More than ever buy local shrimp

For many years now the suggestion that Louisiana wild-caught seafood – shrimp in particular – is superior to that produced in overseas in aquaculture operations is well known and publicized.

We are aware that local fishermen and processors have a vested interest in folks choosing the local variety over the frozen shrimp ring at the big grocery store, despite the appealing price of the imported deal. The use of chloramphenicol and other antibiotics in aquaculture shrimp feed poses a health risk to a microscopic population of people. But it poses a health risk nonetheless, even if less of one, arguably, than the potential for getting sick from raw oysters, which so many of us love and relish.

People also routinely eat shrimp at Red Lobster and Olive Garden, restaurants owned by Darden Foods, which is one of the nation’s largest importers of overseas shrimp, and come away healthy and hearty, ready to go back next time because the food is well-presented and quite tasty.

But now there is clear evidence of another reason to reach for the local shrimp, or to ask the server in the restaurant where the shrimp you are about to order comes from. A quick note here, which is that anyone who tells you the shrimp are domestic and come from Louisiana shrimp farms is lying. There are no shrimp farms in Louisiana.

There are many shrimp farms in Thailand, China, India, Indonesia and other nations, whose product is cheaper by the pound than hot dogs, totally processed and ready for the pan or the buffet table.

In the case of Thailand, according to a recent Associated Press story, the hands that peel, devein and otherwise process the shrimp are often those of slaves. Some of the slaves are 13-years-old, some maybe a lot younger.

“Pervasive human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world’s biggest shrimp providers,” reads the story by Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan. “Hundreds of shrimp peeling sheds are hidden in plain sight on residential streets or behind walls with no signs in Samut Sakhon, a port town an hour outside Bangkok. The AP found one factory that was enslaving dozens of workers, and runaway migrants led rights groups to (a) shed and a third facility. All three sheds held 50 to 100 people each, many locked inside.”

Using U.S. Customs records and performing other research, the AP team linked shrimp from the sheds it investigate to major U.S. retailers. They provided ample evidence through their work that the word “enslaved” was not used loosely. Those who toiled had no ability to escape their situations, in cases they examined.

“Inside the large warehouse, toilets overflowed with feces, and the putrid smell of raw sewage wafted from an open gutter just outside the work area,” the story goes on to say. “Young children ran barefoot through suffocating dorm rooms. Entire families labored side-by-side at rows of stainless steel counters piled high with tubs of shrimp.”

Not an appetizing picture, to be sure.

So if we were not moved already by local commerce support principles, horror at human rights violations and other considerations, we can at least look at how these things, witnessed by those who worked on the story, might affect our own health and well-being.

If we can’t be shamed into action, perhaps we can be disgusted into it.

U.S. Rep. Steve Boustany R-Lafayette is awaiting the signature of his PROTECT Act by President Barack Obama, which should occur within days.

The law provides U.S. Customs and Border Protection increased cooperation and accountability tools to stop trade evasion.

It doesn’t fix everything, but it is one more tool in the arsenal, to keep crooked exporters and importers from getting around tariffs and other legal provisions.

Now, with the release of the AP story, it is obviously even more needed.

The need to support our local seafood industry – and all U.S. commercial fisheries – is clear and has been for a long time, even if our own government has not always done so.

The AP story adds to important things we already kind of knew.

Step away from the shrimp ring. Buy local. •