Saying Goodbye to Shrimp

When I first tested the waters of vegetarianism, the idea of cutting out seafood along with meat never even occurred to me. The truth is, while I have serious moral qualms about ending the life of a fellow mammal, the idea of plucking a shrimp out of the water and cooking it for my next meal doesn’t particularly bother me.

Shrimp, after all, are by no means endearing creatures. Their spindly legs and alien eyes rarely tempt even the greatest animal lovers to spend any serious energy defending their welfare. However, it’s not only these strange little crustaceans that we have to keep in mind when we purchase them at a grocery store or restaurant. Shrimp harvesting is an incredibly destructive industry, and many species, ecosystems, and even human communities have suffered as a result of industrial shrimping practices. As I report in my article “Meals of Mass Destruction,” mangrove forests have been decimated around Asia to make room for farms, sea turtles have been left to die onboard trawling boats, and water around the world has been polluted by the waste produced by intensive shrimp producers.

Seafood doesn’t have a poster child to generate sympathy, so people tend to see ocean life as an infinite, faceless and invulnerable resource. While many of my friends call themselves “vegetarians,” what they really mean is they are “pescatarians.” It’s wonderful that vegetarianism has recently become “cool” among the liberal and idealistic youth of America, but it's a shame that the trendy label disguises the real meaning of changing our habits.

I’m not saying we all have to cut seafood out of our diet entirely (although the Worldwatch Institute estimates that for every 1,000 people who stop eating shrimp, we can save more than 5.4 tons of sea life per year!) I do hope people will start to think about the kind of practices they’re endorsing when they make the choice to buy seafood, though. Support responsible brands by looking for the blue Marine Stewardship Council Ecolabel, which indicates sustainable production methods or check out NRDC’s Sustainable Seafood Guide for which species to eat and those to avoid. If you find that sustainable seafood brands are not stocked at your favorite restaurants and stores, let them know! It’s up to you, the consumer, to provide the demand that will make change happen.
For more information and tips about how you can enjoy shrimp responsibly, read my in-depth article on NRDC’s Simple Steps website.

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