Shrimp farming and healthy mangrove ecosystems…Can the two go hand in hand?
The past few months have been an exciting time for seafood at Whole Foods Market. In July 2008 we released our newly enhanced standards for farmed finfish and shrimp. In launching these standards, we set a high bar not only for how our seafood is raised, but also for environmental performance in aquaculture globally. Our commitment to sustainability reaches beyond our own stores, which is why we’ve posted our standards on our website and contribute to share and discuss our work at conferences and meetings worldwide. As we have received several questions from customers particularly interested in shrimp and wanting to know what Whole Foods Market is doing specifically to protect mangroves from the impacts of shrimp farming, I’ll focus this posting on the topic of mangroves.
What are mangroves, anyway?
Up to sixty species of trees and shrubs fall under the category of “mangrove.” Found along coastlines in the world’s tropic and sub-tropic regions, these plants are recognizable by their extensive exposed root systems, which intertwine and tangle over muddy surfaces.
Mangroves are adapted to living in environments where tides fluctuate, which requires tolerance of salty water to survive. Tides carry nutrients in and out of mangrove swamps as well as animals such as fish and shrimp, which use the mangroves as nursery and refuge areas. The trunks and leaves of mangrove forests are home to insects, birds, lizards, bats, and tree snakes. Among the long intertwining roots, typical residents are barnacles, snails, and oysters. Life doesn’t stop when you reach the mud; mudflats host a range of critters including crabs. And in the submerged areas from the lowest tide mark toward the sea, water dwellers include various species of fish, crabs and lobsters.
Mangrove swamps are rich in nutrients and in turn support a rich ecosystem of plants and animals. But in addition, people also depend on mangroves, using mangrove timber for charcoal, firewood, and home and boat building. Snails, crabs, fish, and shrimp found within the mangroves may be harvested for dinner and mangrove leaves may become the roof for a house. Furthermore, mangroves protect coastal communities from storm damage by providing a barrier to wind and erosion. This became all too clear during the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake where some studies showed reduced damage in areas where mangroves were intact.
How do shrimp farms impact mangroves and what is Whole Foods Market doing to protect them?
Despite their importance, mangrove forests are at risk today due to a number of factors, which include timber harvesting, coastal development, and aquaculture. While we can’t tackle all these issues ourselves, when it comes to aquaculture, we’re working hard to ensure that the farmed shrimp we source doesn’t contribute to the degradation of mangrove ecosystems.
Under our newly enhanced quality standards for farmed shrimp, suppliers are prohibited from converting areas mangroves into new sites or farms, or for expanding current farms. And, all new sites or new farms have to be sited above the high tide line (outside of natural mangrove habitat). In addition, we will only source shrimp from producers that can demonstrate a commitment to “no mangrove or wetland loss.” This means that producers that are farming on land that used to be mangroves and was previously converted to shrimp farms, must restore mangroves. We require that at least a hectare (2.5 acres) of mangrove habitat is restored for each hectare of mangroves converted.
To ensure that the standards are being met, we require our supplier partners to successfully pass an independent, third-party audit that reviews every detail of the Aquaculture Standards. These rules apply to farms that are located in tropic and sub-tropic areas where mangroves grow, but we’re also working with U.S. suppliers that grow shrimp in Texas and Alabama and are dedicated to environmental excellence. For example, one of our Texas suppliers, Fritz Jaenike from Harlingen Shrimp Farm, grows shrimp in ponds located on former ranch land by the hypersaline Laguna Madre Bay. His farm has been in operation since 1982 and is considered a model by environmental organizations for pioneering methods to comply with stringent water quality regulations.
This November check out Shrimpsgiving at Whole Foods Market where some of our stores will feature Fritz Jaenike’s Texas farmed shrimp. Until next time…. I look forward to your comments!