Slaving for your seafood?

Human rights and animal rights are often interconnected. Animal rights is a social justice movement and its participants are often involved in helping people too.

The dirtiest jobs in the animal food industries are often done by people who are abused like the animals in the system. They’re undocumented workers, undereducated and lacking in resources or language skills and they can’t speak up for themselves and their situations.

Most of the time, people have the option of walking away–the animals don’t. So I feel for the animals, not the perpetrators. Sometimes, however, the dire situations people find themselves in, ties their hands too.

One example of this interconnectedness is in the fishing industry. In Thailand, men from neighboring countries are tricked into working on fishing ships. Of course I wish people wouldn’t entertain the idea of decimating the ocean for a paycheck, but I haven’t walked in their shoes. I don’t know the poverty they face. I don’t know about their struggles to feed their families. I can’t judge.

fishing boat

With over 25,000 legal fishing vessels in Thailand, and a vast ocean at their shores, the illegal boats easily blend in. Like any seedy underworld activity, they go unnoticed. Migrant workers can be bought for about $600, but their lives are worth even less.

The slaves on fishing ships are smuggled from nearby countries like Cambodia and Myanmar, with the promise of a good job. Once on the ships, they’re overworked, denied pay, beaten and sometimes even killed.

It goes on because the money is lucrative, because the demand for cheap fish is high, and authorities don’t prosecute. Victims who escape and speak up are often punished.

Thailand is the second largest importer of seafood to the USA. It’s going to take consumers to stop slavery. We need to take a stand and say no to an industry that is relentlessly cruel to the environment, animals and people.

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Another reason stop eating shrimp

I reviewed some vegan alternatives to seafood by Sophie’s Kitchen a few weeks ago. In addition to singing the praises of their products, I listed a few reasons why eating sealife isn’t a great idea:

  • Harvesting wild animals–like calamari, shrimp and some types of cod–is done with trawling, a process that basically rakes up all life forms the sea floor, killing everything, and creating dead zones.
  • For every pound of shrimp, 10 pounds of bycatch (species people weren’t trying to catch) are killed.
  • Farmed fish is usually raised in water treated with pesticides and antibiotics.
  • It takes two pounds of wild fish to feed one pound of farmed shrimp.

But I’ve learned something new that I can add to the list: eyestalk ablation.

Eyestalk ablation is as gross as it sounds. It’s the process of removing one or both eyestalks from female shrimps and prawns–and it’s done in almost every shrimp reproduction facility in the world! The goal of ablation is to stimulate the female shrimp to develop mature ovaries and spawn.

In the wild, shrimp sexually mature shrimp with eyes by Tomasz Sienickion their own, but captive conditions prevent them from developing mature ovaries. Even the types of shrimp that could develop ovaries and spawn in captivity have their eyestalks removed because it increases egg production. There’s detailed info online about the how and why behind the phenomenon.

The science behind ablation isn’t the interesting part. I’m saddened to learn of yet another way humans manipulate animals for profit. Apparently tiger prawns can regenerate their eyestalks, but that’s not the point.

We don’t need to eat shrimp or prawns. In fact, it’s better we don’t (as bottom feeders, they’re actually toxic). They’re another example of species that are exploited. They may not be cute or cuddly, but they don’t deserve to be mutilated and blinded–just so people can eat them at cocktail parties!

Knowing about this form of cruelty makes me say “bring on the vegan options!”