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International Laws Monitoring Shrimp are Weak, Protect Companies First, Consumers Second

Feb. 14, 2005

International Laws Monitoring Shrimp are Weak, Protect Companies First, Consumers Second

Public Citizen Releases Report About Farm-Raised Shrimp, Focuses on Trade, Law and International Agencies

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The majority of shrimp that consumers eat in the United States is imported, but the international laws and institutions that govern its production and trade don’t protect either the consumers who eat the shrimp or the countries whose environments and coastal communities are being destroyed by the shrimp farms, said Public Citizen today as it released a fourth report, part of its Pharmed Shrimp series and part of a continuing public education campaign on imported farm-raised shrimp.

The latest report, called Shrimp’s Passport: How International Trade Agencies Monitor America’s Favorite Seafood is available by clicking here. Shrimp aquaculture uses an intensive factory-farming model, and most shrimp farms are in Southeast Asia, where labor and environmental standards are considerably weaker than in the United States.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), which enforces global rules regarding the exportation of farm-raised shrimp, prioritizes deregulation to the benefit of large corporations, and to the detriment of small-scale fishermen and coastal communities both in the producing nations and the consuming nations.   In the wake of new trade negotiations on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), which target fisheries and seafood production as a priority area for greater deregulation and liberalization, millions of people in developing nations are being threatened by the exploitation of natural systems to create more shrimp farms.

“One of the consequences of the WTO’s unfair trade rules is the protection of corporations rather than people,” said Andrianna Natsoulas, field director for the shrimp campaign at Public Citizen.  “Traditional fisherfolk, dependent on coastal resources in these targeted countries, are fighting for their survival, while small-scale U.S. wild shrimpers can’t meet the current insatiable demand for shrimp in the United States. Giant companies like ConAgra are the only ones getting rich off shrimp production.”

Meanwhile, despite the good intentions of some international agreements that call for the protection of wetlands and other coastal areas, many companies either skirt or ignore these existing conservation laws.  For example, the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which has 141 countries as signatories, is supposed to provide “the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.”  More than 300 million acres are designated worldwide for protective measures, including protection from any unsustainable aquaculture activities harmful to coastal wetlands and mangrove forests.  But the resolution has no teeth, as is apparent by the shrimp company El Faro, which is operating a shrimp farm in La Barberie, Honduras, a protected wetland on the Ramsar list, without any repercussions.

“The situation in Honduras is a classic example of how companies get away with breaking the rules – all at the expense of the people and environment where they’re operating,” said Natsoulas.  “When the Honduran president is also an investor in a large shrimp company that operates in his country, Granjas Marinas San Bernardo, his bias causes him to turn a blind eye to the shrimp aquaculture industry.  These companies tend not to be penalized when they break the rules.  Instead, those punished are the people whose lives are being destroyed by massive shrimp farms that take over their land and livelihoods and force them out.”

Public Citizen urges governments of countries where shrimp is produced, such as Thailand, Vietnam and Brazil, to better enforce international conventions and resolutions that protect coastal communities from being destroyed.   It also encourages countries to block WTO trade negotiations that attempt to increase market access to natural resources, such as fisheries.

To read more about the shrimp campaign, please go to www.shrimpactivist.org.