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Shrimp aquaculture is the purposeful raising of shrimp for human consumption and use. Just like livestock farming for meat, shrimp aquaculture creates a controlled population of shrimp for use as food. Shrimp aquaculture as a small business is centuries old, but in the late 20th and early 21st century it has grown to be a booming enterprise around the globe. In the wake of the growing popularity of shrimp farming, environmentalists have raised several serious concerns with the methods and environmental impact of aquaculture.
Shrimp aquaculture typically works in three stages: hatchery, nursery, and growout. Companies may specialize in one stage or may comprehensively cover all three stages. A shrimp hatchery handles the spawning and larval stages of the process, providing nutrients and proper water density to feed and sustain the spawning shrimp and larvae. A single shrimp can produce up to one million eggs in one spawn, but mortality rates between spawning and maturation may extremely high.
Nursery businesses tend to take shrimp in the post-larval stage but before they are at the adult stage. These have decreased in popularity, as the multiple changes in tanks seem to increase mortality rates due to disease and poor adaptability in many shrimp species. A grow-out pond is the final stage of shrimp aquaculture and handles shrimp that have reached maturity but are not large enough to harvest for food or sale.
One of the major difficulties in shrimp aquaculture is disease. Captive shrimp seem extremely susceptible to viruses, and a single infected shrimp can destroy a whole pond. Farmers often attempt to reduce disease by treating water with antibiotics; something that concerns many scientists. Additionally, algae and other microorganisms used for shrimp food may be treated with a pesticide, which, like antibiotics, finds its way into the shrimp and thus into whomever consumes the shrimp.
Shrimp aquaculture has existed in Southeast Asia for several hundred years, though typically on a small scale. Many families had a small pond or isolated estuary that could be stocked with shrimp that fed off of naturally occurring microorganisms in the water. Areas with mangrove tress are particularly valued for shrimp aquaculture. Today, many large scale aquaculture operations exist in Southeast Asia, though they are widespread in South and North America as well.
Environmentalists have noted a decline in local environments where shrimp aquaculture occurs. The salty water from aquaculture tanks can leak into groundwater source, contaminating drinking water. Mangrove forests and close-to-shore reefs have been damaged and devastated by farming organizations that use natural settings to grow shrimp. The World Wildlife Fund has spearheaded attempts to open environmental dialogues with shrimp farmers in order to promote and implement sustainable aquaculture practices.