What Is Farm-Raised Shrimp?

Drue Tibbits

Farm-raised shrimp are shrimp that are cultivated under controlled conditions rather than shrimp netted from the sea. Up to 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States comes from foreign shrimp farms. Shrimp farms are located in coastal waters throughout the world. A pond as small as one acre (about 4047 square meters) can hold 170,000 shrimp. While producing shrimp in this manner has increased their availability and lowered their price, there are both ethical and health concerns with these mass-produced shrimp.

Nigiri sushi assortment, including a piece made with farm-raised shrimp.
Nigiri sushi assortment, including a piece made with farm-raised shrimp.

Shrimp farms are built along saltwater estuaries and coasts. These locations provide easy access to saltwater, the natural environment for shrimp. The shallow nature of these locations also make it easy to capture the shrimp when it is time to harvest. Unfortunately, the best locations for farm-raised shrimp are also the best locations for mangrove forests. Many of the world’s mangrove forests have been eradicated in order to make room for shrimp farms.

Farm-raised shrimp canapés.
Farm-raised shrimp canapés.

The size of shrimp farms can vary from small, low-tech operations run by a single family to large industrial operations that utilize the latest technologies and employ hundreds of workers. Some shrimp farms specialize in only one phase of the shrimp’s life, such as newly hatched shrimp, serving as a supplier to other shrimp farms. Other farms maintain the shrimp through all of their phases and grow the shrimp from eggs to harvest size.

Farm-raised shrimp.
Farm-raised shrimp.

Sometimes, farm-raised shrimp are grown in crowded, unsanitary conditions. This leads to a high death rate of the shrimp and frequent outbreaks of disease. To combat this, the shrimp pools are sometimes treated with antibiotics. Shrimp retain the antibiotics and pass them along to the consumer. Many people feel it is unhealthy to be exposed to unnecessary antibiotics and object to this practice.

An antibiotic that is commonly used in shrimp farming, chloramphenical, has been banned in the United States. Some countries, however, permit its use, and it is still found in some shrimp farms. Farm-raised shrimp may also contain high levels of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), a known carcinogen. The shrimp become contaminated from commercial shrimp food containing the chemical.

The health concerns of eating farm-raised shrimp, along with the environmental impacts of the shrimp farming industry, has led several companies to develop better techniques to farm shrimp. These companies raise shrimp using sustainable practices without harming the environment. Their farm-raised shrimp are not treated with antibiotics or other harmful medicines. Organic farmed shrimp are frozen at harvest and do not contain any preservatives.

Shrimp tacos made with farm-raised shrimp.
Shrimp tacos made with farm-raised shrimp.

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Discussion Comments


I think that another important point about farm raised shrimp in comparison to naturally caught varieties is that it doesn't taste as good. In my opinion, farm raised shrimp has a tougher texture, less sweetness, and milder flavor than shrimp that is harvested from natural environments.


I think that most types of farm raised shrimp should be avoided by consumers because of all of the problems that re addressed in this article. The bottom line is that whether you like to eat shrimp, beef, chicken, or other types of seafood, the best varieties are either caught wild from their natural environments or raised in settings that mimic their natural environments.

A good way to avoid farm raised shrimp is to look for the word sustainable on the packaging. Most products that carry this label are produced with the environment and consumer well-being in mind. They are also free of the harmful by-products of raising animals for consumption in man-made settings.

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