Shrimp Welfare Project
aims to improve the lives
of billions of
in India and Southeast Asia.
~350 billion shrimps are farmed each year. This is more than 5x the total number of all farmed land animals put together. Many of them suffer from conditions which can and should be addressed, such as:
Risk of disease - Diseases that exist within the normal microflora of shrimps can thrive under high stocking densities, enabling pathogenic outbreaks. This is detrimental not only to the farmed shrimps but can cause large spillover events if best management practices are not followed. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics to stop diseases promotes the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Part of the solution in this case is prevention through best welfare practices.
Water quality - Oxygen and ammonia levels, temperature, salinity and pH are key to the welfare of all aquatic animals, including shrimps. Incorrect water management can lead to not only the contamination of nearby bodies of water and salinization and acidification of the soil, but also to compromised immune systems in shrimps and, in extreme cases, to death by suffocation or poisoning.
Eyestalk ablation - Some hatcheries still practice crushing or cutting off the eyestalk of female shrimps to induce rapid maturation. Recent studies have demonstrated that avoiding eyestalk ablation can result in broodstock living longer and their offspring being more resistant to stress. Therefore, eliminating this practice is in the best interest of shrimps but also of the shrimp farming industry.
What We Do
We intend to work on the demand side, reaching out to relevant stakeholders along the supply chain to improve welfare standards for shrimps. Some of the “Asks” we are considering include requiring their suppliers meet certain water quality metrics, incorporate more humane slaughter practices, reduce eyestalk ablation, and limit stocking densities.
We will also work with farmers to improve water quality (focusing on oxygen levels). The intention is to identify farmers that are part of the supply chain of the organizations we will be working with on the demand side. From conversations with organizations that have been involved in the transition to cage-free hens, we feel that our probabilities of success are maximized if we can directly link supply and demand, transitioning consumption towards a (today non-existent) market for higher-welfare shrimps.
In addition to our supply- and demand-side work, we aim to increase the awareness of shrimp welfare as a cause area by participating in relevant conferences and webinars. We also hope to assist in research work relating to the welfare of shrimps. Rethink Priorities is currently researching shrimps and prawns, and we may update our intervention(s) based on their published report.
Are Shrimps Sentient?
Shrimp sentience enshrined in UK law
In November 2021, Jonathan Birch and his colleagues from the London School of Economics and Political Science (UK) published a report titled "Review of the Evidence of Sentience in Cephalopod Molluscs and Decapod Crustaceans".
The report had been commissioned by the UK Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The report's central recommendation was:
We recommend that all cephalopod molluscs (such as octopus and squid) and decapod crustaceans (such as crabs, lobsters & shrimps) be regarded as sentient.
In April 2022, the UK Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act passed through the UK Govt. becoming law and recognised shrimp sentience.
Shrimp sentience recognised by scientists in the EU
In 2005, the EUs European Food Safety Authority published their Scientific Opinion on the “Aspects of the biology and welfare of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes”
The report recommended that (pg 17):
All decapods should be in Category 1 and so receive "protection."
With Category 1 defined as (pg 20):
The scientific evidence clearly indicates that those groups of animals are able to experience pain and distress, or the evidence, either directly or by analogy with animals in the same taxonomic group(s), are able to experience pain and distress.