We’re excited to announce the launch of Shrimp Welfare Project (SWP), a new EA organization created through the Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program 2021.

Our mission is to positively impact the welfare of billions of shrimps[1], in the most cost-effective way possible.

In this post, we make a case for focusing on shrimps, give an overview of our intervention, outline our progress so far and lay out our plans for the future.

We are infinitely grateful to Charity Entrepreneurship for their organizational and financial support to get this project off the ground. We thank Cristina Schmidt Ibáñez, Lukas Jasiūnas, Max Carpendale, and Aaron Gertler for their invaluable feedback on this forum post announcement. All errors and shortcomings are our own.

Why Shrimps?

~350 billion[2] shrimps are farmed each year [1]. This is 5x the total number of farmed land animals [2]. Of the approximately 2,000 species of shrimps [3], whiteleg shrimp (litopenaeus vannamei) is the shrimp species we focus on due to the scale and intensity at which they are farmed (~280 billion [4]).

Many shrimps reared in aquaculture[3] suffer from conditions which can and should be addressed, such as:

Water quality

Oxygen and ammonia levels, temperature, salinity and pH are key to the welfare of all aquatic animals, including shrimps [5]. Incorrect water management can lead  not only to compromised immune systems in shrimps [6] (and in extreme cases, to death by suffocation or poisoning [7]), but also to the contamination of nearby bodies of water [8] and salinization and acidification of the soil [9].

Risk of disease

Diseases that exist within the normal microflora of shrimps can thrive under high stocking densities (with density depending on the intensity of the production method [10]), enabling pathogenic outbreaks [11]. This is detrimental not only to the farmed shrimps but can cause large spillover events if best disease management practices are not followed [12]. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics to stop diseases promotes the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria [13]. Part of the solution in this case is prevention through best shrimp welfare practices [14].

Eyestalk ablation

Most nurseries still practice crushing or cutting off at least one of the eyestalks of female shrimps to induce rapid reproduction [15]. Recent studies have proven that avoiding eyestalk ablation can result in the breeding females living longer and their offspring being more resistant to stress and disease [16]. Therefore, eliminating this practice is in the best interest of shrimps and it should be acceptable to the shrimp farming industry.

Our Priorities

Shrimp Welfare Project's Theory of Change - November 2021

Supply Side

We will work with farmers in tractable producing countries to improve water quality. The intention is to identify farmers that are part of the supply chain of the organizations we will be working with on the demand side.

Demand Side

We intend to work on the demand side, reaching out to relevant stakeholders (such as seafood importers) along the supply chain to improve welfare standards for shrimps. Some of the asks we are considering include requiring shrimp farm suppliers to meet certain water quality metrics and limit stocking densities, as well as eventually incorporate more humane slaughter practices and phase out eyestalk ablation.

Through conversations with organizations that have been involved in the transition to cage-free hens, we have gauged that our probabilities of success to improve overall shrimp welfare are maximized if we can directly link supply and demand, transitioning consumption towards a (today non-existent) market for higher-welfare shrimps.

Outreach

In addition to our supply- and demand-side work, we aim to increase the awareness of shrimp welfare as a cause area by participating in relevant conferences and webinars. We also hope to assist in research work relating to the welfare of shrimps. Rethink Priorities will publish their scoping report on farmed shrimp welfare by the end of March 2022 [17]. The report will help us decide which interventions we will focus on in our second year and/or make adaptations to our intervention(s) of our first year.

Progress so Far

Month 0 (Charity Entrepreneurship) - In August 2021, during Charity Entrepreneurship’s incubation programme, we developed a number of key documents related to our strategy (such as our Cost-Effectiveness Analysis, Geographic Assessment, First and Five Year Plans, Budget, Theory of Change, Measurement & Evaluation plan, Values & Culture deck and Co-founder responsibilities), which led to our Project Proposal for seed funding.

Month 1 (Launch and Planning) - In September 2021, we were given a seed grant of $100,000 from Charity Entrepreneurship and launched Shrimp Welfare Project. We contacted a number of experts and pivoted our intervention from exclusively working on the supply side (i.e. with farmers as recommended in the CE report) to also working with the demand side (i.e. corporations, choosing the EU due to its positive track record on animal welfare).

Month 2 (Research and Asks) - In October 2021, based on our updated plan we worked with experts to refine our Asks and developed our website to reflect the addition of our demand side work. We also determined that India, Vietnam and Ecuador are our most promising Supply Side countries based on, among other things, their exporting relationships with the EU.

Month 3 (Mentors, First Hires and Conferences) - During November, we formalized what we feel is a fantastic Board of Advisors. We hope our work will live up to the quality of our supporters. With the help of Training for Good  and Animal Advocacy Careers, we launched the process for our first few new team members. We are generally interested in finding talent to support us with corporate outreach and improving our online presence.  We will soon launch a process to hire a managing director for India (stay tuned). We also attended relevant conferences such as EAG London, the Aquatic Life Conference and Animal Advocacy Conference Asia.

Next Steps

Month 4 (India Scoping) - In December 2021, we intended to visit India to interview farmers and take water quality measurements to determine our baseline, with the help of our partner organization FIAPO (Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations). FIAPO previously collaborated with Fish Welfare Initiative to produce scoping reports on fish welfare [18] and aquaculture [19] in India. However, due to restrictions imposed in response to the Omicron variant, we are making adjustments to our plans as this post is being published. We aim to prepare a shrimp welfare scoping report, as well as share our data with other organizations (contingent on value-alignment).

Month 5 (Corporate Outreach) - In January 2022, we will begin our corporate outreach efforts based on what we learn in India. We intend to target seafood-focused importers as we feel we may be a more relevant counterpart to them than to large-scale retailers, thereby maximizing the chances to induce change. This has the added benefit of avoiding distracting attention of large retailers from ongoing discussions with other effective animal advocacy organizations.

Month 6 (Vietnam Scoping) - In February 2022, we expect to visit Vietnam to undertake scoping work (interview farmers and take water quality measurements). This is part of our work to thoroughly understand our most promising supply-side countries. This work has been delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions on entering the country. As with our India scoping visit, we plan to publish a scoping report and share data with value-aligned organizations.

Month 7+ - From March 2022, we plan to visit Ecuador (our final promising supply side country) to undertake scoping work. We then plan to launch our pilot intervention (working with farmers to manage water quality parameters, committing to no increase in stocking density) in the most promising country and monitor our progress, continue with operational evaluations and partnership relations, while beginning to source candidate farms for year 2. Towards the end of our first year we will step up fundraising efforts for year 2, review our plans for the following year, and ultimately evaluate our work to date.

How you can help

Tell others in your network about us - We are looking to connect with people and organizations involved in shrimp aquaculture, both in industry and academia. We are particularly keen to grow our network of partners and staff in India, Vietnam, and potentially Ecuador.

You can subscribe to our newsletter here.

Support us in reaching our fundraising goals - We would love to be in contact with any donors who might be interested in supporting SWP.

As already mentioned, we are very fortunate to have received significant financial support from Charity Entrepreneurship for our first year of operations. On the other hand, since we have expanded the scope of our intervention since our formal launch (including Demand side work and scoping three promising countries on the Supply side), we will be looking to double our fundraising target for 2022.

You can donate here or email us at andres@shrimpwelfareproject.org.

Feedback

We value your feedback and suggestions, particularly at this early stage. You can comment below or reach out at andres@shrimpwelfareproject.org

Shrimp Welfare Project was incubated through Charity Entrepreneurship's Incubation Program 2021. Charity Entrepreneurship is an effective altruism organization, which provided the initial funding of our organization with a $100,000 seed grant. Our current team members are co-founders Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla and Aaron Boddy.


  1. We use the plural shrimps to highlight that they are individuals worthy of consideration. ↩︎

  2. This is an estimate based on a midpoint value of 210-530 billion. This number is estimated as shrimps are measured in production tonnage, not as individuals. Additionally, this number is taken from 2017 FishCount estimates and may have increased. Rethink Priorities also estimates a similar number independently (this work is currently unpublished). ↩︎

  3. We’re currently not focused on wild-caught shrimps as we perceive the issue as less tractable than improving the conditions for farmed shrimps. However, the potential numbers of wild-caught shrimps are staggering, with Rethink Priorities estimating that wild-caught shrimps may significantly outnumber all other animals slaughtered for use by humans combined [20], so this is something we’re still exploring. ↩︎

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12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:24 PM
New Comment

Thanks for the post.

A confession: the first time I read about shrimp welfare in CE's reports I rolled my eyes and thought "C'mon, seriously? Weren't bugs enough?", but I came to radically change my opinion (because of normative uncertainty, and because cutting shrimps' eyes is evil, even if they are basically delicious bug monsters). I still use this example in a hideous "trap-joke" when talking to EAs - I start saying that I don't always agree with some of the cause areas people come up with, like shrimp welfare, then we laugh, then I explain how we torture these poor animals for a fraction of the proteins we can get with beans, and that almost nobody was talking about it before CE.

@Ramiro

A confession: I’ve been a vegan for more than 10 years now and frankly, even though I changed my diet precisely to avoid inflicting unnecessary suffering, I had never really given too much thought to the suffering of aquatic animals until 2-3 years ago. I get where you’re coming from. 

Thankfully, the conscious search of new ways to improve the world by the EA community and Charity Entrepreneurship has now made this a salient issue and placed their trust in Aaron and me to try to make a difference. We will work tirelessly to make your “trap-joke” stop working ;)

this looks great!

one question: as i understand it, corporate advocacy for more well-known farmed animals (cattle, pigs, chicken) relies in part on favourable (from the advocate's point of view) public opinion. if a producer or distributor is not open to change on any of the advocate's asks, the advocate can gain leverage by drumming up grassroots campaigns against the producer/distributor. i expect that to be far harder with shrimp than with cattle, pigs and chicken. so i'm curious, what do you do if producers/distributors aren't willing to listen to you because they don't feel you present enough of a pr/legal/whatever threat?

another question: how concentrated is production and distribution of shrimp? are there e.g. few huge importers in the eu, or is it scattered? are there few huge farmers in south-east asia, or many small ones?

Great questions!

Advocacy: You're absolutely right, that's been our impressions of corporate advocacy work too and we're currently not expecting to drum up grassroots campaigns, or do any significant work on public awareness. Our expectation as it stands is that we can frame the benefits of shrimp welfare as a lever for sustainability. The Seafood Task Force has managed to make shrimp supply chain improvements driven by retail largely without the buy-in of consumers [1]. In addition, we hope to enable corporations to be leaders in this area, as consumer awareness of aquatic welfare increases (i.e. due to Seaspiracy etc.).

Production: It's pretty concentrated on a country level in terms of distribution [2]. In South-East Asia there are often many smaller farmers, but they work with agents who deliver the shrimps to a centralised processing plant for export [3]. Our understanding of importing at a company level is that there are a few key importers that dominate the market [4].

Our expectation as it stands is that we can frame the benefits of shrimp welfare as a lever for sustainability

Do sustainability interventions reliably align with welfare? e.g. can shrimps still die from asphyxiation/poisoning in this order of magnitude when the conditions are "externally sustainable"? Is there a risk of some practices (like bigger density) being more sustainable but worse for welfare?

There are lots of overlaps between welfare and sustainability, with a great overview provided by the Aquatic Life Institute [1] (we're hoping to publish a shrimp-focused look at the overlap of sustainability and welfare on our website soon!)

Our main concern is with super-intensive systems, in which many of these welfare issues are managed very well, but there are very high stocking densities. In less intensive systems, lower stocking densities can reduce stress and susceptibility to diseases, so we have a pretty good case for asking that they're reduced as part of our Ask. But in high-intensive systems, water quality and risk of disease are managed well, so stocking densities can be very high - and the overlap of welfare and sustainability falls down. In this case, we're hoping that being able to provide the farmers with access to a higher-welfare market becomes our main lever for justifying an ask to reduce stocking densities.

Thanks for your reply!

In this case, we're hoping that being able to provide the farmers with access to a higher-welfare market becomes our main lever

So as I understand it, public awareness may still be a limiting factor eventually, at least regarding high intensity systems, as it will be needed to back your asks from manufacturers that will no longer align with their sustainability concerns?

No problem, these are great questions!

And yes that's true, each stakeholder in the shrimp supply chain is usually driven by the demands of the next link (i.e. farmer - processor - importer - distributor - consumer). So when it comes down to it, often the distributor (retailer/restaurant etc.) can only make a change if they have reason to believe that the public is demanding change...

Though we are anticipating that we can make lots of progress before we reach public awareness as our limiting factor (the scale is just so huge!).

And we expect that in the meantime, progress towards public awareness of aquatic animal suffering will increase significantly thanks to the work of other NGOs (such as all the great NGOs in the Aquatic Animal Alliance ! [1])

I remember when Karolina messaged me about a year ago inviting me to apply to CE and Shimp Welfare was the first charity idea I saw and I was like "Whaaaaat I'm not doing that. What's next, bacteria welfare?" And now I'm going to be leading a charity working on insect welfare. The irony lol.

On a serious note, the sheer numbers, the welfare and practices facts, and especially the neglectedness of the invertebrates really brought me around. I really think you folks are working on some pretty important stuff, not only making an impact for the shrimps but also paving the path for success for neglected species welfare projects.

I wonder if so far you've found that people "get" what you're trying to do? Or do you think that some people you speak to still think we should be focusing on bigger animals? I, for example, was pleasantly surprised by how many people "got" insect welfare and were excited about it. I guess there will be differences between EA and non-EA folks? Also, you mentioned that you are not public or consumer-focused, which might be why there isn't a "pushback" against this work?

Many thanks for this blog post and for your work, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what you achieve in the next few months and a year.  The movement will benefit a lot from your experience!

You've hit the nail on the head! The idea on the face of it seems so unusual, but once I talk through the scale, neglectedness and tractability of the problem, I've yet to find anyone who isn't convinced by it (except maybe my parents...)

I have been slightly bowled over by the number of people who have "got it", but as you say, this is largely because I'm talking to EAs. But even with non-EAs, describing welfare issues such as eyestalk ablation, dying of disease or suffocating due to lack of oxygen seems to be pretty well understood and hasn't come across as controversial...

We're really excited to see what lies ahead for us, and can't wait to see the progress you make on insect welfare! :)

I cannot put into word how deeply I appreciate your work. Thank you and everyone involved.  
p.s love the logo.

Thanks a lot!  Hearing that people out there care as much as us about this topic, really gives us a big energy boost.  

PS: we're really proud of our logo as well ;) Thanks to the Charity Entrepreneurship team for their help with it and to Jennifer from Fish Welfare Initiative (...she knows why)