Foreign aid for conservation is a benefit to US consumers

Getty Images

Americans have a big appetite for shrimp.

That tiny crustacean is serious business. In 2017, America’s per capita consumption was 4.1 pounds, and over 1.5 billion pounds of shrimp were imported and domestically produced. Over 90 percent of U.S. consumption is imported.

{mosads}Shrimp are harvested in the Gulf of Mexico and imported from Asia and Latin America. The top foreign sources of shrimp are India, Indonesia, Ecuador, China. Vietnam, and Thailand.


The U.S. Congress has long recognized the connection between international conservation and the health of fisheries and between fiscal years 2011 to 2016 it appropriated over $15.5 billion dollars for conservation efforts that included support for healthy marine ecosystems. In the executive branch, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is responsible for helping foreign countries develop a robust regulatory framework for the seafood industry so as to fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Why the concern about illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing? And why shrimp?

Shrimp is the largest share of seafood imported to the U.S., valued at $6.5 billion in 2016, and imports are increasing from year to year. And shrimp may look harmless but they can damage more than your waistline.

Overseas, where shrimp are mostly farmed instead of fresh caught, the impacts are significant, such as the destruction of mangrove forest habitat; the displacement of traditional fishing communities, sometimes violently; the use of workers that are victims of human trafficking; and contamination with antibiotics used in agriculture that can trigger the development of drug-resistant bacteria that contribute to antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) infections that currently claim annually at least 50,000 lives in the U.S. and Europe, and 700,000 lives worldwide.

And the health problems due to AMR infections aren’t all imported to the West. China, which is the largest source of drug-contaminated shrimp sent to the U.S., suffers from water contaminated with drugs. in 2012, Chines scientists estimated the Pearl River estuary, one of the most densely populated areas of the country, receives 213 tons of antibiotics a year.

If that isn’t enough, Global Financial Integrity reports that illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing generates US$15.5 billion to $36.4 billion in illicit annual profits. And that money doesn’t all go into criminals’ secret bank accounts. Much of it is paid to cooperating public officials, contributing to the deterioration of public trust in government. And as transnational terrorist networks finance their operations through illicit activities, such as smuggling, it stands to reason that they would be interested in getting involved in anything that generates that much cash.

Mangrove swamps, terrorism, China, those are all problems for foreigners. So long as I lay off the shrimp cocktail at the company Christmas party there won’t be any effects here, right? Wrong.

If foreign shrimp sellers take advantage of trafficked workers and corrupt officials to get a price advantage on American producers that means American shrimp fleets will be sidelined and fishery workers will be out of a job. And it’s not just the crews. The people who support the fishing fleet, such as mechanics, are also hurt. The workers who process, package, and ship the shrimp are also out of a job.

Fishing is a dangerous job and in the Gulf of Mexico, the source of domestic shrimp, the shrimp fleet suffers the highest fatality rate. When fisherman is under pressure from unfair foreign competition they may take more risks, making a dangerous job even more so.

The feds aren’t just working with foreign governments strengthen fisheries management and enforcement. At the urging of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has mandated that by Dec. 31, all imported shrimp must be accompanied by harvest and landing data that documents the chain of custody of the goods.

It is important that the U.S. continue contributing to foreign conservation efforts that identify the social and economic factors that lead to illegal and unsustainable fishing, and strengthen fisheries management and enforcement. The squeeze of both improved governance in the producing countries and U.S. demands to know the provenance of imported shrimp will ensure that U.S. consumers don’t suffer from contaminated food and that and producers who play by the rules don’t fall prey to the unscrupulous ways of criminal networks.

James Durso (@James_Durso) served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years specializing in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is presently managing director of Corsair LLC, a consulting firm specializing in project management and marketing support in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Tags Conservation Environmental impact of fishing James Durso Richard Shelby

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video