Farming Thinking

Prawn of the Dead: The Unsustainable Side Of The Prawn Trade

18th November 2020

Farmed prawns are becoming increasingly popular, and while they are much meatier than their cold water counterparts, they can be astonishingly bad for the environment.

There is hope however that a new method of farming prawns (happening right here in the UK) can meet the rising demand without damaging wild habitats or marine life. Here we take a look behind the scenes of the prawn trade.

Photo by Nick Fewings

Prawns are one of the UK’s favourite seafoods but the majority of prawns we eat are the farmed warm water variety from countries like India, Vietnam, Thailand, Ecuador or Honduras. These prawns carry the ‘think twice’ warning from the Marine Conservation Society owing to the habitat destruction they cause and the wild fish feed the prawns are fed.

Making Room For Prawn Farms in Thailand

During the early 1990s, the Gulf of Thailand was an extraordinary home for nature, with countless miles worth of forestry greens that protected farmers from tsunamis, and was a renowned breeding ground for fish. But things have changed drastically since then, as prawn farmers cut down much of the tropical Mangrove forests to make space for industrial-scale prawn ponds. The Environmental Justice Foundation, estimates that as much as 38% of global Mangrove loss may be due to shrimp farm production. There are also significant concerns about the excess of antibiotics, fertilisers, pesticides and fish excrements that drift into the natural water due to faulty flow management. 

A Day In The Tropical Prawn Industry

It’s not just the farms that have a bad reputation, the feed used on the farms comes from ‘trash fish’ (inedible or infant species of fish taken from the ocean and ground into fishmeal). Investigative journalists who have managed to board these vessels have reported witnessing human trafficking from other countries, forcing people to work long hours with appalling treatment as they trawl a muddy mess of seaweed, rocks, and juvenile sea creatures that will never get a chance to grow.

Crew members aboard trawler ships experience unrelenting conditions during the time they spend at sea. Possibly trafficked from Burma, Cambodia, or other neighbouring countries, they work up to 20 hours a day, every day of the week, suffering physical and verbal abuse by their skippers, some of which even losing their lives along the journey.  

Many of these trawlers practice what’s known as bottom trawling, which involves weighed-down nets that can reach the sea bed and indiscriminately collect everything in their path. Entire breeding populations of young marine life, including baby crabs, starfish, sponges, and corals, are forcefully removed from habitats and ecosystems that grew for hundreds of years, making this fishing method one of the most devastating types of commercial fishing for marine life.

From wild fish to fishmeal

Trawler boats typically have an ice-hold for catches that are commercially valuable for restaurants and supermarkets. Most of the fish caught by these massive nets won’t get to keep so fresh though, as they will instead be stored in a separate part of the ship and left to rot for days or weeks at a time. Once the ship docks, the remains are unloaded into large dumpster trucks. Their final destination? Processing plants with a series of ovens that turn these contents from decaying organic material to fish flour – the feed for prawn farms.

British, sustainably farmed prawns

British farmed prawns from FloGrow. Photo by Nat Towell

The good news is that there are sustainable ways of sourcing various types of prawns and there is a number of new and innovative producers helping to promote a healthy fishing mentality.

One such producer who has recently joined the farmily is FloGro Fresh. FloGro is a Lincolnshire-based fish farm that grows prawns in a contained aquaculture ecosystem, mimicking nature’s way of removing waste material and oxygenating the water. They avoid unsustainable feed sources and instead use fully traceable ingredients to supply the prawns with the necessary nutrients. They’ve also designed a system that uses renewable energy and minimises power requirements by using sustainable heating and solar power, intending to become the polar opposite of a conventional prawn farm.

Not only are the salt-water farmed prawns from FloGro delicious but the Marine Conservation Society has also given them their top rating for their methods of production and sustainability. Now that’s a great excuse to give them a try!  

Visit to see our latest selection of sustainably produced prawns and shellfish.


You Might Also Like