- Over 70% of all seafood we eat comes from overseas – much of it from South East Asia.
- Thailand has a multi-billion dollar prawn farm industry, exporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of prawns per year, more than any other country in the world.
- Prawns are the second most popular seafood in Australia, after atlantic salmon.
What’s the Catch?
- In Thailand, prawns are farmed inland in ponds or in cages along coasts or riverbanks. Establishing prawn farms meant widespread clearing in mangrove swamps, and Thailand lost more than half its mangroves. The country has since replanted many swamps, and clearing is now illegal.
- Thai prawn farms are not self-sufficient. The prawns live on a commercial feed made partly from fishmeal, a product that usually contains ground up wild marine animals trawled from the sea floor.
- Many Thai fishing boats are unlicensed and the industry has been investigated for its use of slave labour.
- Workers migrating from Burma, Laos and Cambodia pay brokers to smuggle them over the border and secure them jobs in factories in Thailand. Instead, many are sold into slavery, kept out at sea on fishing boats for long periods of time, unable to escape.
- According to the Global Slavery Index 2013, an estimated 450,000-500,000 people are currently enslaved in Thailand, many of them working in the fishing industry.
- Thai fishing boats bottom trawl the sea, weighing down nets and dragging them across the ocean floor, indiscriminately collecting anything and everything in their path. This causes grave damage to habitats and ecosystems.
- Any larger fish caught can be marketed for food and are sold, while the remaining smaller sea animals are inappropriately deemed ‘trash fish,’ (they are actually an important part of the ecosystem) ground up to become fish meal, a key ingredient in prawn feed.
- ‘Trash fish’ can include, but is not limited to, small crabs, starfish, sponges, sea snakes, small octopus, sea horses, puffer fish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, squid and juvenile fish that are not yet old enough to reproduce.
- In the gulf of Thailand, more than 60% of everything caught in the ocean ends up as ‘trash fish.’
- The waste generated from these farmed prawns is concentrated in the ponds and tanks along the coast of Thailand and if disposed of carelessly, it pollutes the surrounding waterways and the neighbouring marine parks. Disposal of waste from prawn farms into natural waterways is illegal in Thailand, and the practice has been greatly reduced, but illegal dumping still occurs.
- While the practice of using antibiotics harmful to humans in Thai prawn farms was once common practice, Thai authorities have had a great deal of success in enforcing a ban and in educating farmers to abandon the use of illegal veterinary drugs. However, occasionally, shipments of Thai prawns to importing countries are still rejected due to traces of banned drugs, so the problem has not been eliminated entirely.
What’s the Solution?
- Prawns are a delicacy we just might have to eat less of until a solution to producing them sustainably is found.
- Choose Australian farmed prawns and, occasionally, wild Australian caught prawns that come from certified fisheries.
- Western king prawns from the Spencer Gulf Prawn Trawl Fishery in South Australia have been found to be sustainable by the Australian Conservation Foundation's Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program and the Marine Stewardship Council.
- The Marine Stewardship Council has certified the Northern Prawn Fishery in Northern Australia as sustainable.
- The Australian Marine Conservation Society lists farmed Australian prawns from Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory as a better choice. They have found that prawn farms in these areas are generally well managed and that the waste generated by prawns causes only limited pollution to surrounding waterways.
- Although prawns on Australian farms are given feed that contains ground up wild fish, efforts are being made to reduce its use, while exciting developments in the feed industry may mean that wild fish could be eliminated as an ingredient in local prawn feed. Stay tuned for Episode 3 of ‘What’s the Catch?’ to learn more.
What’s the Recipe?
- Guardian on slavery in the Thai fishing industry
- The Global Slavery Index
- Australian Marine Conservation Society on Thai prawns
- Australian Marine Conservation Society on farmed Australian prawns
- Wild Australian western king prawns from the Spencer Gulf Prawn Trawl Fishery in South Australia have been found to be sustainable by the Australian Conservation Foundation's 'Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program' and the Marine Stewardship Council
- The Northern Prawn Fishery in Northern Australia has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council
- The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation
What's the Catch is streaming now on SBS On Demand: