Combatting International Deforestation Requires Addressing the Destruction of Mangroves by Foreign Shrimp Farming

In comments submitted to the U.S. Department of State, the Southern Shrimp Alliance argued that any effort to develop a strategy for combating international deforestation must address the continuing devastation of mangrove forests around the world caused by shrimp farms.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance’s comments were submitted in response to the State Department’s request for stakeholder input on options for combating international deforestation associated with commodities.  In the agency’s Federal Register notice, the State Department explained that it was seeking public feedback on options, including recommendations for proposed legislation, for a whole-of-government approach to combating international deforestation that, among other things, includes an analysis of the feasibility of limiting or removing specific commodities grown on lands deforested either illegally, or legally or illegally after December 31, 2020.

The comments summarized the substantial efforts of state governments in Florida and Texas to protect, preserve, and encourage the expansion of mangrove forests along their coastlines.  Between 1984 and 2011, the Atlantic coast of Florida has regained more than 3,000 acres of mangroves.  Moreover, since the creation of the South Bay Coastal Preserve in Texas, black mangroves have expanded throughout the state, at times displacing existing salt marshes.  In fact, the expansion of mangroves throughout Texas has resulted in the launch of a joint collaborative study led by Texas A&M University and the University of Houston, Mangroves in Texas, to better understand how this changing environment may impact the state’s ecosystems.

In contrast, mangroves in Asia and South America have been decimated to make way for short-lived shrimp farms, many of which are quickly abandoned due to disease and/or pollution.  The Southern Shrimp Alliance explained that illegally deforested mangroves were the foundational basis for the shrimp farming industry in Ecuador and that despite legal requirements that these mangroves be reforested, Ecuadorian shrimp producers have failed to meet their obligations.  The Southern Shrimp Alliance also provided an overview of the destruction of mangroves throughout India, emphasizing a recent international news story documenting the denuding of forest cover throughout coastal Kerala due to shrimp farming expansions.

Beyond the impact of shrimp farms on mangrove forests, the shrimp aquaculture industry has increased demand for soy products harvested on illegally deforested land, as soy is used in the production of shrimp feed.

Although the State Department’s notice focused on a limited number of commodities – cattle, oil palm, soy, cocoa, coffee, and wood fiber – the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s comments described how shrimp farming’s role in the deforestation of mangroves must be a priority in the development of any whole-of-government approach to combat international deforestation.

“For well over twenty years, mangroves throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia, and South America have been sacrificed to make way for shrimp aquaculture. The shrimp produced in the ponds that replaced mangrove forests has always been welcome in the U.S. market, meaning that American consumers have long been unwittingly incentivizing the destruction of even more mangroves,” said John Williams, the Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.  “If we are now going to seriously address international deforestation, our efforts must account for the harm to mangrove forests from shrimp farms that we have otherwise silently encouraged.”

The Southern Shrimp Alliance’s December 1, 2022 comments to the State Department may be found at this link:  https://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/SSA-Comments-on-State-Dept.-Options-for-Combating-International-Deforestation-Associated-with-Commodities-FINAL.pdf
The State Department’s Federal Register notice of October 18, 2022 may be reviewed here: https://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/State-Department-Federal-Register-Notice-Deforestation.pdf
Jazeera’s two-and-a-half minute video story, Shrimp Cultivation Threatens India’s Mangrove Forests, released on November 26, 2022, may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBuwtPTwc3M

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