Shrimp fraud is a serious problem in the U.S., with consumers often unaware of what they're eating and where it comes from.
As if the shrimp industry needed any more bad press, yet another alarming fact has come to light. Oceana, the world’s largest advocacy group dedicated to marine conservation, released a report last month revealing that one-third of all shrimp sold and consumed in the United States is misrepresented. In other words, consumers don’t actually know what they’re eating.
Shrimp is the most highly traded seafood in the world and a huge favourite in the United States, where Americans gobble up one billion pounds annually, according to Kimberley Warner, senior scientist at Oceana and lead author of the report. Despite its popularity and widespread availability, shrimp continues to be labeled simplistically as “shrimp” when, in reality, its origins and varieties of species are far more complex than that.
Oceana visited 111 shrimp vendors – 70 restaurants and 41 grocery stores. Shrimp was misrepresented by both vendors at the same 30 percent rate. The most common misleading detail was labeling farmed whiteleg shrimp as “wild” or “Gulf” shrimp. Forty percent of the 20 shrimp species identified were not previously known to be sold in the U.S. Of the 400 shrimp products surveyed in grocery stores, 30 percent lacked country-of-origin information, 29 percent failed to specify whether it was farmed or wild, and 20 percent had neither of the above.
The researchers even found a rare banded coral shrimp in a bag of random mixed seafood. It is a species prized by aquarium enthusiasts, seen on coral reefs, and never intended for consumption.
“Despite its popularity, U.S. consumers are routinely given little to no information about the shrimp they purchase,” stated Beth Lowell, Oceana’s senior campaign director, in a press release.
Indeed, if consumers knew more about the multitude of abuses surrounding the shrimp industry, they’d likely find the tasty little crustacean much less appealing. Shrimp farms in Asia transform land that could be used to feed locals but instead is destroyed for the temporary gains of a cash crop for foreign consumption. Ponds are abandoned once waste accumulates and disease proliferates, as Paul Greenberg explains in his excellent book, “American Catch.”
The shrimp industry is also known for horrible working conditions, including human trafficking and slavery. Then, there’s the devastating way in which shrimp are caught, using bottom trawlers that indiscriminately scoop up marine life and wreak havoc on the ocean floor.
While the Oceana team hopes that greater transparency within the shrimp industry will come about with the help of President Obama’s task force dedicated to fighting illegal seafood imports and fraud, a significant amount of responsibility still lies with consumers:
“Until traceability is the status quo, consumers should ask more questions about the seafood they purchase, including what kind it is, if it wild or farm-raised, and where and how it was caught.”