Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Most Shrimp You Eat Are from Ponds Like These

Shrimp ponds smell like a cross betwen a mid-July salt marsh and a neglected fish tank --- one where the glass is covered in algae and you can't see what's inside or identify that fuzzy thing floating on top.

The only vegetation between the ponds is the kind of grass that grows through city sidewalks. I can't imagine anything else being able to grow in the crusty dirt that crunches under my shoes.

The paddle wheels churn greenish white water with an electric drone, and the void of plant life intensifies the sun's heat on my neck --- hardly bearable. The area around the sprawling pond complex is gorgeous green jungle and mangroves, but within the farm operation, it's 100% utilitarian with zero aesthetics. A few beat-up dogs limp around or sleep in the shade (maybe they're dead?). Empty bags of shrimp feed lie around the windless oven-like earth. Never seems to be any wind --- hardly a breeze. The shush of the paddle wheels never ceases.

But all this doesn't mean I'm not interested to explore it.

It's increasingly rare that the shrimp you eat comes from the open sea. Near 60% of the world supply comes from manmade ponds, and one day that may be 100% if the ocean goes the way the scientists say.

Below are pictures from the shrimp ponds I visited today. They are typical of the Intensive farms I've seen in four different countries. This operation totals 17 hectares (2.47 acres = 1 hectare) and includes 24 ponds, of which only nine are active. Massive amounts of shrimp shit and uneaten feed lie on the pond bottoms which causes extreme build-up of acid and other nasties like hydrogen sulfide. It's the logical result of culturing 150+ shrimp per square meter.

At the end of my meeting today, the farmer showed me some print-outs of this area on google maps. It's located less than one kilometer from the open sea. He says he's going to purchase a second location five kilometers down the road which will be 20 to 30 hectares big. On the map, that location is currently pristine mangroves which will look like the below pictures in a few years once his crew have dug it into a new operation.

The shrimp industry is improving the lives of thousands of people across southeast Asia but who knows what it's doing to the environment. I'm concerned by the environmental issues that shrimp ponds pose, but I've met enough shrimp farmers and understand a bit about their lives and situations; they're just trying to make it in this world like you and I. Plus, they're always such nice folks.

This wheel controls the dike which opens and closes the flow of water from one pond to the next. In the background you can see where they're burning trash. All those sticks going into the water are aeration stones providing oxygen for the shrimp:

This little roof covers the industrial electric water pump. Shrimp ponds take water from the sea, and hold it in a resovoir until it's needed. That's it there in concrete in the bottom right:

These are the running paddle wheels that provide oxygen to the shrimp stocked at 150-per-square-meter below the surface of this water. That plastic blue perimeter is actually there so when the shrimp jump out onto the shore --- yes, they jump --- they'll fall back into the water:

More paddle wheels. There are the mangroves far in the background. This area was probably once all mangroves or rice paddies:

This is the shrimp farmer. He had a nine-speaker karaoke system in the small house on the pond premises. He had a huge collection which he played for us. We actually watched Led Zepplin live on karaoke DVD while we talked and later he sang Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton in a perfect accent. Otherwise, he didn't speak a word of English.

This pond is lying dormat. Again, they can't run 100% of the ponds all the time. They have to drain them, treat them with calcium carbonate and sometimes other chemicals and let them sit vacant to recover:

Another dormat pond there in the background:

Here's an empty bag of shrimp feed stuck onto a post:

Dormat ponds are ugly, really:

I'm enjoying this tour of yours, Lonnie. I'd never really thought of what a shrimp farm looked like, but I do know that the bags of shrimp at trader joe's often read "Product of Indonesia" or maybe it's Thailand. At any rate, a lot of the seafood they're selling is coming from SE Asia/Micronesia. Very interesting to be on the ground there, I'm sure.
I think the destruction of mangroves is going to be a pretty major problem in these Asian countries.
From today's Wall Street Journal:
"HONG KONG -- The deadly impact of the Myanmar cyclone was likely worsened by an environmental problem plaguing Asia's coastlines: widespread degradation of mangrove forests that once protected coastal villages from tidal surges and strong winds."
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What I enjoy about your blog, are your travels and the fact that you talk and deal with the everyday people of the country you are visiting. Who would ever think about heading to a shrimp farm. Not me.

Great post.

Here is shrimp farming at its best....
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