Shrimp Welfare Project launched in Sep 2021, via the Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program. We aim to reduce the suffering of billions of farmed shrimps. This post summarises our work to date, what we plan to work on going forward, and clarifies areas where we’re not focusing our attention. This post was written to coincide with the launch of our new (Shr)Impact page on our website.
We have four broad workstreams: corporate engagement, farmer support, research, and raising issue salience. We believe our key achievements to date are:
- Corporate engagement: Our Humane Slaughter Initiative (commitments with large producers to purchase electrical stunners, such as MER Seafood, and Seajoy), ongoing conversations with UK retailers (including Marks & Spencer, who now have a published Decapod Welfare Policy), and contributing to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) Shrimp Welfare Technical Working Group.
- Humane Slaughter Initiative: This work in particular seems to be our most promising work so far, and we Guesstimate that our work to date will reduce the suffering of ~1B shrimps (in expectation per year) at a cost-effectiveness of ~1,300 shrimps per $ (in expectation per year).
- Farmer support: The launch of the Sustainable Shrimp Farmers of India (SSFI) program, Scoping Reports in India and Vietnam, a Pilot Study in India, and MoUs with prominent farmer-facing stakeholders (in Gujarat, and with ThinkAqua)
- Research: Working on a number of research projects to answer some of our key uncertainties, such as the Shrimp Welfare Report, an Alternative Shrimps report, a Supply & Demand economic analysis, a Consumer Research report, an Impact Roadmap, and coordinating academic research on the effectiveness of electrical stunning.
- Raising issue salience: Highlighting the issue of shrimp welfare through conferences/podcasts/articles in the shrimp industry, animal welfare, and Effective Altruism spaces. in addition to working in coalitions with other orgs in this space (i.e. EuroGroup for Animals, and the Aquatic Animal Alliance).
As we are moving into our Exploit phase, we plan to focus our work on the following key projects:
- Humane Slaughter Initiative: Significantly accelerating the adoption of electrical stunning prior to slaughter in the farmed shrimp industry is a key goal of ours. We do this by purchasing the first stunner for a few different medium-large producers in different countries/contexts and in different farming systems in order to remove barriers to uptake.
- We believe we can realistically absorb ~$2,000,000 in funding over the next couple of years for our Humane Slaughter Initiative, at a cost-effectiveness of 1,500+ shrimps per $ per year, depending on producer volume and demand from their buyers..
- Sustainable Shrimp Farmers of India: Our farmer support project is still somewhat exploratory, but we are excited by the tractability of interventions we have tested, such as offering free welfare-focused technical advice to farmers via WhatsApp, and promoting additional pond preparation (such as sludge removal) and lower stocking densities.
- Shrimp Welfare Index: Building on the Shrimp Welfare Report, and our experience trying to standardise a set of Asks across all the shrimp production systems, we wanted to clearly define what “higher welfare” looks like across different contexts. The Index offers an assessment of current practices and provides clear, actionable processes for improving shrimp welfare depending on the issues present in each pond. V1 of the Index is nearly complete, but we expect to iterate and test it over the next year, with the Index likely becoming a core part of SWPs work in the medium to long term.
As we’re now focusing on the above projects, we want to highlight some potentially impactful ways we believe others could help shrimps, such as:
- Wild-Caught: The number of shrimps used and killed for food production is dominated by wild-caught shrimps, in particular the species A. japonicus, which are crushed and used to produce shrimp paste. Other warm and cold-water fisheries also contribute significantly to this number. As we are focusing on aquaculture, we think there is a huge opportunity for impact in the wild-caught space.
- Specialisation work: Projects that would likely involve high degrees of specialisation we think could have a huge impact, such as working to accelerate alternative shrimps, aligning emerging shrimp farming tech with higher welfare production, developing new welfare oriented aqua technology, and work on replacing animal feeds with plant-based alternatives
- ”Shrimp-Inclusive” work: Finally there are a number of projects that we think are relatively intractable as a shrimp-focused org, but could have huge impact if shrimps are considered a core part of an organisation with a broader focus’ Theory of Change (for example for organisations that work with aquatic animals). For example, increased consumer awareness of shrimp welfare, policy work, and work in China.
The primary ways we believe you can help shrimps are by:
- Participating in the ASC stakeholder consultation (before 31st Oct 2023): Using our recommended responses to provide feedback to ASC in order to strengthen their proposed indicators.
- Donating to SWP: In particular, we’re fundraising for Stunners
- Starting a project: That addresses the opportunities we’re not exploring in this space.
- Volunteering or working with us: An open call for volunteers can be found on our website, and you can be notified about any new roles at SWP by…
- Signing up to our Newsletter and following us on LinkedIn or Facebook: To be kept up to date with SWPs work
Our Work So Far
We tend to think of our work as four core workstreams, and below we’ve highlighted some tangible examples of projects we’ve undertaken within these:
Humane slaughter initiative - We’ve secured agreements with medium-to-large producers committing to the adoption of humane stunning practices for shrimps. These agreements involve purchasing the first stunner for a producer who commits to stun a minimum of 100M shrimps per year. So far, we have signed four commitments which will collectively reduce the suffering of 1B shrimps (in expectation) each year (you can learn more about how we arrived at this number through our Guesstimate model).
Retailer engagement - We have ongoing dialogues with retailers (currently primarily in the UK), such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, among others. Our goals for these interactions are to encourage retailers to publish welfare / responsible sourcing policies (SWP are currently mentioned in the policies for M&S and Waitrose). These conversations have also often led to us being put in touch with their suppliers, which has led to stunner commitments.
ASC Shrimp Welfare Technical Working Group (TWG) - Along with a number of other stakeholders, SWP is a member of the TWG to introduce welfare standards into ASC’s certification. ASC currently certifies approximately 29B shrimps annually.
Sustainable Shrimp Farmers of India (SSFI) - We launched SSFI, which provides welfare-focused technical expertise to shrimp farmers in India. SSFI has shown promise as a scalable and effective approach to reach farmers in order to improve shrimp welfare. Our goal is to test interventions that can be cost-effectively scaled, such as providing free technical advice to farmers via WhatsApp, convincing groups of farmers to lower stocking densities, and implementing additional pond preparation (like sludge removal).
Pilot Study - We conducted a pilot study in India, to test and demonstrate the profitability of a lower stocking density model of shrimp farming. The results of our pilot were promising, and we are currently validating this model more rigorously through a partnership with Tamil Nadu Dr.J.Jayalalithaa Fisheries University (TNJFU).
Scoping Reports (India and Vietnam) - Our desk-based research indicated that both India and Vietnam would be promising places to work with farmers. In order to validate our evidence review we conducted an on-the-ground needs assessment in both countries, which were then written up into scoping reports in order to clarify our thinking, as well as share knowledge with the wider aquatic animal advocacy community.
Shrimp Welfare Report - A literature review on factors affecting shrimp welfare, including eyestalk ablation, disease, stunning and slaughter, stocking density, environmental enrichment, transport and handling, food quality, and various water quality factors. Faunalytics published a summary of the report in February 2023. Additionally, we wrote an article based on the report for La Fondation Droit Animal (The Animal Law, Ethics and Sciences Foundation) in September 2023. The report also highlighted to us the gaps in the literature, leading to us collaborating with the University of Stirling to conduct a study on electrical stunning, with the initial results estimated for early 2024.
Supply & Demand Impacts - Once we determined that lowering stocking densities may become a core part of our farmer support work, we did an economic analysis in order to estimating the effects of a reduction in stocking density on the total number of shrimps produced and the total number of shrimp days in ponds (tl;dr: we estimate a total discount factor of 0.23-0.54).
Consumer Attitudes Towards Shrimp Welfare - Early on, we carried out some exploratory work on consumer awareness using the research platform Prolific. We wrote up the results in order to support our corporate engagement work (though more comprehensive work on attitudes and messaging would be beneficial).
Impact Roadmap - We spent a lot of time reading up on and learning about Programme Development Methodologies, trying to piece them together in a way that made sense for SWP. We wrote this up as a Forum post in case it’s useful to other NGOs (in particular for NGOs in contexts similar to ours).
The Alternative Shrimp Market - We wanted to get a sense of the market and feasibility of alt shrimps, in particular whether we could help to remove any barriers to alternative shrimps. Although we’re going to focus on the work outlined below, we still wanted to write up our findings into a report in case it is useful to other stakeholders.
Raising Issue Salience
Coalitions - We became members of Eurogroup for Animals, the Aquatic Animal Alliance, and Asia for Animals, collaborating with other organisations to work on improving welfare standards for aquatic animals, including shrimps. These memberships aim to leverage collective strength to influence policy and improve shrimp welfare standards.
Effective Altruism - We’ve taken part in multiple conferences in the Effective Altruism community, including appearing on a panel discussion at EA Global, and on an episode of the 80,000 Hours After Hours Podcast.
Animal Welfare - We’ve presented at conferences in the Animal Welfare community, such as the AVA Summit 2022 and 2023, Asia Farm Animal Day 2022, Conference for Animal Rights in Europe 2022, and Aquatic Life Conference 2021.
Shrimp Industry - At the Blue Food Innovation Summit 2023, we presented on a panel on Aquatic Welfare & Harvest, And at the Global Shrimp Forum 2023, we spoke on a panel on Humane Slaughter and Shrimp Welfare. Additionally, we have published articles in the Vietnamese trade magazine Người nuôi tôm (The Shrimp Farmer) on the subject of shrimp welfare.
What We're Doing Now
As we move into our third year, we’re trying to enter our “Exploit” phase, doubling-down and focusing on projects that we think show particular promise. So within the workstreams listed above, the following we expect to become the core of what we do at Shrimp Welfare Project going forward (at least in the short to medium term).
Humane Slaughter Initiative
What’s the project? - Significantly accelerating the adoption of electrical stunning in the farmed shrimp industry. We purchase the first stunner for a few different medium-large producers in different countries/contexts and in different farming systems. This is to remove perceived barriers to uptake, and shift the industry towards electrical stunning as a norm. This work involves engaging with retailers (often in Europe, primarily the UK) and their suppliers in Asia and Latin America. We offer to buy a producer a single stunner if they commit to stunning a minimum of 100,000,000 shrimps per year (each stunner costs approximately $65,000).
Why are we excited about it? - Almost all of our (direct) impact to date has come from this initiative and currently have commitments to stun 1B shrimps (in expectation) each year. We think the purchasing of equipment for industry is fairly novel and highly cost-effective. We also think that by directly targeting the barriers to uptake, the potential flow-through effects of the work could be significant.
A great write-up of this work was published on the Forum in July 2023 by MHR - Electric Shrimp Stunning: a Potential High-Impact Donation Opportunity. Originally in this post, we had included a few paragraphs on Crucial Considerations we wanted to highlight for this initiative. But we’ve decided to post it as a comment on MHR’s post instead (both to shorten and improve the overall flow of this post, but also because we thought it made sense to continue the discussion already in the comments on that post).
We’re currently actively fundraising for shrimp stunners. We estimate the cost-effectiveness of each stunner to be ~1,500+ shrimps humanely stunned per $ (in expectation per year). Additionally, it’s worth noting that this figure does not incorporate potential flow-through effects, which could increase the cost-effectiveness. Due to the nature of shrimp welfare as a cause area, our funding pool is limited to effectiveness-minded donors. If you’re interested in contributing towards funding a stunner, you can donate to SWP here. If you want to make a sizeable donation, please feel free to reach out directly to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the Project? - We launched SSFI in May 2023 as our primary project in our Farmer Support work. It’s still in more of an exploratory phase than our Corporate Engagement work as we’re testing a number of promising interventions to scale up. For example, when farmers join SSFI they’re added to a WhatsApp group, where farmers can receive free welfare-focused technical assistance. We’re also exploring interventions that affect shrimps for their entire lives in the growout pond such as supporting a move to lower stocking densities, or promoting additional pond preparation (such as removing sludge at the bottom of the ponds).
Why are we excited about it? - SSFI has shown promise as a scalable and cost-effective approach to improving shrimp welfare. We’re also excited that SSFI aims to address chronic suffering (in contrast to our stunner's work, which addresses acute suffering) allowing us to have a portfolio approach in terms of reducing suffering. Additionally, having an on-the-ground presence with farmers gives us practical knowledge of shrimp farming that is otherwise hard to get from desk-based research. It also gives us some credibility within the industry that we have this practical know-how, which indirectly supports our Corporate Engagement work (and vice-versa - farmers are aware we’re an international organisation who regularly speak to buyers, which gives us credibility with farmers).
Shrimp Welfare Index
What’s the Project? - The Shrimp Welfare Report was our first attempt to pull together a comprehensive understanding of shrimp welfare. After we published the report, we wanted to make it actionable, to try to quantify how much each factor affected shrimp welfare, and provide actionable feedback on how to improve a score. Our current research focus therefore, is on the development of a Shrimp Welfare Index. The Index assesses the most important factors for shrimp welfare, weighted by their relative importance, and provides an overall score. The index will serve as a roadmap to improve shrimp welfare, offering an assessment of current practices and providing clear, actionable processes for improving shrimp welfare depending on the issues present in each pond. Although we hope to begin testing the first version of the Index towards the end of 2023, we expect it to be an iterative process, with the Index becoming a core part of our work only in the medium to long-term.
Why are we excited about it? - After a year or so of working with stakeholders, we realised that our original vision of having a single, comprehensive set of Asks just didn’t make sense, considering the variety of contexts in which shrimps are farmed (which varies depending on country and intensity of the pond system). Asking for lower densities seemed intractable for more intensive systems, and asking for consistently high water quality didn’t make sense for low-input “Extensive” systems. We needed a way to understand the welfare implications of any particular pond, and point to what is higher or lower welfare across many different contexts. The Welfare Index gives us that flexibility, allowing us to work with a variety of systems, being very clear about how we arrived at any particular score, as well as how welfare can be improved (and by how much). We also hope that we can publish the Welfare Index in academic journals, so that it can form part of the scientific literature, which will hopefully inform future decisions by Certifications/Policymakers.
What We Aren't Doing
(or: The White Space of Shrimp Welfare)
While shrimp welfare may be a niche within the overall enormous global shrimp industry, it's still an incredibly nuanced and complex niche. The term "shrimp" covers multiple species and an incredibly wide range of farming and fishing techniques, making it nearly impossible for any one organisation to cover the many welfare challenges that shrimp face. Additionally, as we move into our “Exploit phase”, we want to mostly focus on our programs above in order to not misallocate our resources. If we indefinitely continue exploring, we might grow to unmanagebable organisational complexity, and/or invest resources in work that doesn’t lead to impact. We therefore wanted to use this post to also make clear what we aren’t doing, in the hope that others may seriously consider exploring these areas (we’d be more than happy to support other organisations working on shrimp welfare!)
Rethink Priorities report Shrimp: The animals most commonly used and killed for food production states: “25 trillion (90% SCI: 6.5 trillion - 66 trillion) wild shrimp are directly slaughtered annually, a figure that represents the vast majority of all animals directly killed by humans out of which food is produced.”. We (SWP) think that a project set up to work on wild-caught shrimps could be extremely high-impact.
Although right now SWP doesn’t do any work with Wild-Caught fisheries, it’s possible that our Humane Slaughter work evolves in the future and we explore the possibility of deploying stunners on boats. However, we expect this to be the extent to which we’d focus on Wild-Caught, likely not doing any work to address shrimp trawling or shrimp paste, so would welcome projects with this focus.
Shrimp Paste Fisheries - The majority of wild-caught shrimps are a single species - A. japonicus - and are crushed and used to produce “shrimp paste”, a salty, fermented condiment used in Southeast Asian and Southern Chinese cuisine. We believe the shrimp paste market is very different to the contexts in which we work (i.e. the international import/export market for L. Vannamei / P. Monodon shrimps). It’s often made by fishing families in coastal villages, and production techniques can vary from village to village. We think a new project focused on shrimp paste in particular could potentially be very high impact.
We do have a volunteer who has recently started researching shrimp paste for us, which we plan to write-up and publish when finished. We’re working on this because we believe it could have significant informational value to the movement at relatively low cost to SWP, rather than because we anticipate SWP directly working on shrimp paste in the future
Warm-water/Cold-water Fisheries - Outside of shrimp paste, other shrimp fisheries can be divided into warm and cold water fisheries. We’re not sure to what extent practices differ between these two types of fisheries, so have bundled them together here (we expect them to be more similar to each other than to shrimp paste fisheries). We expect the major welfare issues here to be similar to those present at harvest in aquaculture (crushing and overcrowding whilst in the net, and asphyxiation once taken out of the water). There are also likely issues with bycatch (particularly with trawlers). Additionally, we think some shrimp fisheries also operate as fisheries for other species during certain months of the year. So a project working in this space may need to have a more “zoomed out” focus on fisheries more broadly (similar to the other ideas in “Shrimp-Inclusive work” below) in order to more fully understand and work with the industry.
The following are ideas that would likely require quite a lot of in-house specialisation (technical or otherwise), in addition to potentially benefiting from a For-Profit, or Social-Entrepreneurship type of organisation, rather than necessarily a Non-Profit setup.
Alternative Shrimps - As noted above, we’ve written a report on Alternative Shrimps, in which we tried to understand the current Market, the Feasibility of producing alt shrimps, as well as the Barriers currently preventing alternative shrimps. For each barrier, we tried to determine some potential solutions (both in general, and any specialised roles we could see for NGOs). The report was written as we needed more clarity on potential interventions that could potentially radically pivot SWPs work. However, we are now focusing on the projects above, and not on Alt Shrimps. We still believe however that there is a lot of potential in this space, and think that more focused attention and effort on Alt Shrimps (or similar products, like shrimp paste) could be really valuable.
Market Shaping (Shrimp Farming Technology) - Shrimp farming is currently going through further intensification, largely due to technological innovations such as Machine Learning and Computer Vision. This means it’s quite likely that shrimp farming in 10-20 years looks quite different to how it does today. Many new “Aqua tech” companies discuss the benefits of their technology for sustainability, but also sometimes link it to welfare. We think that during this period of potential transition, trying to shape the market into making “high welfare an intrinsic part of high tech”, could lead to an industry with much higher welfare for the average shrimp. This idea is somewhat underdeveloped compared to our others, but we think it has potential.
“Bad Cop” campaigns - We don’t engage in typical aggressive “bad-cop” campaigns and do not expect to do so at any point in the future. Our chosen direction is one of collaboration and dialogue. Engaging in meaningful dialogue with industry stakeholders underscores our commitment, setting the stage for mutual progress in shrimp welfare.
Developing Welfare Tech - If we didn’t have the ability to purchase stunners to provide to the industry, our most cost-effective program wouldn’t exist. We think it’s possible that engineers focused on welfare could produce similar technological innovations that could have a large impact on shrimps (this could even be an innovation like producing a cheaper stunner).
Animal Feeds (i.e. Fishmeal/Fish Oil) - As highlighted by the Aquatic Life Institute (among others), a huge number of animals are fed to other animals to support the aquaculture industry (for example, the use of Fishmeal/Fish Oil). We’re currently trying to estimate the impact of this in the shrimp industry in particular, and expect to publish a report at some point in the future, but expect the numbers to be significant. Additionally FMFO is expensive, and as such the industry already has incentive to replace it. We believe that an organisation that focused on increasing plant-based feed alternatives could potentially alleviate some downstream suffering. (This is one of the ideas we’re least confident in, as we’re unsure if reducing FMFO in shrimp feed would actually reduce the number of fish caught, in addition to further uncertainty about wild animal welfare).
The following are ideas that fall under a somewhat nebulous grouping. They are ideas that we think would benefit from a more shrimp-specific focus, but we don’t believe that an exclusively shrimp-focused charity can make much of an impact. Rather, it’s likely that an organisation would need to focus on Aquatic Animals more broadly, but be sure to include shrimps as a core part of their strategy. They are ideas we gave quite a bit of thought to, and consulted with a number of experts, before ultimately deciding we couldn’t make much progress with on our own (outside of a light touch, i.e. Policy as part of EuroGroup for Animals).
Consumer Awareness - We don’t currently make any major effort on consumer awareness of shrimp welfare (apart from our exploratory study), and are unsure if such a targeted one-species approach would make sense (particularly for a species that’s outside of most people’s moral circle), though some organisations have done work in this area (in particular, raising awareness of eyestalk ablation). Additionally we have seen that increased consumer awareness has led to the shrimp industry making shrimp welfare a higher priority. We think more work in this area could lead to accelerating progress on welfare improvements.
Policy - We’re a member of EuroGroup for Animals, and contribute to their Aquatics work where possible. However, it seems like any Policy changes that are made, would likely need to “follow the trend” for fishes more broadly, rather than any specific legislation singling out shrimps. Additionally, policy work is often very region specific and requires a lot of localised knowledge and expertise. We therefore think that having a global-and-shrimp-specific policy charity probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but integrating shrimps into the Theory of Change for animal-focused policy organisations could be quite impactful.
China - We gave a lot of thought to China, but unfortunately for a few reasons China fits outside of the Theory’s of Change for our primary projects. For example they’re the largest producer of shrimps in the world, but unusually, they don’t export most of their volume, rather consuming it domestically, meaning leveraging the global import/export market to increase adoption of stunners isn’t possible. It’s also difficult for a foreign NGO to operate in China, and the animal movement in general is less developed (and shrimps are already pretty niche for the wider animal movement). Here again, we believe there is significant opportunity to help shrimps, but can’t currently see a path for a shrimp-specific charity. Any change would likely need to have a broader aquaculture focus, with a proportional focus on shrimps.
How You Can Help
As stated above, we’re currently actively fundraising for shrimp stunners. We estimate the cost-effectiveness of each stunner to be ~1,500+ shrimps humanely stunned per $ (in expectation per year). If you’re interested in contributing towards funding a stunner, you can donate to SWP here. If you’re considering making a sizeable donation, please feel free to reach out directly to us at email@example.com.
ASC stakeholder consultation
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) currently certifies approximately 29B shrimps annually. ASC are currently (Sep-Oct 2023) engaging in a stakeholder consultation for Shrimp Health & Welfare indicators to be included in their revised certification. We believe these can be stronger than the recommendations currently proposed, in particular in relation to increasing the adoption of electrical stunning. However we also think that many of the respondents to the stakeholder consultation are likely to be affiliated with the industry, and the new indicators could potentially be watered down as a result.
We therefore think that a push of support for shrimp welfare could be a potentially quick and impactful action that concerned citizens (ASC’s term) or NGOs can take to improve shrimp welfare. We’ve prepared some recommended responses that people can to refer to if you’re interested in providing feedback regarding the proposed indicators (though it’s important to note that any duplicated responses may be discarded, so we’d recommend rewriting our responses in your own words, or with the help of an AI tool such as ChatGPT).
Volunteer or work with us
We have an open call for volunteers on our website, and are pretty excited about giving enthusiastic people the opportunity to help us help shrimps! We are typically looking for generalist volunteers in the areas of Research, Comms, and Operations, though have also had success with very specialised skill sets (such as people with PhDs in aquaculture). We prefer where possible to give people discrete projects and regular feedback, with the intention of giving volunteers the opportunity to “own” a piece of work, hopefully building up their skills and contributing to their portfolio of work for their CV.
In addition (though we’re not hiring currently), we’re a relatively small team, and any hire we make has significant influence on SWP as a whole. Although new roles are typically posted on various relevant Job Boards/Slack channels, they’re often first announced via our…
Newsletter & social media
Signing up to our Newsletter is the best way to keep up to date with SWPs work. We tend to publish a newsletter every 1-2 months and use it to announce our progress and impact (such as signing a new corporate commitment, or when we’ve published new research), events we’re attending (or attended), jobs and volunteer opportunities in aquatic animals, and other links we think are useful to share with people interested in shrimp welfare. Additionally you can follow us on LinkedIn and/or Facebook, where you can get more bite-sized updates on our work, including a “Shrimp Fact of the Week”!
Start a “shrimp welfare project”
We sincerely hope we’ve made the case above that there is a huge amount of potential in the shrimp welfare space, and that as SWP is now deliberately focusing on a few key areas, we believe that there is a significant amount of impact being left on the table for another project or two (we believe these could exist as an initiative within an existing organisation, or through the founding of a new organisation). If starting a new project, there are incubation organisations such as Charity Entrepreneurship, and Kickstarting for Good. Additionally it’s possible you could get a small grant through Animal Charity Evaluators Movement Grants, or the EA Animal Welfare Fund. If you’re working within an existing organisation and want to work on shrimp welfare too, please reach out! We’d love to see if we can help.