How to make seafood choices in light of recent revelations about the international shrimp trade.
The recent stories about slave labor in the Thai shrimp industry are appalling, from The Guardian’s series a year and a half ago on workers imprisoned on boats, to this past Sunday’s revelation from the AP about slave and child labor in shrimp-peeling sheds. Thai shrimp — some of it produced under these conditions — ends up in markets and on tables all around the world.
After the Guardian stories, a consortium of retailers, manufacturers, government agencies and nonprofits created the Shrimp Sustainable Supply Chain Task Force to attempt to ensure that Thailand’s seafood supply chain, including aboard fishing vessels, does not involve illegal and forced labor. And organizations like the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), a nonprofit that inspects and certifies farmed shrimp, continue to react against slave labor in the Thai industry. George Chamberlain, GAA president, says that “the proportion of shrimp coming from peeling sheds is tiny” and that the GAA will have the problem solved as of the New Year. “There are all these issues that pop up, and I would say that the programs are responding to them quite rapidly,” he says.
That doesn’t make the stories easier for consumers to stomach. Those in the US who are concerned about seafood sustainability often turn to the recommendations of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. And here in Seattle, the Smart Catch program is certifying individual restaurants as serving sustainable seafood. But neither takes labor practices into account — only the viability of the supplies of seafood.
The solution that Seattle-area PCC Natural Markets settled on? Buy American. Director of public affairs Trudy Bialic says, “We have been aware for years of the problem of slave labor in the fishing industry.” According to her, PCC’s purchasing policies were developed “specifically to avoid this problem.” At its 10 locations, they sell no foreign shrimp. (PCC also avoids farmed shrimp.)
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At your grocery store, look for country-of-origin labeling on shrimp; at a restaurant, ask your server where the shrimp is from (and if you decide not to order it, let the manager know why). Domestic shrimp may cost more, but it’s a solution with no margin of error for slave labor, and one that you can feel patriotic about.