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Shrimp FarmingLong condemned by environmentalists and many others as a significant contributor to the loss and destruction of mangroves and subsequent damages to coastal communities and the environment, shrimp farming has developed the economies of many countries and is depended on by many. A difficult problem has been addressed by Selva Shrimp and can mean the conservation of mangroves as well as the shrimp farming industry, and thus, the livelihoods of many communities.

The Importance of Mangroves

Mangroves are found along coastlines and have adapted to live in salty and brackish waters with their own filtration systems that allow them to filter out the salt in their environment. They help prevent coastline erosion and are a vital part of ecosystems, serving as habitats and food sources for many organisms. In addition to water filtration and prevention of erosion, mangroves also serve as protection from storms and provide resources valuable to coastal communities such as food and timber. Mangroves are also highly effective carbon stores, making them an increasingly important shrub in the fight against climate change.

According to the Global Mangrove Alliance, to date, 67% of mangroves have deteriorated or been altogether eradicated. Already a rare tree, they are at risk of disappearing entirely.

Shrimp Farming and Mangroves

While aquaculture, specifically shrimp farming, is not the only threat to mangroves, it is one that, without sustainable alternatives will only continue to grow in the future as the demand for and consumption of shrimp increases. Shrimp farming, which is primarily practiced in South and Southeast Asia, requires the use of coastal lowlands which are then converted into shrimp ponds. Often, these areas are rife with mangroves which have to be destroyed for the creation of shrimp ponds or are left depleted and damaged as a result of the growing shrimp. The removal of these mangroves leaves these coastal zones vulnerable to erosion and damage from storms, which can endanger the livelihoods of coastal communities as well as destroy habitats for many fish and marine life. In fact, in 1991, a cyclone moved onto land in Bangladesh where a large area of mangroves had been destroyed. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean also served as a wake-up call as the damage was intensified by the fact that many coastlines were left exposed after the removal of mangroves.

Shrimp farming is a billion-dollar industry and there are many who rely on it as a livelihood and source of income. The reality is that it is not a practice that can be stopped without harsh economic and social impacts to many. On the other hand, it can be practiced sustainably in a way that does not harm mangroves and ecosystems that are valuable to coastal communities and the greater environment. That is exactly what Selva Shrimp intends to do.

Selva Shrimp Program

Using nature-based solutions (NbS), Selva Shrimp, a program developed by Blueyou Consulting and initially established in Vietnam, is working to create jobs and protect the livelihoods of those who depend on shrimp farming and mangroves. While the initiative still relies on mangroves to assist the growth of the shrimp and provide them with necessary nutrients, it also allows farmers to harvest some of the trees, sell them for wood and other uses and then promptly reforest those areas. The shrimp are not provided with any other feed or chemicals beyond what is naturally available through the mangroves, including small organisms. Thus, the production of shrimp relies on the upkeep and maintenance of healthy mangrove forests and incentivizes the small-scale farmers that Selva Shrimp works with to preserve these forests rather than leave them destroyed and move on to other areas for shrimp ponds. Additionally, this sustainable approach to shrimp farming means that prices for shrimp will increase and so will the incomes of these farmers, providing shrimp farmers with an incentive to practice sustainable shrimp farming and addressing the growing demand for shrimp while also conserving mangroves.

The Future of Shrimp Farming

Selva Shrimp comes at a time when mangroves are at dangerously low levels in many areas and global demand for shrimp is at an all-time high. While still a fairly recent initiative, it is able to tackle several issues at once, including creating jobs in the shrimp farming industry that can alleviate poverty in the many countries where shrimp farming is a prominent practice. This could mean a future where the growing consumption of shrimp and increasing need for mangroves are no longer mutually exclusive.

– Manika Ajmani
Photo Flickr

IMTA Shrimp Farms in Bangladesh
Shrimp farming plays an essential role in Bangladeshi livelihoods, food security and international trade. Prior to the 1970s, Bangladeshi shrimpers typically farmed in inland ponds formed by trapped tidal waters. These ponds only require minimal or no feed, fertilizer, or other inputs. Instead, they rely on the natural ecosystem for shrimp production, but they produce limited output. The expansion of shrimp farming for maximum output has had several environmental and economic consequences, but there exist options for a sustainable future.

Expansion of Shrimp Farming

In the 1970s, international market demand for shrimp grew during the “Blue Revolution,” wherein cheap and vacuum-sealed fish appeared in the freezer aisles of grocery stores around the world. The potential for high profits led to the rapid expansion of commercial shrimp farming in Bangladesh. Today, shrimp production is a major contributor to Bangladeshi fisheries and aquaculture, which both comprise about 3.65% of the nation’s GDP.  Approximately 14.7 million people depend on Bangladeshi fisheries and aquaculture for full- or part-time employment. They also provide about 60% of the animal protein in the average Bangladeshi’s diet.

Shrimp farming has the potential to combat poverty, malnutrition, hunger and job insecurity among the growing population in Bangladesh, but poor shrimp farm management comes with consequences.  In its current state, the long-term effects of shrimp farming may pose more problems in Bangladesh than it can resolve.

Consequences

The rapid expansion of shrimp farming has had adverse environmental, economic and social effects in Bangladesh. Poor placement of farming systems can lead to saltwater intrusion in groundwater, deforestation and loss of mangrove forests, all of which result in changes in local water systems and the deterioration of soil and water quality. This in turn threatens biodiversity, crop production, supplies of potable water and critical cooking fuel. The environmental effects of high-intensity shrimp farming in Bangladesh threaten human health and survival tools, particularly among those living in rural coastal areas who have limited access to alternative livelihoods. This conflict creates social imbalance and contributes to criminal activity in the Bangladeshi coastal regions.

In the long term, Bangladeshi shrimp farming poses economic costs including unemployment and loss of natural resources. These may outweigh the economic benefits of Bangladeshi shrimp production.

Solution for a Sustainable Future

To combat the environmental, social and economic consequences of high-intensity shrimp farming, some Bangladeshi shrimp farmers are turning to integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems. IMTA relies on natural processes to cultivate aquatic organisms at multiple trophic levels within the same farming system. Organisms within the system, including finfish, shellfish and seaweeds, interact to recycle and reuse nutrients. IMTA requires minimal external inputs and simulates natural ecosystem processes, much like shrimp farming systems prior to the 1970s Blue Revolution.

If properly executed, IMTA shrimp farms in Bangladesh can produce multiple marketable seafood products, increase organism survival rate, increase biomass yield and reduce harmful nutrient concentrations in water. IMTA systems promote biodiversity by valuing production at multiple trophic levels. They relocate Bangladeshi shrimp farms from threatened mangrove forests to open-water environments like coastal rivers and estuaries. This discourages intensive, environmentally degrading shrimp farming practices, and the regrowth of mangrove forests contributes to carbon capture. All of these processes increase ecosystem resiliency, which bolsters the long-term sustainability of IMTA shrimp farms in Bangladesh.

In 1998, Bangladesh adopted a National Fisheries Policy. The policy recognizes the detrimental effects that shrimp farming has on the nation, and it seeks to optimize fishery resource use in order to encourage economic growth, feed the population, alleviate poverty and protect human and environmental health.  Widespread adoption of IMTA shrimp farms could be another step in the right direction for sustainable aquaculture in Bangladesh.

Avery Saklad
Photo: FLickr