Shrimp on your plate, is it worth it?

The global population of mangroves has been degrading every year by 2%, and in many countries disappearing three times faster than rainforests. Uniquely salt-tolerant evergreen ecosystems, mangroves grow along coastlines (covering an estimated 150 000 km2 globally) supporting livelihoods and protecting soils and reefs. A concern for foresters and fisherfolk alike, these ecosystems are the homes of many fish breeding grounds. Yet, the most serious threat to mangroves point to an increasing human population such as increased wood harvesting, oversfishing, and tourism and coastal development.  Shrimp is the most popular type of seafood and represent an important contribution to total seafood economy, yet its farming has devastating effects on mangroves. This makes overfishing and shrimp farming are of particular concern and due to the effects on emissions, lost income and environmental degradation leading to less adaptive capacity of coastal zones. Therefore, shrimp farming is an excellent candidate for a climate-smart agriculture approach.

Shrimp, along with 75 percent of tropical fish, spend the early stages of their lives in mangroves. Shallow, coastal carbon-sinking habitats can sequester carbon 50 to 100 times faster than trees in forests, suggesting that restoring and protecting intact coastal habitats is a key action for climate mitigation and adaptation. As these habitats are converted or pushed further from the coast, fisherfolk must invest in larger vessels to catch the fish. Not only does shrimp farming disrupt mangroves but also the GHG emissions resulting from the conversion is incredibly high since mangroves store more carbon than rainforests – estimated at 1 028 MgCO2e per hectare (equivalent to the emissions of 220 cars driven for a year). Avoiding the clearing of mangrove forests for any purpose is preferable to expensive rehabilitation later. Therefore, better management of shrimp extraction and mangroves has a three-fold affect: lower GHG emissions and restored carbon capture, increased income due to restored and increased production from coastline fish; and more equal social outcomes for those that cannot invest in larger vessels. 

Implementing CSA initiatives is now ongoing and greater coordination between agriculture, food security and climate change policy making will ensure the sustainable production of shrimp farming in mangroves. Awareness raising to protect and restore the ecosystems and the communities that depend on them has led the department of Agricultural Development Economics at The Food and Agricultural Organization on the UN (FAO) to engage with the governments of Sri Lanka and Grenada. The two countries have been recognized as advocates of mangrove habitats, with 22 mangrove sites in Grenada; and 6000-7000 ha of mangroves interspersed along the coastline of Sri Lanka. Grenada has committed to conserve at least 20 percent of their nearshore marine resources and rebuild natural capital, which would include 22 mangrove sites. FAO Mangrove Projects will draw from lessons learned and unpack the proximate drivers of degraded mangroves, trying to strike a balance between sustainable economic growth and coastal ocean health. Countries that effectively manage their coastal carbon stocks can also apply for international funding for their efforts through initiatives like REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries), actions that not only reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon emitted but can also sink carbon back into trees, mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes and algae on reefs. The increased collaboration hopes build capacity and the policy needed to support the restoration and protection the habitats require. 

Adriana Ignaciuk (FAO) and Angela Bernard (FAO)