I love shrimp.
Love it. Maybe more than I like any other food. Grilled shrimp skewers, coconut shrimp, tempura rolls, you name it, I love the taste, I love the texture, shrimp delivers on every level. Popcorn shrimp? Fuck yes. As a wee Klute, Red Lobster’s was my jam, and my father, frustrated that I never ordered anything else, tried to talk me into crab, fish, etc.
Nope. He didn’t understand that part of the appeal of popcorn shrimp was that I could pretend I was a giant baleen whale and I was swallowing a whole school of delicious, golden brown, tiny crustaceans. I just assumed they ate it like I did. I didn’t know where they got the cocktail sauce, but whales were smart.
As an adult, I could order what I want without a lecture on the virtues of epicurianism, so when Red Lobster rolled out their “All You Can Eat Shrimp” promotion, my girlfriend and I would fast for an early dinner, roll up to the RL, get doggie bags our salads and side dishes, and then gorge like we were two humpbacks in love. It was gluttonous fun, and while I knew there were concerns about sea turtles getting caught in shrimp nets, I figured after the late 80s/early 90s brouhaha about the inclusion of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs for short) in the nets, hey, problem solved. I could eat all the shrimp I wanted, sea turtles would be safe, and Red Lobster could somehow eke out a profit over serving plate after plate of endless shrimp.
But that’s not true. I learned too late in life that shrimping is one of the biggest ecological disasters out there. The by-catch caused by most the shrimp industry is devastating, something that affects a lot more than sea turtles. In fact, when I first met Dr. Alex Antoniou of Fins Attached Marine Research and Conservation, he told our group that a layman could help the ocean by cutting two things out of their diet: tuna and shrimp.
First off, what is “by-catch”? By-catch is the inevitable result of some fishing practices, and is a short-hand term to describe the taking of species not targeted by the that specific fisheries’ goal. For instance, longlining – the practice of dropping lines with baited hooks across massive areas of the ocean – which ostensibly targets animals like swordfish or tuna, results in the deaths of sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks. A lot of the time these innocent bystanders are tossed back in dead, or even worse, dying, spiraling to the bottom. Every fishing practice results in it. Even hook-and-line artisinal fishing, considered the best fishing practice. Watching a poor moray eel twist and turn itself to death around a monofilament line cast from the Captain Bob driftboat in Florida still haunts me.
But surely there are things to mitigate by-catch, you might be asking? Something about Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)? Well, that brings me to the second point, which touches on the idea of sustainability. First off, let’s use the TEDs as our example. What are they? How do they work? Well, a TED is basically a little trap door incorporated into a net that gives the turtle a chance to escape, but it’s just a chance, and they don’t always work. And when it doesn’t work, the sea turtle drowns.
Which is sad. But it also gives lie to the idea of sustainability. There are two ways to measure sustainability. One is to only manage the effect that the fishing practice affects the targeted species. If you land 100 tons of shrimp in a year, but the reproductive rate of the uncaught shrimp replenishes the species to the point where it can absorb that 100 tons, then it’s sustainable (I’m way oversimplifying it, but you get the idea). And that’s great for the targeted species.
But unless sustainability also takes into account how the fishing practice affects the surrounding environment or other species, it’s not really sustainable. It’d be like saying “Hey I’m a great driver! I always get there on-time and in one piece!” while ignoring the pile of bodies and wrecked cars on the side of the road from the accidents you caused along the way.
Which is why what’s happening at Fry’s Food Stores is so frustrating. Maybe it’s a one-off thing. Maybe the manager at the Fry’s Food Store located at 4724 N 20th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016 isn’t following company directives, but they’re selling Patagonian (nee Argentinian) pink shrimp caught via bottom trawl. And they’re calling it “sustainable”, something neither the Marine Stewardship Council or the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch” program does. In fact, Seafood Watch gives the Argentinian Pink Shrimp it’s worst rating, Red.
Want to see what bottom trawl does to the environment?
And this is the sign the Fry’s Food Store in Phoenix puts over the bags of Aqua Star Patagonian Pink Shrimp.
They promise to exceed my standards for sustainability? Well, they’ve utterly failed in that promise. The most annoying thing about all this? I reached out to them, and they promised to take care of it. Three weeks later, the problem was still going on.
So for weeks they have been marketing shrimp to their shoppers that is not sustainable by at least two organizations that measure sustainability, promised to take care of it, and then did nothing. Maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s a they’re hoping stuff like this just slides under the radar, but people who love the ocean and think they are helping by looking for sustainable seafood are being let down, and someone – maybe Fry’s Corporate, maybe the Arizona State Attorney General’s office, someone… they should do something about it.
Me? I won’t be shopping at Fry’s anymore until they address this problem. You shouldn’t either. Download Monterrey Bay’s Seafood Watch app here: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/ and help the ocean by only buying seafood that is on the that is Best Choice or Good Alternative.