In September 2010, I was one of ten UBC students from the Graduate School of Journalism chosen to be part of a unique class called International Reporting. The syllabus of the course is like no other at any Canadian University – students are asked to pitch an international story about an under covered topic, and then if chosen, given the funds and school credit to go out and cover that story for a major news outlet. The inaugural class recently won an Emmy for their acclaimed work, Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground. Those are some big shoes to fill.
Student ideas were broad and diverse: development aid corruption in Haiti, surrogate mothers selling their wombs in Brazil and Asia, American car culture in India, and the new frontier of tobacco companies in Africa, were a few of the top contenders. Only the strongest pitch survived. Eventually one story emerged as the victor, the human and environmental cost of the global trade in cheap shrimp.
Shrimp seemed an unlikely candidate at first. After all, who thinks about the pink crustaceans other than as being an integral part of the comedy in Forrest Gump? As we would all soon find out, however, the real shrimp trade has little humour. Shrimp went from a delicacy two decades ago to being the number one consumed seafood in the world. That type of growth can’t happen without damage being done. In the global demand to eat food as cheaply as possible, shrimp producers have had to cut costs at every turn. Today shrimp is rarely, if ever, caught by fisherman with nets and trawlers. Instead it comes from an intensive industrialized aquaculture process that uses chemicals and antibiotics, has destroyed entire forests of mangroves and reefs, and is dependent on hundreds of thousands of easily exploited migrants who have no other options.
If you have ever marvelled at the cheap cost of the shrimp on your plate you may want to consider that the real cost might have been paid elsewhere. Please watch as we take you to Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of shrimp, and see for yourself the hidden cost of cheap shrimp.