Shrimp is one of the more popular proteins in the U.S., eaten by plenty of folk who otherwise would never get close to a fish or mollusk. But the shrimp industry has been dogged by a bevy of problems, from reports of rampant slave labor to the pollution generated by shrimp farms across the world. Now the ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana alleges that the industry is duping consumers on the type of shrimp, along with the sourcing, of the products they are buying.
The report focused on shrimp purchased in a few areas within the United States. Oceana claims the misrepresentation of labels is an ongoing problem within the shrimp industry, and insists companies must do more to disclose what kind of shrimp is within a package or on a restaurant plate, and state where it is from. By testing dozens of products in New York City, Portland, Washington D.C., and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Oceana has arrived to several conclusions, none of which will thrill consumers, even if buying sustainably is not a priority for them.
According to Oceana, New York is the locus for what is wrong in the shrimp industry. The NGO’s author’s claimed two-thirds of the stories they visited sold misrepresented shrimp, and that 43 percent of all shrimp were improperly labeled. Farmed whiteleg shrimp, a common farmed product, was often, in Oceana’s words, “disguised” as wild caught shrimp. Another east coast city, Washington, also fared poorly on the transparency front. The survey found almost half of all products on restaurant menus were misrepresented, and over 80 percent did not list the type of shrimp on any of their dishes.
Nationwide, the biggest problem Oceana presents is that 30 percent of all shrimp sold as “wild” or “Gulf” shrimp was in reality farmed shrimp. During the scope of the survey, Oceana also found that DNA testing revealed 40 percent of the shrimp species collected consisted of varieties sold in the U.S. And to further its point that consumers simply do not have enough information, the survey’s authors complained that 30 percent of the labels from shrimp sold in supermarkets lacked information the country of origin or had no disclosures whether the shrimp was caught wild or farmed. One in five labels offered neither type of information.
So what can consumers do? Oceana recommends that consumers should ask retailers and restaurateurs more questions, buy only traceable seafood and for the ambitious, contact the new presidential task force devoted to sustainable seafood. Indeed, consumers can also learn more about the industry, about the environmental effects from producing farmed shrimp in ponds and the egregious human rights violations that are repeated in the global shrimping and fishing industry. The Oceana report makes passing reference to shrimp’s ecological effects, as well as mentioning its past report on the overall fraud within the fishing industry.
True, this report was centered on labeling, but Oceana only focued on environmental issues and made no reference in the report to the slavery and the human cost of producing shrimp. Unfortunately, that was a lost opportunity, because what is occurring in nations including Thailand could really motivate consumers to lay off the shrimp cocktail unless they know it was produced responsibility, both socially and environmentally. Consumers need to know more about the global effects of the shrimp industry than just a revelation that a few cities in the U.S. are selling mislabeled shrimp.
Image credit: Oceana
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.