AR-News: Globalization's catch: Shrimp industry threatens
communities and ecosystems worldwide
rumsiki at netvision.net.il
Sat Nov 22 12:03:43 EST 2003
Globalization's catch: Shrimp industry threatens communities and ecosystems worldwide
Friday, November 21, 2003
By Rebecca Robbins
Far from the delta: Kevin and Margaret Curole traveled to the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers meeting in Isla Mujeres.
Margaret Curole doesn't quite fit the image of an antiglobalization activist. A Louisiana shrimper and lifetime resident of the Louisiana delta, Curole traveled to Mexico for the first time for the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers gathering in Isla Mujeres for the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancún last September.
Curole has found herself in many places she never expected to be in the past few years. But since shrimp prices started to drop three years ago, reaching a 30-year low this year, Curole, along with many other shrimping families around the Gulf and up the Eastern seaboard have found themselves unable to sit back and watch as their traditional livelihood and their communities disappear around them.
What brought Curole to Mexico was the suffering she had seen along the waterways and bayous of the Louisiana delta.
Shrimp has long been the foundation of the economy in these parts. Curole and her husband Kevin own a 50-foot steel-hulled shrimp boat, The Heavy Metal. And for the past 15 years, with Kevin at the captain's helm, they have lived almost exclusively off their income from harvesting shrimp.
Since 2000, however, shrimp prices have dropped so drastically that even leaving port is a losing financial proposition. Ice costs $10 a block, diesel $1 a gallon, and small shrimp, which used to fetch 80 cents a pound, are going for 15 cents a pound. As Curole said, "You do the math."
Jumbo shrimp, which number 10 to 15 a pound, used to sell for upwards of $4 per pound. Now a shrimper is lucky to get $2 for the same shrimp. However, for Louisiana, it's the drop in prices for small to medium shrimp that has really hurt. Small to medium shrimp have always been the market stronghold for Lousiana shrimpers. Unfortunately, that's the same size as the pond-raised shrimp that have been inundating the U.S. market from abroad.
Shrimpers throughout the gulf say that it's the rising imports of these farm-raised shrimp, primarily from Asia and Central America, that are responsible for the record low prices for shrimp in the U.S. market.
A National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) study shows that imports from India have increased 74 percent and imports from Vietnam have increased by 169 percent over the last three years, according to an Atlanta Journal article. And putting traditional fishers in developed countries out of business isn't the only repercussion of farm-raised shrimp.
Shrimp farming operations are raising a myriad of environmental, health, and community concerns for those in developing countries. Industrial shrimp aquaculture throughout Asia, Central America, and parts of Africa presents one of the gravest threats to mangrove forests, negatively impacts water quality and salinity, and produces shrimp laden with antibiotics.
According to the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), mangrove forests are "among the most productive ecosystems in the world." These coastal forests are habitat for an incredible array of biodiversity: birds, land mammals, reptiles, and a variety of marine animals. In addition, the forests provide flood control and are an important source of medicines and foods for native communities, as they serve as a nurturing ground for many juvenile marine species.
Mangrove forests are also quickly disappearing: More than 50 percent of these forests have been destroyed in the past 50 years. Shrimp aquaculture is responsible for a large portion of this destruction: 102,000 hectares (252,042 acres) of mangroves were converted to aquaculture in Vietnam from 1983 to 1987, more than 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres) in Honduras between 1986 and 1994, and more than 80,000 hectares (197,680 acres) in Thailand from 1961 to 1993, according to the WRM.
Many of these projects were supported by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Others drew funding from national governments in need of cash crops to pay back loans from these sources and from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The industrial aquaculture installed after the mangroves are destroyed threatens both water quality and salinity. Because the shrimp are held in an enclosed salt-water area, a large amount of waste accumulates. Leaving the shrimp to soak in the waste would produce contaminated shrimp, so clean water is used to flush the waste out, contaminating the surrounding water sources rather than the shrimp. This flushing process also increases the salinity in freshwater aquifers nearby.
Because infection can quickly wipe out an entire crop of shrimp and the close proximity of the pens increases chances of disease, farmed shrimp are dosed heavily with antibiotics. The European Union banned imports of Chinese shrimp and other food products in January 2002 after the banned antibiotic chloramphenicol, which causes anemia, was found in a shipment.
Many fear that the next step is genetically engineered shrimp, which would bring an additional layer of environmental concerns. These include genetic contamination to the wild shrimp population and the potential threat to consumer safety from eating genetically modified products.
In addition to the environmental impacts, shrimp aquaculture converts farmland that once provided jobs for many to shrimp farms that require only a few laborers. It takes land out of circulation, contributing to landlessness.
According to the Mangrove Action Project, "In just one province in India alone, Andra Pradesh, 48,000 people were displaced in a period of less than three years by extensive and semi-intensive shrimp farm developments."
However, traditional shrimping is not free from environmental problems either. For years, shrimpers and environmentalists in the United States have been engaged in a battle over the use of turtle-exclusion devices (TEDs) to save sea turtles from becoming entrapped in trawling nets. Since 1994, almost all U.S. shrimp trawlers have been required by law to haul TEDs in their nets.
But according to Charlotte Gray Hudson, a marine wildlife specialist with the ocean conservation group Oceana, the openings in the TEDs were too small. Although Kemp Ridley turtle populations have increased with the use of TEDS, "the larger, sexually mature loggerheads, leatherbacks, and green turtles were still being entrapped in the trawls," she said. Just this past August, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued new regulations increasing the size of the TEDs required by law, which should help these other turtle populations as well.
While TEDs are required in U.S. waters, a U.S. attempt to outlaw imports of shrimp caught without turtle excluder devices was struck down by the WTO in 1998 in the infamous Shrimp/Turtle dispute. In a challenge brought by India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand, a WTO panel ruled that the U.S. Turtle Shrimp law constituted a barrier to trade, and the United States was forced to weaken the section of the Endangered Species Act that prohibited the import of shrimp caught without a TED.
Louisiana shrimpers still protest the use of TEDs in their waters, claiming that turtles have never lived around the Mississippi River delta. The issue seems to be a question of whose experience is correct: According to Hudson, NMFS data taken from aerial surveys indicates that there are turtles here, while shrimpers claim they don't see turtles. While the cost of a TED is relatively small, US$50-$350 per device, shrimpers claim that using a TED greatly reduces their catch, as the device allows not only turtles, but also shrimp, to escape.
Turtles and TEDs aside, there are still substantial concerns about bycatch. Because shrimpers drag their trawls for upwards of 45 minutes and sorting through the haul on deck takes another half-hour, any marine creature who manages to survive the ride in the trawl cannot live out of water until the catch is sorted. According to Hudson, "4 to 5 pounds of other species are caught for every pound of shrimp caught." In Louisiana, this 4 to 5 pounds of nontarget species includes red snapper juveniles, croakers, and blue crabs.
While the bycatch is thrown back into the water and provides a food source for gulls, crabs, and others, it is removed from its natural place in the food chain. The exact impacts of bycatch is unclear, but it is clear that "if you remove an entire species, you alter the marine ecosystem," said Hudson.
In the gulf, red snapper is a commercially caught fish, and removing juveniles has cut into the available stocks and, thus, the quotas available to red snapper fishers. This issue has sparked a controversy between shrimpers and red snapper fishers.
But there is a potential solution to this conflict. While bigger TEDs promise to eliminate the turtle bycatch, a bycatch reduction device (BRD), which is "essentially a small gate strategically positioned so fish can swim against it" can cut back on finfish bycatch, said Hudson.
The issue of bycatch is severe enough that environmentalists and artisan fishers in India — many of whom fish commercially for the species which are swept up as bycatch by mechanized trawlers — are fighting not for the use of TEDs but for an outright ban on mechanized trawling.
According to Vandana Shiva in her book Stolen Harvest, American environmentalists missed a huge opportunity to join with Indian environmentalists in calling for a ban on trawling and a consumer boycott of shrimp products, rather than just for the use of TEDs.
In the United States, Hudson is convinced that the problems with trawling are not unbroachable. "There are solutions out there if we use them," said Hudson. "We can have trawling and sea turtles. We just need cooperation from the fishermen, the environmentalists, and the government."
While both industrial aquaculture and traditional shrimping methods have environmental repercussions, traditional shrimpers in the United States are fighting to protect their way of doing things. An eight-state coalition of shrimpers is bringing an antidumping suit against many of these Asian and Central American countries in the U.S. Court of International Trade.
Shrimpers demonstrated in July against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and are watching carefully what happens at the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting in Miami taking place Nov. 17-21. For many shrimpers who had never heard of these institutions and the WTO only a few years ago, the links between global free trade and their dropping shrimp prices are becoming ever more clear.
Free trade proponents, on the other hand, argue that this is simply a free trade system functioning properly, eliminating inefficient industries and opening markets up to foreign competition. They believe the antidumping suit is a hypocritical, protectionist measure and an unfair and illegal action from a country that advocates free trade.
According to Dan Ikenson of the CATO Institute in his publication Antidumping: The Unfair, Unfair Trade Law, "The fact is that the antidumping law is protectionist, contradictory, and unfair. Its overzealous application routinely punishes U.S. importers and foreign exporters who transact fairly, and ultimately undermines the administration's broader trade agenda."
Ikenson said that the calculation methods used to determine whether dumping is occurring essentially disregard any sales below production cost in a company's home country, hence stacking the decks toward a finding that dumping is occurring.
Curole maintains the shrimper's lawsuit is justified and does not contradict the U.S.'s larger free trade policies. "We're not against free trade," she said. "We're against free trade that puts Americans out of jobs. " She claims the countries importing shrimp are not doing business fairly. "They send three times as much product right when demand in the U.S. market is at its highest," she said.
The system of global trade itself also creates environmental threats, aside from the direct environmental impacts of shrimp farming on water quality and mangrove forests. Shipping shrimp halfway around the world means using more fossil fuel than shipping it across state or country. Ships use Bunker C, a low-quality, highly polluting oil, and planes use many times more fuel than ships. Aside from the environmental impacts associated with extraction of fossil fuels, this increased consumption also affects air quality and contributes to climate change.
Underlying these problems is a substantial environmental justice issue: Shrimp is not a food item which provides a protein source for local consumption. Rather, shrimp farms are contaminating the waters of developing countries not to feed the local people but to provide a luxury food item for wealthier, protein-glutted countries, oftentimes actually damaging the protein supply for the local community.
Back in Louisiana, Curole and other shrimpers understand that antidumping duties will not offer a permanent solution; they'll have to make changes to their shrimping and business practices as well.
And herein may lie the best opportunity for positive environmental change. U.S. shrimpers are contemplating a branding campaign that would market Louisiana shrimp as a specialty product, more desirable than pond-raised shrimp. They might consider taking it to the next level and using an eco-label scheme, where shrimpers would have to meet set standards for bycatch and turtle-safe practices to earn the right to label their products as such. This scheme could provide both more environmentally sound practices and a profitable market for the shrimpers.
However, while this may be an environmentally desirable result, eco-labels could run into conflict with the WTO. Many countries, particularly developing ones, claim eco-labels constitute significant barriers to trade. The labels are to be reviewed in the Doha round of WTO negotiations, scheduled to be completed in 2005 — although member countries generally agree that negotiations cannot be concluded by then.
Whatever the solution, for the Louisiana shrimpers it will have to come soon. The impacts on the gulf community are hard to ignore: The economy here is almost entirely dependent on the shrimping industry. In Curole's town, the three locally owned banks are on the verge of collapse, the two major hardware stores are no longer allowing charge accounts as they always have in the past, and the restaurants are in trouble because no one can afford to eat out. Shrimp here is as much a culture as a livelihood, and while shrimpers can envision modifications to their practices, a Louisiana without shrimp seems nearly impossible to imagine.
"It's not only a financial thing," Curole explained. "It's a heritage. It's something their fathers did, their grandfathers did, five or six generations."
Curole serves as vice president of the Ladies of Lafourche Shrimpers Inc. She and a number of other women in her community formed the group last February. Their original intent was simply to form a support group, but they quickly realized they would have to take action.
"We got tired of sitting around watching our husbands be miserable and figured there was something we could do, and we've never looked back," said Curole.
As Curole stood up to speak at the Fishermen's Forum in Isla Mujeres, the factors that set her apart from the crowd were readily apparent: She was a woman in a room of mostly men, a shrimper in a room of mostly fishers, an American in a room of Mexicans, Chileans, Portuguese, and Canadians.
But as she began to speak in her Cajun-cadenced English, it became clear that her story was like all the others: She told of a traditional way of life being quickly subsumed by international corporations that stoke an unsustainable consumer culture by selling their products at unnaturally low prices that do not reflect their true cost to communities and ecosystems worldwide.
Rebecca Robbins is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area and attending U.C. Hastings College of the Law. She has written for the Environment Program of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) on trade and environment. She recently traveled to Cancún to attend the WTO meeting.
Send comments to feedback at enn.com.
World Rainforest Movement
Mangrove Action Project
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations report on Cancun meeting
CATO Institute Center for Trade Policy Studies
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (Vandana Shiva)
American Seafood Distributor's Association
the wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. he is in front of it - axel munthe
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