TRANSCRIPT - Alfredo Quarto
Quarto is the Executive Director of Mangrove Action Project,
a worldwide network, which includes over 350 NGOs and nearly
200 academics. MAP helps give voice to traditional coastal
people in developing nations and is continuing to raise awareness
and take 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. 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 you think of this?
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.
If the ponds are right next to the mangroves and they haven't actually
cut mangroves, will there still be a problem?
There is still
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. It's not just
cutting them, it's not just clearing them. It also affects the surrounding
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.
He says the ponds won't be located in the mangroves and they're
planning to implement many of the better practices called by the
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.
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. 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.
Satellite photos show that larger farms have taken care to locate
in salt flats rather than in mangroves. From these photographs,
it also appears that the smaller farms are the ones displacing the
mangroves. The large farms are amongst the most sustainable in the
world and seem 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
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.
An aquaculture expert said that diminishing fisheries in the Gulf
is a problem (we found that it is). The cause of it is not a bycatch
issue related to the harvest of wild shrimp larvae, but from increased
fishing efforts going on in the Gulf.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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
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. The problem 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. The oceans have enough room and enough fish to feed
us if it were handled correctly.
is we're over-harvesting, we have overcapacity of our fleets, we're
taking too much too fast. 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. 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. One of the problems with aquaculture, it's
been promoted as a way to help the poor people who are hungry, to
produce for them. 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.
If people want seafood, shrimp in particular, what might they get
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 that 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 one hundred people have been killed in the last
five years; murdered because of the resistance to the shrimp industry.
Other countries that produce shrimp, India and Honduras, have been
violent against the local people. Tis is 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 nations.
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?
Will they be directly affected and benefited by that aquaculture
business? Because oftentimes 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. 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.
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?
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.
Now they're 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
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. For instance, the feed process:
in order to feed the shrimp they oftentimes use the wild fish to
produce the pellets that feed the shrimp.
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 theycannot control, they lose
their aquaculture production. That will be very terrible if they
lose both the wild fishery and aquaculture production because of