact change around reducing impacts.