The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this final installment of a four-part series, we begin to see the payoff of this effort—as a small supply of sustainably farmed shrimp makes its way from Vietnam to Los Angeles. (Continued from Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)
Silver skyscrapers stretch into the clouds above Bangkok, towering over streets packed with traffic and colorful food tents. Street-cart vendors serve sticky pad Thai, lotus-root curry and pickled pig skin from sizzling woks. This city of more than eight million is alive with open-air markets, underground art and some of the world’s oldest temples.
Seafood Watch Science Director Wendy Norden looks out from the restaurant balcony. Her team of ocean policy and aquaculture experts is decompressing after a busy day of meetings. They had spent more than eight hours with dozens of stakeholders from across Southeast Asia, brainstorming solutions to the seafood industry’s biggest challenges, from habitat degradation and chemical overuse to labor abuses.
The group included Vietnamese caviar producers, Indonesian fish professionals, Burmese seafood producers, American seafood buyers, and environmental auditors from Ireland, Thailand and Vietnam—all face-to-face in a Bangkok conference room.
“The people in that room pull a lot of levers,” says Tyler Isaac, a Seafood Watch aquaculture scientist. “There’s a chance to make a really big impact, from both the top and from the ground level.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this third installment of a four-part series, we explore how an innovative partnership is driving an ambitious vision for sustainable shrimp production. (Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.)
Friday rush hour traffic rumbles by the Hanoi coffee shop where Cu Thi Le Thuy sips a cup of hot tea. Mopeds zip between cars, pedestrians weave through the currents and sirens amplify the tumult.
But for Thuy, this is a rare moment of stillness. She gazes past the traffic at Hoàn Kiếm Lake and its Temple of the Jade Mountain, which appears to float on the water. Thuy has a gift for focusing on what’s most important when others might be overwhelmed by the surrounding noise.
The Aquarium hired Thuy as a regional expert who knows her native Vietnam and its neighboring nations inside out.She works as a translator in the broadest sense—helping bridge linguistic, cultural and knowledge gaps between Aquarium experts and the region’s seafood industry representatives. And she’s helping deploy a new tool that aims to share the power, and responsibility, of verification throughout the supply chain.
The Aquarium’s collaboration with Thuy, and regional experts like her, gets to the heart of a common question: Why are we working to influence seafood production an ocean away from our California headquarters?
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this second installment of a four-part series, we take a peek at life on the shrimp pond—as Seafood Watch wades into the business of small-scale aquaculture in Southeast Asia. (Continued from Part 1.)
Pokkrong Kirdsook, Taylor Voorhees and Tyler Isaac walk single-file onto a thin wooden plank. The boards bow with each step, sagging closer to the pond four feet below. Pokkrong pulls up a spindly rope, lifting a cylindrical mesh cage from the water.
It looks like they could be panning for gold, but the riches in this cage are more lively. Exposed to the warm air on this humid afternoon in southern Thailand, whiteleg shrimp wriggle and jump on the mesh.
Taylor and Tyler, both Seafood Watch senior aquaculture scientists, admire the results. Shrimp farmers need to navigate a number of risks to produce shrimp this healthy. Even the variation within a lunar cycle can impact the development of their protective exoskeletons.
The tiny pier on Pokkrong’s farm is 8,300 miles from the Seafood Watch office in Monterey, California, but Taylor and Tyler feel at home. Both worked in aquaculture production before joining the Aquarium; they even built a small aquaponic rig in Tyler’s backyard.
They’re visiting shrimp operations in the Thai province of Krabi to talk with farmers about everything from local government regulations to wastewater management and natural remedies for shrimp ailments.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to make the global shrimp supply chain more environmentally sustainable, from family farms in Southeast Asia to customers’ plates in the United States. In this first installment of a four-part series, we examine the growing American appetite for shrimp—and how it’s created a booming industry across the Pacific.
Every night, in kitchens across America, hundreds of thousands of people prepare the same dinner. Recently it was cavatelli pasta with zucchini, garlic and cherry tomatoes, sautéed in butter with mascarpone cheese and tender shrimp.
The portioned ingredients—down to the optional bottle of Viognier white wine—are delivered to customers’ doorsteps from Blue Apron, a national meal kit company that makes this sophisticated meal easy to prepare. The shrimp is also sustainable: As a partner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, Blue Apron avoids seafood that’s produced in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
Carrie Conley of Fort Irwin, California, says she chose Blue Apron because of its partnership with Seafood Watch. Sustainable seafood has been important to her since she started visiting the Aquarium, where she learned about the environmental impacts of fishing and aquaculture.
“If I’m actively trying to find organic chicken,” she reasoned, “why not make better choices across the board?”
Blue Apron makes it easy for customers like Carrie to access sustainably harvested shrimp. But producing that shrimp, and getting it into meal-kit boxes from faraway places like Southeast Asia, is anything but simple.
Jenn was invited by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), the subcommittee’s chair, to provide information on the status of U.S. and global fisheries. Building on her remarks to the United Nations in 2017, she provided insight into seafood markets and made policy recommendations to advance the sustainability of U.S. and global fisheries.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t alone in its drive to inspire conservation and host visitors sustainably. Thanks to steps by the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau and others, the region is increasingly positioning itself as a leader in sustainable hospitality—and earning recognition for its commitment.
Building on the area’s unique advantages, like having the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in its backyard, the Aquarium is leveraging results far beyond its doors, says Public Affairs Director Barbara Meister.
“The Aquarium is well-known and recognized, so to the extent that we can help with messaging or bring other partners along—whether hotels that are reducing plastic use or restaurants that are serving Seafood Watch-approved species—all that bodes well for our mission,” Barbara says.
The multifaceted push marks the latest chapter in the area’s long history of working to protect its environmental assets, she says. In recent years, communities around Monterey Bay have opted to draw only renewable energy from the electric power grid, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust is helping fishing crews connect with regional restaurants to serve locally caught seafood.
Last year, Monterey County became internationally ranked on the Global Destination Sustainability Index, which will help track its progress going forward. (Only three U.S. destinations have qualified, and Monterey County is the greenest of the three.)
With that in mind, Chef Matt and his team have designed a sumptuous—and almost entirely plant-based—menu to show just how delicious climate-friendly meals can be.
In developing the latest seasonal menu for the Aquarium Restaurant, Chef Matt wanted to both lower the carbon footprint of each dish, and to delight customers’ taste buds with new and enticing flavors.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s commitment to sustainable seafood has grown over the past 20 years, from a simple Seafood Watch consumer guide to a program that influences seafood production and government policy around the world.
The impact of that work—including a new initiative to address slavery and other labor abuses in seafood supply chains—has earned Executive Director Julie Packard recognition as an American Food Hero from EatingWell, the influential print and online publication that’s been at the forefront of the healthy-eating movement for more than 25 years.
EatingWell cites the “wildly successful Seafood Watch program,” which has “revolutionized the way we buy fish and shellfish today.”
It’s a view shared by ocean conservation leader Carl Safina, who told EatingWell: “Julie Packard has been the single most effective person in raising public awareness about seafood sustainability.”
The honor singles out the launch earlier this year of a Seafood Slavery Risk Tool that helps major seafood buyers assess potential risk of labor abuses in their supply chains, so they can work with suppliers globally to correct problems and improve the sustainability of their seafood.
When news articles highlighted the scope of the problem, EatingWell notes, “The thought of slave-caught fish landing on American plates—or any plates for that matter—was a galvanizing moment for Julie Packard. To her, protecting the people working on our waters was no different than protecting the fish swimming in them.”
“’I felt it was imperative that we include human rights issues in our definition of sustainable, because sustainable isn’t just about the environment,’ she says. ‘It’s about the broader social impact. And the seafood industry is rife with problems in that area.’”
You can read the full article here, with profiles of Julie Packard and 11 other American Food Heroes: men and women doing extraordinary things to make food and food systems better.
Featured photo: Shrimp are left on an abandoned peeling table after a raid in Thailand connected with seafood slavery investigations. Credit: Associated Press/Dita Alangkara
Imagine you’re a young father, from Myanmar, who has come to Thailand to find work as a fisherman and support your family. Once aboard ship, your time at sea stretches to weeks, months, or even a year. You find yourself working 20 hours a day, at one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. You sleep in unsanitary quarters, and are subject to violence and intimidation.
But your biggest surprise occurs when the boat finally docks: You are kept in locked quarters, and not allowed to come ashore. The captain has taken your passport and keeps much of your wages.
Seafood slavery is real, and occurring in many parts of the globe. And the byproducts of this underworld economy—shrimp, crab, snapper and other popular seafood items—can make their way to dinner tables in the United States.
Each year, global leaders gather at the Our Ocean conference, pledging meaningful actions to protect the health of the global ocean. This year, on the Mediterranean island of Malta, Monterey Bay Aquarium was at the heart of several key initiatives addressing fisheries, aquaculture and ocean plastic pollution.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who launched the event in 2014, announced a new partnership between the Aquarium and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Through the Southeast Asia Fisheries and Aquaculture Initiative, we’ll work with regional governments and seafood producers in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines to overcome obstacles to sustainable seafood production.
“Sustainable fishing is good for jobs and good for the environment at the same time,” Kerry said. “It’s not a competition between the two.”