The standard is the most respected and strictest certification group in the world--a major step that could create a market for more certified-sustainable shrimp farms and fisheries in the future.
Since commercial shrimp farming began in the 1970s, shrimping has evolved into a vast international industry, with much of the world's market produced on large commercial farms in China, Thailand, and other Asian countries. Shrimp farms, which can stretch over many acres, consist largely of rows of vast ponds; each produces a single variety of shrimp.
These massive monocultures, unsurprisingly, have huge ecological impacts. In many areas, shrimp farmers cleared out native trees and grasses, particularly coastal mangroves, to make room for the massive farms, with predictable consequences: Reductions in biodiversity and an increase of erosion in areas that were already prone to flooding.
Wastewater from shrimp farms typically contains shrimp waste, fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics that end up contaminating wastewater and polluting coastal areas. And while you might think wild shrimp fisheries would have a smaller impact than vast monocultural farms, they're actually not that much better, with impacts including by-catch (unwanted fish and animals that are caught as the nets drag along the ocean floor and tossed back into the water dead) and damage done by nets to the ocean floor itself. So finding better, smarter ways to farm and fish for shrimp is critical for this large and growing industry.
That's where sustainability certification comes in. During the certification process, an agency approved by the MSC takes a look at the farm's harvest management, the health of the shrimp stock, enforcement systems, by-catch numbers, and the impacts a fishery has on the surrounding ecosystem. A certified-sustainable fishery must be one that does not lead to over-fishing or that leads to the recovery of species that have already been over-fished; that maintains the diversity, productivity, and structure of the ecosystem; and that can be continued indefinitely "at a reasonable level."