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Sustainable shrimp farming: a win-win situation

Large-scale shrimp farming in Southeast Asia has economic advantages, but is also causing problems for the local population and the environment. Mangrove depletion and severe water contamination due to the use of chemicals in shrimp farms are just some of the concerns. The good news is that there are alternative ways to cultivate shrimp. IUCN NL and Oxfam Novib show that sustainable and responsible shrimp farming is not only better for the environment, but that it also makes sense from an economic standpoint.


Tropical shrimp exports provide the largest source of export earnings for Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh – even larger than coffee, tea and sugar combined. The vast majority of the shrimp is grown in so-called shrimp farms. Hectares of mangrove forests are destroyed by these farms to build fish ponds, often with devastating impacts for coastal communities who, as a result, are no longer naturally protected from flooding and lose their source of income (fishing). The fact is that mangroves are the breeding and nursery grounds of many fish species. Shrimp farms also use salt water and chemicals to grow shrimp. The chemicals and salt end up in the ground, preventing cattle from grazing and causing crops to die and drinking water to become contaminated.


IUCN NL and Oxfam Novib are convinced that shrimp can also be grown in a sustainable and responsible way. To prove their point, six shrimp farms in Indonesia and Vietnam were closely examined. For each site, a detailed list of improvements was created based on the guidelines of ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) and GlobalG.A.P. These improvements need to be implemented in order for the hatcheries to be awarded a ‘people and environment-friendly’ seal of approval. Subsequently, IUCN NL and Oxfam Novib studied whether the costs outweighed the benefits. Is responsible shrimp farming also a more lucrative alternative?


Although making shrimp farms more sustainable requires investments, the analysis showed that responsible shrimp farming is indeed profitable in the long run, because it provides shrimp farms with a better return on their shrimp sales as well as a new source of income. The farms can collaborate with carbon credit schemes to sell the carbon storage created through mangrove reforestation. What’s more, the mangroves offer important natural resources that cannot be easily quantified in money terms, such as clean drinking water, food for the local people in the form of fish, and protection from tsunamis. With the analyses IUCN NL has shown that there is in fact a business case for sustainable shrimp breeding. 

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