TRANSCRIPT - Alfredo Quarto
Quarto is the Executive Director of Mangrove Action Project,
a worldwide network, which includes over 350 NGOs and nearly
200 academics within its umbrella. MAP helps give voice to
the struggles of traditional coastal people in developing
nations and is continuing to raise awareness and concerted
actions towards sustainability and accountability within the
shrimp aquaculture industry.
Researchers in the aquaculture industry say that the problem of
mangrove displacement is now largely in the past because it's now
known that mangrove soils are too acidic for locating shrimp ponds
and that excavating ponds amidst the trees is too labor intensive
and too costly. What do think of this?
I think our
publicizing the problems of mangrove displacement via shrimp aquaculture
mitigates the problem. We have lessened the impact on the mangroves
in many countries. For instance in Thailand, they're cutting less
mangroves now and expanding less into mangrove areas. But definitely
there are still mangrove areas affected by shrimp farming, in areas
of Honduras, areas of Africa, and other areas of the world where
mangroves are being threatened. It's a continuing problem.
But even if the ponds are right next to the mangroves and they haven't
actually cut mangroves, there may still be a problem?
is the problem of overloading the capacity of the mangrove forest
to assume the burden of effluent, and if the effluent is beyond
a certain point it can overload the mangroves and affect the mangroves
negatively. Also, the underground water and the aquifers that are
used for the shrimp farms can affect the mangroves because mangroves
require a certain amount of filtration with water and nutrients
coming through them from the upland areas.
So if those
mangroves are affected by your taking the water supply for the shrimp
farm, that could have a negative affect on the mangrove health as
well. So it's not just cutting them, it's not just clearing them.
It's also effects from the surrounding environment.
An aquaculture expert we spoke with at Auburn University claims
that he wrote the Environmental Impact Report in Tanzania for the
developer who wants to establish the Rufiji Delta shrimp farm project,
and he says that the ponds won't be located in the mangroves and
that they're planning to implement many of the better practices
called by the FAO.
I was at Rufiji
Delta in February of 1998 and talked to a forestry department official
who maintained that the first phase of the project - there'll be
six phases - will result in about 10 hectares of mangrove clearing.
After the first phase there'll be more mangrove clearing according
to this forestry official. He's right there at the Rufiji Delta
itself. So we do feel that mangroves will be affected.
they're cleared or not cleared, the fact is also that the local
people, the local communities, are losing some of their land rights
involved in this decision to put Rufiji Delta in peril with a large-scale
shrimp farm development - we're talking 10,000 hectares.
And we're also
concerned because Rufiji has never had a shrimp farm before and
in fact, Tanzania has no coastal plans for shrimp farms in effect.
So the shrimp farm will be very much an experiment at the risk to
the local people. So we are very concerned about the environment
and the local people at Rufiji, and the concern is much felt by
the local communities there.
Is it true that the mangrove forests at Rufiji are some of the last
remaining large tracts?
actually has the largest integral mangrove forest in East Africa.
It's about 53,000 hectares of mangrove forest there. The original
plan for the shrimp farm at Rufiji would have affected about 1/3
of those mangroves, clearing them out of the picture. Because of
outside pressures and environmentalists' concerns we've been able
to at least get the industry to address the issue.
We've interviewed another aquaculture expert who has consulted for
the large shrimp farm interests in the Gulf of Manseca. He showed
us satellite photos that seem to show that larger farms have taken
care to locate in salt flats rather than in mangroves. And from
these photographs it also appears that the smaller farms are the
ones displacing the mangroves.
He also said
that the large farms are amongst the most sustainable in the world
and he seemed to be quite proud of the fact that they are living
up to the FAO Code of Best Practices criteria. Can you comment on
For one, in
Honduras there's still illegal expansion of shrimp farming into
mangrove areas and to say that large companies are not doing it
misrepresents the fact that a lot of the smaller enterprises are
supported by larger companies' investments - for instance, infrastructure.
The people who are starting up these ponds buy the feed, buy the
equipment to start their ponds up and plus get the technical advice
from the larger corporations that are involved there.
It might be
true that some of these may not be situated in a mangrove forest
but there are many acres of mangrove forests that have been cleared
to produce these shrimp farms. And so shrimp farms are in mangrove
areas. I've seen myself, on personal visits, shrimp farms located
in mangrove areas.
One of the problems
with the satellite photo is it's really hard from that distance
to show, after the fact especially, that these were not mangrove
forests. Some of them might have been degraded mangrove forest that
were converted later on, so a satellite photo may not be the most
accurate way to determine what that area was in the past. It might
show what it is now, but the past is really hard to say. But we
know that thousands of hectares of mangrove forest were lost in
Honduras, a lot of that due to shrimp farming.
This aquaculture expert went on to say that he thought if in fact
diminishing fisheries in the Gulf is a problem (we found that it
is), the cause of it is not so much a bycatch issue related to harvest
of wild shrimp larvae, but because of increased fishing effort going
on in the Gulf.
I think it's
all combined. You can't just have one issue -- increased fishing
effort -- as the only reason for declining fisheries. If you're
destroying the habitat of the mangrove, you're destroying the wild
fishery as well. If you're catching the larvae of the shrimp for
the shrimp farms, it also affects the wild fishery because for every
one larva you catch, you might have as many as 100 fish thrown over
as bycatch. It could be as many as 10 to 15 times anyway, the way
the fish that are discarded. Fingerlings or small fry fish are thrown
over as waste, because they just want the shrimp.
And this is
causing a lot of loss of the natural wild fishery, too. Pollution,
overfishing, bad fishing practices all combine to be a problem.
We can't ignore one of the ingredients, which is the shrimp industry.
Do you think that the international lending institutions, such as
the World Bank, are now giving enough consideration to environmental
and social impacts before making loans for shrimp aquaculture?
The World Bank
and other lending institutes have recognized, through lip service
and through written papers, the problems of the past. They seem
to be trying to be implementing solutions on paper, but in reality
those solutions do not exist. The enforcement, the monitoring, the
regulations are still not ensured.
And most of
these places where they're still loaning money for shrimp aquaculture
do not have coastal management plans in effect. The governments
are not responsible and have not shown a resilience to be responsible
and regulating these industries. And we see the same problems are
going to be perpetrated elsewhere, as have existed in the past.
There's no real basic change other than the recognition of a problem.
Many of the industry leaders that we've met seem to agree with many
of the criteria that are being called for by the NGOs for sustainable
shrimp farming. To what degree do you think this awareness is really
having an impact in producer countries?
Our basic tenet
is that we can put pressure on demand, which puts pressure directly
on the industry. And the industry in the US or other consumer nations
can put pressure on the producers in the nations that produce the
shrimp. That's our hope, that chain of command will filter down
our concerns to where the shrimp are being produced to start producing
them in a more ecologically and socially acceptable fashion, where
the local people won't be affected so negatively, where mangrove
forests will not be cleared so dangerously.
And so our
awareness campaign is definitely important to raise the attention
of the consumer, which we feel will eventually put pressure on the
producers in the countries that are producing the shrimp. And we
hope that will entail changes at the ground level in the actual
sighting of the ponds, in the regulations of the ponds, infrastructure
of the pond and so on.
But also consider
the local people's point of view and their future. Because oftentimes
the consumer who's consuming the shrimp in the US or Europe or Japan
or other areas of the world does not understand the problems that
their consumption demand are creating in the southern countries
or the developing nations which are producing these shrimp.
What would be some of the alternatives to shrimp for consumers?
Shrimp has been
a luxury product. Only in the last few years has it really become
a high demand market item in countries like the United States, in
Canada, in Europe, Japan I should say. It's become a luxury item
and it really is not a major food necessity in the countries where
it's consumed. What did we eat before we ate shrimp? We had other
types of food items on our plates in those days. We don't need as
much shrimp as we think we need.
we have today is we need to face the loss of the wild fisheries
due to bad fishing practices and try to encourage revamping of our
fishing techniques, which will enhance the wild fisheries again
to grow in densities and proficiency to feed us. I think the oceans
have enough room and enough fish to feed us if it were handled correctly.
is we're basically over-harvesting, we have overcapacity of our
fleets, we're taking too much too fast. And that's hurting. Trying
to substitute the loss of a wild fishery with the build up of aquaculture
production is not the solution, because oftentimes the aquaculture
production is hurting the wild fishery itself. So aquaculture is
not the answer. Oftentimes it's a problem added to the problem.
And we're not going to find this solution through endorsing solely
an artificial production system. We need to really have solutions
that address the problems at the wild ocean level.
And I think
that one of the problems with aquaculture, it's been promoted as
a way to help the poor people who, you know, are hungry, produce
for them. But the light of that, the basic falsity in that premise
is that most of the shrimp, about 98% of it, is shipped abroad;
the majority of the shrimp is shipped to the northern consumer nations
who can afford them. But the southern nations, or the developing
nations, are losing that protein source, the local people are losing
their natural fishery, and it's being shipped north.
So if people want seafood, shrimp in particular, what might they
As a substitute
for shrimp, because shrimp is not yet produced in a sustainable
fashion, I would suggest people eat other types of fish and products
that they can verify might be more easily produced sustainably in
aquaculture or from wild fishery. For instance, scallops, mussels,
crab - I think some of these ocean products might be good substitutes
for shrimp. Let's hold off from eating so much shrimp until we have
a sustainable production method in place and it can be verifiably
Which of the criteria for best aquaculture practices do you think
will have trouble with getting consensus between the NGOs and the
One of the biggest
gaps we've seen with the NGOs and industry is the gap of the social
economic issues of the local communities that are being affected
by shrimp farming in areas of the developing world. For instance,
in Bangladesh over a hundred people have been killed in the last
5 years; murdered because of the resistance to the shrimp industry.
And other countries
that produce shrimp -- for instance India, Honduras -- there have
been violence against the local people. Violence because local people
are not satisfied with losing their lands, losing their fisheries,
losing their water sources, losing their agriculture production
abilities. People are basically forced off their lands, forced to
leave their culture and livelihood behind for an industry, which
help feed the luxury markets of the northern countries, the developed
We need to work
with the local communities, have local communities involved in decisions
whether they want aquaculture in their area and what kind of scale
they want. Do they want an intensive scale, and extensive scale?
And will they be directly affected and benefited by that aquaculture
aquaculture enterprises are from the outside and placed in the areas
where local people live and without their consent and without their
involvement, other than being hired as hired hands to clear the
mangrove forest or to dig the ponds, sometimes by hand they dig
these ponds. And after the ponds are in place, they're basically
fired from the job.
What right do
they have? They have no rights. They have been there hundreds of
years. They go to the government because the trawlers are ruining
their local fishery. At Rufiji they're told: You guys don't have
any rights to even question the trawlers because you're not supposed
to be here. We don't recognize your existence.
It's not fair
to the local people to try to talk about technical solutions to
shrimp farming, when the reality of the real issues goes far beyond
the technical. You might solve the problem of an aerator breaking
down or of filtration or effluent, you might solve the problem of
shrimp dying from diseases, but what are you solving as far as the
social problems of the local people who are really losing their
cultures and their livelihood, who are forced to integrate into
so-called modern society by moving to the cities where they are
unemployed, where they're destitute?
drugs, the uprooting of their families -- oftentimes are results
of shrimp aquaculture invading their coastal areas. And who decides
where these farms are located? Usually the government and the industry
bidding on a certain piece of land and getting lease rights to that
land, legal supposedly, in their hands. But in the hands of the
local people who have been there for hundreds of years, this seems
very illegal, very illicit.
And you're displacing
literally millions of coastal people for the sake of producing a
luxury product, which is sent to the northern countries, or the
developed countries who have consumed this product only for the
last few years. Tell me is that fair? Is that a solution? Is that
something the NGOs and the industry can agree on? We can agree on
saving mangrove possibly, that might be a good point to agree on.
But can we agree on saving local communities, respecting their land
rights, respecting their ability to survive and sustain themselves
through a wild fishery, which is oftentimes degraded by shrimp farm
Can you think of what would be possible?
I think in the
future, if shrimp farming can be perfected and the bugs worked out
of it, it could be made sustainable. It won't be the same kind of
operation we see that exists today. Meanwhile though, the shrimp
farming operations are expanding at a very fast pace throughout
the developing world.
moving into Africa. They're bringing a lot of their bad practices
with them that are not yet perfected. In other words, we're seeing
the establishment of bad practices and unperfected the shrimp farm
production techniques to new areas of the world, from Burma to Cambodia
to Kenya to Tanzania.
We want basically
to say, "let's halt shrimp farm production until we really have
this perfected." One day it could be more sustainable, but again
we have to address the issues of what does that sustainability entail?
Does it mean the local people's economies, local people's livelihoods
are also being considered in that equation? Or are we talking mainly
about the sustainability of the shrimp farm pond itself?
The unit of
area where the shrimp farm is situated maybe one hectare or two
hectares. But what about the surrounding infrastructure that keeps
that pond alive -- the surrounding waterways, the surrounding mangrove
forest, the surrounding fishery, the wild fishery that feeds the
shrimp? Shrimp feed does not just come out of the air; it comes
out of the sea oftentimes. So those surrounding infrastructure of
inputs to the shrimp farmer are very important to consider in the
What is the connection between fishmeal, shrimp aquaculture and
biomass fishing, and the recovery of the ocean's fisheries?
is being promoted as a way of taking pressure off the wild fishery.
But it's ludicrous to think that's really happening when you think
of the mangrove forest and other coastal areas being destroyed by
shrimp aquaculture -- the pollution of the coastal waterways by
shrimp aquaculture; the destruction oftentimes of the wild fishery
itself because of shrimp aquaculture.
the feed process: in order to feed the shrimp they oftentimes use
the wild fish to produce the pellets that feed the shrimp. So we're
actually feeding our farm-raised shrimp our wild fishery and sometimes
decimating that wild fishery, which is going to come back to us
in the future to haunt us. There is no way we can do this without
suffering the effects.
One of the problems
of aquaculture is the disease problem, that you can have one or
two types of shrimp you're raising predominantly, if they get hit
by a disease that you cannot control, you lose your aquaculture
production. And that will be a very terrible effect if you lose
both the wild fishery and aquaculture production because of disease.