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.
This week, the White House named 12 “Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood.” The awards recognize the people at the heart of America’s seafood industry—the fishermen, business owners, entrepreneurs, chefs and coastal leaders—who work tirelessly to support both the economic and ecological viability of our nation’s fisheries.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is pleased to count several of the winners and nominees among our Seafood Watch Business and Restaurant Partners, Blue Ribbon Task Force members and other collaborators. Working with Seafood Watch, they help raise consumer awareness about seafood sustainability and push for improvements in the supply chain.
The Conservation & Science team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has worked for more than two decades to understand and recover bluefin tuna populations – particularly Pacific bluefin tuna, whose population has declined historically due to overfishing. A key piece of our efforts is tagging bluefin tuna in the wild so we can document their migrations across ocean basins. Much of our work takes place in the Eastern Pacific, but this month we’re partnering with Japanese colleagues to tag bluefin tuna in the Sea of Japan. Tuna Research and Conservation Center Research Technician Ethan Estess, working with Program Manager Chuck Farwell, is chronicling his experience in the field. This the first dispatch in his series.
The alarm buzzes beside my head and, opening my eyes, I have no idea where I am.
I’m lying on the floor of a room covered wall-to-wall in woven straw mats, with rice paper windows and a table rising a foot off the ground. Right. Japan. Sado Island in the Sea of Japan, where I’m sleeping on a traditional tatami mat. Yesterday’s cannery whistle is blowing back home at the Monterey Bay Aquarium at noon, but my 4 a.m. alarm tells me it’s time to get up and find some Pacific bluefin tuna.
You may have heard of electronic tagging — technology that lets scientists track the movement of animals. Experts at Monterey Bay Aquarium and our partner institutions have used electronic tags to track sea otters along the California coast, as well as white sharks and bluefin tunas on their meandering marine migrations.
Now we’re cheering another kind of fish tracking: the kind that happens after they’re caught. Following the movement of seafood through the supply chain, a practice known as traceability, is key to ensuring fish products sold in the U.S. are sustainable and legal.
In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama got the ball rolling on a federal effort to fight IUU fishing on a global scale. The newly announced seafood traceability program would make it easier for regulators to electronically track seafood coming into the United States — and keep illegal fish products out.
Margaret Spring, the Aquarium’s Vice President of Conservation & Science and Chief Conservation Officer, welcomed the release of the proposed rule.
“IUU fishing threatens ocean health and food security, and harms coastal economies and communities,” she said. “If designed correctly, the new traceability program could create needed transparency within the complex international seafood supply chain, reduce the risk of illegal products entering U.S. commerce and advance the sustainable seafood movement.”
A 2011 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization assessment found that 25 percent of 600 fish stocks monitored worldwide are overexploited, which can lead to population collapse. Another 52 percent are “fully exploited,” meaning any increase in fishing pressure could reduce their numbers to unsustainable levels.
These numbers matter as nations work together to conserve marine life in international waters. IUU fishing undermines those cooperative efforts, threatening the long-term sustainability of commercially important fisheries like crab, tuna and shrimp. One estimate puts the cost of IUU fishing to legitimate fishing fleets and to governments at $10 billion to $23.5 billion per year.
But TomKat doesn’t stop at ranching; it’s constantly experimenting with other forms of eco-friendly food production. A few of us took the opportunity to tour Symbi Biological, which takes its name from the principle of symbiosis: a mutually beneficial relationship between living beings. That’s a good description for aquaponics, in which farmed fish produce waste that fertilizes hydroponic plants, and the plants return the favor by filtering the water for the fish.
Bins full of worms
Doug Millar is the mastermind of Symbi, which runs under parent company InKa Biospheric. Wearing a weathered cowboy hat atop a 6-foot-3 frame, Millar takes us first to see worm bins filled with manure from the ranch’s horses. Various species of squirmy residents, from earthworms to mealworms, turn the poop into nutrient-rich compost that helps fertilize the pasture.
But compost is just a side benefit; it’s the worms Millar is after. They’re part of his special recipe for homemade fish food. Another ingredient is crickets, which he breeds in a hydroponic tent he calls “the hopper hopper.” The bugs live in plastic-lidded tubs outfitted with dirt trays (where the larvae incubate) and stacked egg cartons, which separate the hatched crickets so they don’t eat each other. A low-tech temperature controller keeps the tent toasty; the ranch’s solar panels help offset the energy.
What about food for the crickets? Millar makes that, too. He cultivates spirulina algae in a standard home fish tank, dries it out and feeds the powder to the bugs, turning the transparent baby crickets green.
Food for the fish
The crickets, worms and spirulina provide protein for the goldfish carp, which live in deep, round tanks in the pump room. The species isn’t on the typical American menu, but Millar’s crew once harvested about 100 and had a party, preparing them in a variety of ways. “They taste a little pondy,” Millar admits. Next time, he says, he’ll try moving the fish to a clearing tank for a couple of days before harvest.
The fish-poop-fertilized wastewater flows through PVC pipes into the crown jewel of Symbi’s operation: the greenhouse. Bright bursts of butter lettuce and bundles of basil with super-sized leaves float in polystyrene panels on aquaponic grow beds, their roots reaching through holes into the nutrient-rich water.
From there, the water – cleaned by the plant roots – cycles back to the fish tanks. The recirculation adds up to real conservation: Millar says it only takes 1.5 gallons to produce a head of Symbi lettuce. Pretty impressive, compared with an average of 13.6 gallons for a one-pound head grown on soil.
The circle is unbroken
Ranch staff serve the produce at the events they host, and Millar donates the rest to Pescadero Middle and High School to be served in the cafeteria. The aquaponics operation also produces barley, which is nutrient-rich feed for the ranch animals. And when the horses digest the barley? You guessed it: More manure for the worms, closing the loop on this sustainable food system.
Several farmed fish on the aquarium’s Seafood Watch “Best Choices” list are raised in similar recirculated aquaculture systems, in which wastewater is treated and then re-used.
“Because you’re treating the waste and capturing the waste stream, the environmental impacts we found were relatively minor compared with other production systems,” says Brian Albaum, business engagement manager for Seafood Watch.
Green-listed seafood produced with this water-wise method include U.S. farmed tilapia, barramundi, sturgeon and yellow perch. Learn more about Seafood Watch recommendations, including these farmed “Best Choices,” at www.seafoodwatch.org.