By Mauricio Mejia, WWF Central America
In 2006, I met for the first time with representatives of the Belize Shrimp Growers Association to talk about what needed to be done to help their shrimp production become more responsible.
At the time, the idea of responsible shrimp production was concentrated around reducing the nutrient load in effluents; this is the waste water from the farm. When the water is released from the ponds, the quality can be very poor and very nutrient rich. If this is released into the local waterways untreated it impacts badly on the other species and affects others who rely on the water.
As the WWF Mesoamerican Reef program officer for aquaculture, my job was to work in partnership with shrimp growers, identifying and implementing better management practices to improve the quality of the waste water that would come from the farms.
On the way to responsibility
Two years later in April 2008, I was organising the first Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue meeting for shrimp growers of Central American and Mexico to review the international principles for responsible shrimp production and contribute to drafting the shrimp standard. This meeting was one of many across the globe that some 400 people were involved in.
It has been a long journey, but rewarding. In November 2012 I brought together external auditors and shrimp growers of five farms in Belize to carry out a gap analysis, assessing the farms against the developing ASC shrimp standard.
Facing the challenges
As WWF officer, I am facilitating the ongoing project to prepare the eight shrimp farms to comply with the ASC standard. After the gap analysis, the industry was aware that the main bottleneck among farms is paperwork, record keeping and investments in infrastructure to improve effluents management to comply with the ASC standard.
I think a major challenge to comply with ASC certification is the feed standards; growers need to convince feed suppliers to comply with the relevant standards. But so far two of the three feed suppliers have shown a commitment to meet the required standards. So we will get there!
Sustaining the Mesoamerican reef
For Belize shrimp growers the certification means a way to secure markets in Europe and USA, for conservationists like myself the certification of eight shrimp farms means the sustainability of the Mesoamerican reef and for local communities the sustainability of the Belize Shrimp sector means more employment opportunities.
Since 2007 the farms have been reducing their environmental impacts. They have been upgrading or building structures to reduce the nutrients in effluents, and protecting the mangrove forest, which they use as a natural bio filter to remove effluents before the water is released into receiving water ways. Shrimp growers maintain a fluid communication with community leaders along the shrimp belt, together communities and shrimp growers develop strategies to protect the natural resources in the area and the workforce is drawn from the local surrounding communities.
Collaboration is the key
The success of this process has a lot to do with the openness of the secretary of the Belize Shrimp growers Association – a shrimp grower with a genuine interest in the sustainability of the industry and the protection of the natural resources.
Now, 18 months since that gap analysis, I am pleased with the achievements, 95 per cent of the shrimp production in Belize should be able to achieve ASC certification with the help of funding they’ve received. And, I am certain that by the end of 2014 eight shrimp farms in Belize will be ASC certified – after that my challenge will be to replicate this amazing work in other shrimp industries in the Central American region.