Call off Shrimp Farming!

Shrimp farming has again wielded its ugly image, the latest being discharge from several shrimp farms in Kuala Selangor that has polluted neighbouring mangroves swathes and threatened the firefly colony and other marine life in Kuala Selangor.

Over the years, the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has been objecting the development and expansion of shrimp farming in Malaysia as it has negative impacts to the environment and socio-economy of the coastal and fishing community. The creation of ponds for marine shrimp aquaculture has led to the destruction of thousands of hectares of mangroves and coastal wetlands, not only in Malaysia but world over.

Mangroves are important because they support numerous marine as well as terrestrial species, protect coastlines from storms and erosion and are important in the subsistence of many coastal communities. Mangroves provide nursery grounds for various young aquatic animals including commercially important fish, and their destruction can lead to substantial losses for commercial fisheries due to decline in wild stocks of fish and other marine life. This subsequently affects the livelihoods of local fishers.

The tremendous value of mangroves to the ecosystem and commercial fisheries cannot be overlooked. In Malaysia, at least 65% of fish and shellfish harvested are associated with mangroves, over 30% of shell and finfish landed by commercial operators each year are mangrove-dependent, and in some regions the figure may be as high as 50%. An estimated 600kg each of finfish and shrimp are produced annually in Malaysia from every hectare of mangrove. (Source: EJF. 2004. Farming The Sea, Costing The Earth: Why We Must Green The Blue Revolution. Environmental Justice Foundation, London, UK.)

A 2006 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also noted that a 400 square kilometer area of mangrove forest in Matang, Malaysia supports a fishery worth US$100 million a year while ecosystem services afforded by mangrove forests in Thailand are worth US$35,000 per hectare.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego after analyzing fish landings in 13 regions in the Gulf of California, Mexico revealed that fishing yield was directly proportional to the length of coastline forested with mangroves. The scientists used the findings to estimate the monetary value of mangroves at US$37,500 per hectare per year.

There have also been efforts by resource economists to valuate the loss of mangrove ecosystems, which take into account “ecological footprints” – i.e. the effects of declining fish production and the loss of other goods and services by mangrove areas on the coastal communities themselves. One of these put the loss at US$10,000 per year/hectare in Thailand and US$8,000-11,000 per year/hectare in the Philippines.

This estimated total value of loss would accumulate year after year forever – unless the mangroves lost are restored to their former status.  This entails a lot of political will, huge sums of money and several decades of management.

Nearly irreversible as it is, the destruction of mangroves is all the more deplorable if we consider the fact that a hectare of intensive shrimp farm is profitable for just three to five years, after which it is abandoned and new areas are developed for shrimp farming.

Besides this, aquaculture effluents are also of concern as they contain a myriad of pollutants depending on the nature of inputs. If untreated, the effluents have a number of effects on waters including an increase in the level of suspended solids and nutrients accompanied by a fall in oxygen content. The effluents can also contain toxins depending on which chemicals are used to disinfect farms, control pests, control predators, antibiotics, etc.

Considering the negative impacts, aquaculture should not be regarded as a conduit of fisheries development in Malaysia because it is not sustainable. In fact, intensive shrimp farming, with its huge socio-economic and environmental costs, must be restricted.

In view of this, we call upon the Malaysian Government to scrap all new development of intensive shrimp farms including the proposed 1,000 hectare Integrated Shrimp Aquaculture Park (i-SHARP) in Setiu, Terengganu by Blue Archipelago Bhd, a subsidiary of Khazanah Holdings. Efforts must also be taken to rehabilitate degraded mangroves.

Letter to the Editor – 2 March 2010