NGO promotes responsible aquaculture

“Shrimp are animals. Animal welfare concern is an integral component of responsible and sustainable aquaculture.”

This was the statement of Dinna Umengan, Executive Director of Tambuyog Development Center, an NGO that promotes responsible aquaculture in the Philippines, during the online press launch of the Farmed Shrimp Welfare campaign that highlight the issue of animal welfare concern in the country, particularly in the field of farmed aquatic animals.

“Although aquatic animal health and food safety issues of aquaculture have been subjected to certification and international compliance in international trade for years, aspects of animal welfare have not been adequately subjected to compliance or certification as part of the standards for Good Aquaculture Practices (GAqP),” added Umengan.                                     

Tambuyog Development Center introduced their HIPON KOMIKS, a comics, primer and animated video, that featured the story of “Mono Don and Vanna Mei: The Happy Shrimps,” with the characters derived from the most widely farmed shrimp species in the world; the White Leg Shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) and Black Tiger Prawns (Penaeus monodon). They are hopeful that stakeholders in the shrimp aquaculture industry would be informed on animal welfare standards and practices, as part of the group’ awareness-building efforts.

Vince Cinches, International Campaign Manager for Animals in Farming at World Animal Protection said, “Every year, roughly 100 billion aquatic animals are farmed and another two to three trillion are caught at sea, and this number is continually increasing, highlighting the responsibility of governments and businesses to put in place policies and criteria to guarantee the welfare of farmed animals.

Globally there is a growing recognition that farmed animal welfare is an essential part of sustainable development, and the current factory farming model is opposite to what sustainability is all about, environmental and ecosystems impact, high mortality rate, among others.”

Shrimps and other aquatic animals are sentient, meaning that they can feel pain and experience pleasure, and as such deserves the needed standards to protect their welfare. That is where the work of Tambuyog Development Center in partnership with World Animal Protection’s Southeast Asia programme called “Investing in Others,”  to establish farm animal welfare as a priority with governments and key businesses, emphasizing that it is crucial not just for animals, but the people and planet as well.”

Dr. Ernesto Morales, Tambuyog aquaculture expert, shared that, “while social protection or stakeholders’ concerns are being addressed, the welfare of the animal itself, and its considerable economic contribution has largely been relegated to the background. This has resulted in looking at shrimp essentially as products and not as animals. Overstocking is rampant, disease control, minimal, predation control almost non-existent and factored in as simple mortality. Often, only expensive spawners are given special treatment, while the marketable-sized shrimp are often condemned at harvest to a cold, frigid death, or death to exposure to heat on drained fishpond bottoms.”

To add to Dr. Morales’ explanation, Umengan further said that the aquaculture industry and market, “have started to recognize that credible certification schemes have the potential to reassure buyers, retailers, consumers, and cause-oriented groups regarding these concerns and provide a further tool to support responsible and sustainable aquaculture. ASEAN member countries have started to improve national laws in complementing market certification.”

However, Tambuyog urged the government and shrimp aquaculture growers to begin awareness-building among stakeholders in the industry. In their recent policy study, it revealed that animal welfare concerning aquatic animals are not well articulated in the provisions in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Animal Welfare Act or Republic Act 10631, nor in the existing Philippine National Standards for farmed shrimp.

Following the recently successful 13th Philippine Shrimp Congress, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) National Director, Retired Commodore Eduardo Gongona, said that, “BFAR supports the farmed shrimp welfare campaign as it is aligned with the Bureau’s goal to scale up food safety standards that will benefit both the seafood producers and consumers.” Gongona added that the annual average growth for shrimp production over the last 20 years stood at 2.4 percent, and he is optimistic that this can be sustained for this year and onwards.

Shrimp is one of the major commodities of the country as the Philippines has been ranked 4th top producer of shrimp in Southeast Asia and 8th in the world.

BFAR Region 3 Director in Central Luzon, Wilfredo Cruz, said that, “strengthening of the Good Aquaculture Practices, including the welfare of aquaculture species by focusing on the health and environment of farmed shrimp, would result in higher productivity; with safe and quality seafood for everyone. Central Luzon is one of the leading shrimp-producing regions in the country.