How Many Shrimps Are Killed For Food?
Decapod crustaceans, which include crabs, lobsters, and shrimps, currently make up the fastest-growing category in worldwide fishery production, which is expected to continue rising. Past studies have found some evidence that decapods may be sentient, but thus far it’s been difficult to assess the extent of the problem, despite the serious welfare concerns it poses. This is because scientists are largely uninterested in the issue.
In this study, researchers conducted the first known analysis of the total number of individual shrimps exploited and killed for food per year. This includes the number of shrimps slaughtered on farms, caught in the wild, and kept on farms at any given point. The researchers specifically examined decapod shrimps, at least 92 species of which are farmed or caught around the world, but excluded non-decapod shrimps, such as brine shrimps. They used data from the FAO’s 2020 FishStatJ dataset, and since the data were recorded in tons, the researchers divided tonnages by the estimated average live weight of shrimps for each species.
It’s important to approach these results with caution, as the estimations are based on limited data. For example, some estimated shrimp weights varied or had to be inferred, and the data did not account for shrimps used as breeders or young shrimps that die in transport. Also, the FAO and other data sources may underreport counts from certain types of shrimp farms. As a result, the authors estimate a 90% confidence interval based on their subjective expertise for the ranges they’ve calculated.
The authors estimate that between 7.6-76 trillion shrimps are killed for food each year, including between 300-620 billion farmed and 6.5-66 trillion caught in the wild. Additionally, between 150-370 billion shrimps are housed on farms at any given point in time.
Many consider fishes, and chickens to constitute the greatest amount of farmed animal suffering because of how many are raised and killed for food. But based on this study’s findings, shrimps may experience the greatest total harm in terms of population. The average number of farmed shrimps killed per year (440 billion) is equal to about 4.5 times the number of farmed fishes (98 billion) and 6 times the number of farmed chickens (70.8 billion) killed for food annually.
Furthermore, while the number of farmed shrimps killed is smaller than that of farmed insects, the average number of farmed shrimps alive at any moment on farms (230 billion) is around 3 times the average number of farmed insects (85 billion), because shrimps have a longer productive cycle. The 230 billion farmed shrimps alive at any point in time is also about 2 times that of fishes (102.8 billion), and about 7 times that of chickens (33.1 billion).
Finally, the average number of wild-caught shrimps slaughtered for food each year (25 trillion) dwarfs the combined total number of all other vertebrate and invertebrate animals slaughtered by humans for consumption worldwide. In comparison, the next-largest category, wild-caught fishes, amounts to about 1.4 trillion annually (with 1.5 trillion total fishes killed, including farmed). Between 70-89% of wild-caught shrimps are A. japonicus, a tiny species in the Indo-West Pacific that are used to produce “shrimp paste.”
These results suggest that shrimps make up the largest category of animals slaughtered for food in the world. This means that, if shrimps are indeed sentient, the scope of this problem is extremely large and in need of further research. According to this report, animal welfare laws typically exclude decapods from protection, while aquaculture certification programs typically overlook shrimps or only evaluate product quality, not welfare. Without incentives to improve shrimp welfare practices and provide transparency in shrimp production, the potential harm caused to trillions of shrimps is immense and likely to keep growing. This is an urgent area for animal advocates, and especially aquatic animal advocates, to address.