Assessing the shrimp sector

October 26, 2021

The shrimp sector is currently facing some challenging issues. Addressing these issues requires changes to be made, which is why the government is working with stakeholders to develop a vision for the future. Researchers at Wageningen Marine Research and Wageningen Economic Research have supported this process by assessing the current situation and looking at challenges and opportunities.

The need to develop a vision for the future of the shrimp sector is being driven by a number of developments. For example, various covenants have been established which include agreements to reduce the impact of shrimp fisheries on coastal waters. Shrimpers also have to contend with limited space at sea, and with the landing obligation.

WUR’s researchers have produced a report for the government and stakeholders to support their assessment of the sector, exploring topics such as the size and scale of fleets and fishing, the market, prices and incomes, ecological effects, innovation, fishery management, cooperation within the sector and supply chain structure. The report was based on interviews, scientific data and literature.

Net returns fluctuate wildly

The Netherlands has a fleet of around 200 shrimpers fishing year-round for North Sea shrimp along the Belgian, German and Dutch coast as well as in the Wadden Sea and in fishing grounds around Sylt. Net returns for these shrimpers are highly variable due in part to fuel prices and fluctuations in both landings and the prices achieved by fishers for their shrimp.

Many undersized shrimp and other unwanted by-catch

The stock of shrimp in the sea can vary greatly from one year to the next. The shrimpers use an intensive form of fishing which means they catch a lot of undersized shrimp. Shrimp stocks would benefit from being allowed more time for the shrimp to grow. The fishing vessels come into contact with the seabed, which means the shrimp fishing industry has an impact on seabed species. That impact is negative for long-lived and slow-growing species, but it’s positive for species that can easily move around because they can colonise the areas that have been fished. The shrimp fishing industry also produces a relatively high level of unwanted by-catch, including young flatfish and seabed species. The sector is working on modifying fishing vessels to reduce by-catches and is also improving the way in which catches are processed in order to improve the survival chances of by-catches thrown back into the sea. Any by-catch thrown back overboard which does not survive is eaten by sea birds and scavengers on the seabed. This benefits the birds, but fishing vessels can also disturb birds looking for food or trying to rest, which has a negative impact on them.

Cooperation creates space for improvements

A number of organisations represent the interests of fishers, but these organisations and their leaders don’t always cooperate very well.  Disagreement is rife across the fleet of shrimpers and there is a lack of trust. There is some international cooperation between fishing sector organisations, but this too could be improved.

Cooperation between the fishers and the traders is hindered by fishers feeling that the traders have too much power, while traders struggle with the volatility of landings and prices.

The shrimp sector works with NGOs as part of various covenants.  This cooperation seems to be worthwhile, but the fishing industry needs greater clarity on the principles and interests of those NGOs.  Here, too, there is a lack of mutual trust.

Two weeks between catching and eating

North sea shrimp caught on fishing trips are sieved, boiled and chilled on board. Quality control and sorting takes place back on land, with any remaining undersized shrimp removed from the catch. The shrimp that meet the minimum size are preserved and sold. Almost all of the shrimp sold are then peeled: often by hand in overseas shrimp-peeling plants and sometimes by machine in the Netherlands. After being peeled, the shrimp are transported once more before eventually ending up with the consumer. There is therefore a minimum of two weeks between catching and eating. The sector is working on improvements to peeling and preserving methods, and on shortening the chain between catching and eating.

Government oversight and the MSC kitemark

The shrimp fishing industry is managed by a complex set of national and European rules.  As the industry has an MSC kitemark for sustainable fishing, there is also a management plan in place with agreements set between the Danish, German and Dutch fishing industry organisations. This management plan includes, for example, a Harvest Control Rule (HCR). The rule is a way of monitoring the size of the daily catch, and if it falls below a certain threshold value, fishing has to be reduced.

Patchy observance of rules is a problem for the shrimp fishing industry. This includes adherence to the maximum number of fishing hours permitted per week, or the use of by-catch reduction devices, designed to let unwanted by-catch escape. Limited observance of these measures persists due to the economic incentive to flout the rules, and a lack of monitoring.