Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shrimp's Dirty Secrets

Why America's Favorite Seafood Is a Health and Environmental Nightmare

By Jill Richardson, AlterNet
Posted on January 25, 2010, Printed on January 30, 2010

Americans love their shrimp. It's the most popular seafood in the country, but unfortunately much of the shrimp we eat are a cocktail of chemicals, harvested at the expense of one of the world's productive ecosystems. Worse, guidelines for finding some kind of "sustainable shrimp" are so far nonexistent.

In his book, Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, Taras Grescoe paints a repulsive picture of how shrimp are farmed in one region of India. The shrimp pond preparation begins with urea, superphosphate, and diesel, then progresses to the use of piscicides (fish-killing chemicals like chlorine and rotenone), pesticides and antibiotics (including some that are banned in the U.S.), and ends by treating the shrimp with sodium tripolyphosphate (a suspected neurotoxicant), Borax, and occasionally caustic soda.

Upon arrival in the U.S., few if any, are inspected by the FDA, and when researchers have examined imported ready-to-eat shrimp, they found 162 separate species of bacteria with resistance to 10 different antibiotics. And yet, as of 2008, Americans are eating 4.1 pounds of shrimp apiece each year -- significantly more than the 2.8 pounds per year we each ate of the second most popular seafood, canned tuna. But what are we actually eating without knowing it? And is it worth the price -- both to our health and the environment?

Understanding the shrimp that supplies our nation's voracious appetite is quite complex. Overall, the shrimp industry represents a dismantling of the marine ecosystem, piece by piece. Farming methods range from those described above to some that are more benign. Problems with irresponsible methods of farming don't end at the "yuck," factor as shrimp farming is credited with destroying 38 percent of the world's mangroves, some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Mangroves sequester vast amounts of carbon and serve as valuable buffers against hurricanes and tsunamis. Some compare shrimp farming methods that demolish mangroves to slash-and-burn agriculture. A shrimp farmer will clear a section of mangroves and close it off to ensure that the shrimp cannot escape. Then the farmer relies on the tides to refresh the water, carrying shrimp excrement and disease out to sea. In this scenario, the entire mangrove ecosystem is destroyed and turned into a small dead zone for short-term gain. Even after the shrimp farm leaves, the mangroves do not come back.

A more responsible farming system involves closed, inland ponds that use their wastewater for agricultural irrigation instead of allowing it to pollute oceans or other waterways. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, when a farm has good disease management protocols, it does not need to use so many antibiotics or other chemicals.

One more consideration, even in these cleaner systems, is the wild fish used to feed farmed shrimp. An estimated average of 1.4 pounds of wild fish are used to produce every pound of farmed shrimp. Sometimes the wild fish used is bycatch -- fish that would be dumped into the ocean to rot if they weren't fed to shrimp -- but other times farmed shrimp dine on species like anchovies, herring, sardines and menhaden. These fish are important foods for seabirds, big commercial fish and whales, so removing them from the ecosystem to feed farmed shrimp is problematic.

Additionally, some shrimp are wild-caught, and while they aren't raised in a chemical cocktail, the vast majority is caught using trawling, a highly destructive fishing method. Football field-sized nets are dragged along the ocean floor, scooping up and killing several pounds of marine life for every pound of shrimp they catch and demolishing the ocean floor ecosystem as they go. Where they don't clear-cut coral reefs or other rich ocean floor habitats, they drag their nets through the mud, leaving plumes of sediment so large they are visible from outer space.

After trawling destroys an ocean floor, the ecosystem often cannot recover for decades, if not centuries or millennia. This is particularly significant because 98 percent of ocean life lives on or around the seabed. Depending on the fishery, the amount of bycatch (the term used for unwanted species scooped up and killed by trawlers) ranges from five to 20 pounds per pound of shrimp. These include sharks, rays, starfish, juvenile red snapper, sea turtles and more. While shrimp trawl fisheries only represent 2 percent of the global fish catch, they are responsible for over one-third of the world's bycatch. Trawling is comparable to bulldozing an entire section of rainforest in order to catch one species of bird.

Given this disturbing picture, how can an American know how to find responsibly farmed or fished shrimp? Currently, it's near impossible. Only 15 percent of our total shrimp consumption comes from the U.S. (both farmed and wild sources). The U.S. has good regulations on shrimp farming, so purchasing shrimp farmed in the U.S. is not a bad way to go. Wild shrimp, with a few exceptions, is typically obtained via trawling and should be avoided. The notable exceptions are spot prawns from British Columbia, caught in traps similar to those used for catching lobster, and the small salad shrimp like the Northern shrimp from the East Coast or pink shrimp from Oregon, both of which are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. However, neither are true substitutes for the large white and tiger shrimp American consumers are used to.

The remaining 85 percent came from other countries and about two-thirds of our imports are farmed with the balance caught in the wild, mostly via trawling. China is the world's top shrimp producer -- both farmed and wild -- but only 2 percent of China's shrimp are imported to the U.S. The world's number two producer, Thailand, is our top foreign source of shrimp. Fully one third of the shrimp the U.S. imports comes from Thailand, and over 80 percent of those shrimp are farmed.

The next biggest sources of U.S. shrimp are Ecuador, Indonesia, China, Mexico, Vietnam, Malaysia and India. Together, those countries provide nearly 90 percent of America's imported shrimp. Interestingly, Ecuador's shrimp industry exists almost entirely to supply U.S. demand, with over 93 percent of its shrimp coming up north to the U.S. The vast majority of those shrimp (almost 90 percent) are farmed. Sadly, shrimp production is responsible for the destruction of 70 percent of Ecuador's mangroves. Farming practices in other countries range from decent to awful, but there's currently no real way for a consumer to tell whether shrimp from any particular country was farmed sustainably or not.

Geoff Shester, senior science manager of Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch, says that ethical shrimp consumption is a chicken and egg problem. On one hand, the solution is for consumers to show demand for responsibly farmed and wild shrimp by eating it but on the other hand, ethical shrimp choices are not yet widely available. Seafood Watch is working with some of the largest seafood buyers in the U.S. to help them buy better shrimp, but it's currently a major challenge.

The first challenge is that labeling and certification programs do not yet exist to identify which farmed shrimp meet sustainable production standards. The second challenge is that even when such programs are in place, the U.S. demand will likely greatly exceed their supply.

Shester's advice to consumers right now is "only buy shrimp that you know comes from a sustainable source. If you can't tell for sure, try something else from the Seafood Watch yellow or green lists." Knowing that many will be unwilling to give up America's favorite seafood, he advocates simply eating less of it and keeping an eye on future updates to the Seafood Watch guide to eating sustainable seafood.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Power of Friendship

Can you recall the last time you and a handful of friends discussed how you would, if you could, change something about the world? It was around your coffee table, over a beer, after a thanksgiving meal. Hear your friends getting passionate and optimistic about the future. Can you hear them?

We do. Looking around our tiny working space we see hard working, passionate volunteers. Not paid employees, not big-wig executives, but our friends. If we could pay them, we would, if we did, they’d probably refuse. We call this our philanthropic experiment. Our working hypothesis: can a small group of empowered friends make a large difference for the future viability of the ocean. Our methods: Expand our friendship circle out to embrace more and more like-minded ocean and wildlife lovers. The results of the experiment are looking bright. By embracing fellow Care2 friends, we have made huge headways. We now are faced with one more challenge to success…getting out the vote between now and Friday. You can make this experiment work. Here’s how…

Here is a step-by-step guide for how to vote:

1. Log on to Facebook and follow this link:

2. Facebook will then ask you if you want to “Allow” this application on your homepage. Click “Allow.” Keep in mind, you can always remove this access immediately after voting.

3. You will then be prompted to the Imaging Foundation Community Giving page.

4. Click the “Become a Fan of this Page” button

5. Once you are a fan, click “VOTE FOR CHARITY”

Use the tools provided at the bottom of the voting page (“Tweet This,” “Post to Wall,” and “Invite a Friend”) to help spread the word!

Who are your contacts? Be creative! Without an extended team, we will have a hard time winning this event. A few examples: Co-workers, fraternity/sorority, book clubs, address book, dive clubs, activities, listservs. How do you contact them? Some ideas: send private messages, send an email blast, a mass text, post on forums, see who’s on IM, tweet, make a phone call, do whatever you can to reach as many of your contacts as possible! Most importantly, have fun and be creative!

If you can join our efforts between January 15-22, please send an email to with the subject line <> and we will forward you instructions about how you can spread the word.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wave Rave 500

Three weeks ago the telephone rang, and I heard the news. Out of 500,000 organizations, our small group of volunteers had emerged victorious! We are finalists in the Chase Community Giving Competition. I created the Imaging Foundation – Sea Save nonprofit organization a few years ago so we could work on orphan programs that did not seem to fit into traditional funding categories. We were spending a lot of time in the field and uncovering problems that required immediate attention but lacked the necessary financial support.

Na├»ve, we rolled up our sleeves and started building educational programs. We used our own equipment and funding. As we found more and more challenges, we realized we did need to find a way to supplement our volunteer efforts. That telephone call was the rescue beacon! This was a truly democratic way to support a program. People from all over the world had taken the time to sign on to Facebook and click “yes”! Our dream of launching all the programs we had initiated over those years was now within reach.

After the initial shock wore off, I realized I had a nearly impossible task before me. I had three short weeks to put together a million-dollar proposal—literally. To complicate things, I had to complete this assignment over the holidays. But I was not about to let the seemingly endless number of “out of office” replies stand in the way of progress. Winning this contest would mean so much for the ocean and the programs our team had worked so hard to develop.

So I got together with a bunch of friends to brainstorm ways to reach out and rally supporters. This was not going to be easy, and our biggest challenge was figuring out a way to have our message heard through the myriad e-mails in people’s inboxes and the barrage of Internet requests. Hmmmmmm. After a few hours of spirited discussion, we had to break up our gathering. It was a Saturday night, and we had places to go and people to see. Then it hit me. Everyone makes time in their schedules for parties. Why not host an event to celebrate the sea? While doing so, we could take time to reflect on the current challenges facing the oceans and invite our friends to help us realize our dream by casting a simple vote.

What came next reminded me of my favorite movie “Pay It Forward.” What started as fiction has evolved into a real-life movement, proving that kindness has the power to grow exponentially. In my version, I sent out a request to close friends asking them to host a “Wave Rave” on Jan 16th. They then forwarded my request to their friends and so the movement began. Within days, people from all over the world began offering to host their own event. Some were formal, others less so. Some are to be held at large aquariums, other small tea parties. We have people from Nigeria to Rio from the Canary Islands to Illinois. Many of these events have great backstories. Most are being held by people I have never even “met” before, and they are all building this wonderful “wave” of excitement and understanding.

Care2 is such a wonderful hub of high-energy advocates that we thought we should announce this opportunity here. To join the international movement, sign up for our Facebook event here:

I hope we are able to host 500 events worldwide. What a great way to leave behind politics and other differences and focus on something that everyone can agree with. We all love our big blue ocean!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

End "Finning" -- Save the Sharks!

if no Shark Teeth! in 30 secs, press refresh...

End "Finning" -- Save the Sharks!
Target: U.S. Senate
Sponsored by: Ocean Conservancy

The wasteful practice of finning -- slicing off a shark's valuable fins for soup and tossing the body back to sea -- must be stopped. The situation is grim for a growing number of shark populations who are in peril from overfishing and unsustainable finning -- we must do better.

The U.S. passed a national finning ban in 2000, but the practice continues and is still legal in many other nations. The demand for the fins -- which can sell for up to hundreds of dollars per pound -- remains high for shark fin soup, a delicacy.

The Shark Conservation Act of 2009 closes loopholes in the U.S. finning ban and can revitalize shark conservation efforts on a global scale. It must be passed without further delay. Please join us in sending a powerful message to your senators to end finning and save the sharks!

LINK to Sign Petition:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The search is on for an entangled whale...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Search is on for another entangled whale off Kona Island

By Carolyn Lucas
West Hawaii Today

Marine experts and divers are searching the waters off the Kona Coast for a humpback whale entangled in polypropylene line, deflated buoys and other fishing gear.

They warned against anyone trying to free the whale themselves, however. Disentangling these 45-ton creatures is extremely dangerous and requires a special permit.

While conducting a whale watching tour, Casey Cho, of Adventure X Rafting, first spotted and followed the tangled whale Monday afternoon about a mile off Hapuna Beach.

"The rope had deeply cut through the flesh of the whale in three places. In some areas, the flesh had grown over the ropes. It was very upsetting and sad to see such a horrible ordeal happening to a beautiful creature," Cho said.

Capt. Beth Goodwin, of Liquid Robotics, relieved Cho and continued following the whale in her vessel until response teams from the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on the Big Island and Maui arrived.

The sanctuary crews were able to briefly assess the whale, thought to be an adult, and its situation just before dark. They placed a satellite tag on the animal to track its movements and decided to postpone the rescue effort until early yesterday morning, said Justin Viezbicke, marine conservation coordinator for NOAA's Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Rescuers found no whale yesterday, just the tag, which the animal had managed to shake off. They spent several hours searching for the whale, but were unsuccessful, Viezbicke said.

"Every entanglement is life-threatening at some point," he said. "This whale looked emaciated and its health was compromised. We don't know where the fishing gear is from, how long the whale has been tangled, the severity of its injuries or how long it will survive."

There have been up to six reports this season of entangled whales statewide and two whales were freed, Viezbicke said. Those who see an entangled or distressed whale should immediately report it by calling (888) 256-9840.

Whale Sharks beaching worldwide...

“They were very majestic and docile animals
and were known to allow snorkelers and scuba
divers to swim gracefully along side them in the
Ocean where they lived for millions of years... until now...

industrial toxins killing whales on Earth...

GONUBIE Beach was closed for swimming yesterday amid fears
that the carcass of an 8 meter Whale Shark washed up on the beach.

Whale sharks are harmless plankton feeders common to KwaZulu-Natal North.

“They feed by swimming on the surface with their mouths open and filtering small fish and plankton, or krill, now contaminated with industrial chemicals known by the EPA to be carcinogenic and toxic to living cells. (Life)

“They were very majestic and docile animals and are known to allow snorkelers and scuba divers to swim gracefully with them in the Ocean where they lived for millions of years until industrial, petroleum based toxins were freely dumped into rivers worldwide killing all species of whales.”

5,000 pound Whale Shark ... dead...
washes ashore on Long Island

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A 26-foot-long dying shark washed ashore Tuesday on a Long Island beach, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said.

Five more Blue Whale Deaths Off the California Coast
by David Gurney Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009 at 5:01 PM

Five confirmed but unexplained blue whale deaths in the last six weeks.


... i see all of this as a global ecological catastrophe...

when dolphins and whales are dying at our feet....

and our children are born with neurological damage...
secondary to their own mom's eating seafood for their health...

i don't understand why people are not outraged over the loss of our Oceans and their own child's intelligence...

Larry --

Friday, January 1, 2010

Connecting the plastic eco dots . . . . .

Connecting the plastic eco dots . . . . .
Why we MUST keep plastic out of the Oceans....

This brief flash video describes the ecological scenario unfolding daily in our oceans, worldwide, and underscores the importance of no longer dumping plastic and industrial byproducts into the only living Oceans in the entire universe.