Striking a Balance

Shrimp Farms — Some Unintended Consequences
by Anna Flam -- September 23rd, 2013

Monkeys are biting, coca cola thieving, little jerks. Once, while hiking to the Phi Phi island viewpoint I stopped for water at the convenience shack halfway down the mountain. Red-faced tourists slumped over their sodas in the small clearing. Two young monkeys played, and a few older males scratched themselves as they glowered at the human invaders. Suddenly the shop owner shouted at a large man with a Coke. “Monkey wants your soda! Give monkey your soda!” The man with the soda looked around confused. The monkey stalked up to the man, snatched the soda can from his hands, ran ten feet, and squatted down to chug the soda.


PP Viewpoint

Koh Phi Phi Viewpoint — lovely, other than the marauding macaques.


Luckily, this tourist was too stunned to try and fight to keep the coke. On Monkey Beach, one of Phi Phi’s most popular tourist attractions, people go to hang out with the cute wild monkeys. People also get bitten by monkeys every day, then shell out a few thousand baht for rabies shots at the local hospital.


A friend of mine walking home on Phi Phi ran into a few macaques blocking the path. Being South African and accustomed to much larger and more ferocious wildlife, he decided to stomp, wave his arms, and shout to scare them off. The monkeys chased him back into town.



Monkey and human conflict makes headlines every few years. Delhi is a notable case where monkeys invaded parliament, and one politician died while fighting them on a balcony. Similar to Phi Phi, many of Delhi’s issues come from people feeding the adorable little animals.

Guarding the temple or waiting for a chance to steal lunch?

Guarding the temple or waiting for a chance to steal lunch?

Mainland Thai villages are also experiencing the simian invasion. Most reporting focuses upon laundry theft and people trapped in their houses. However, mixed into the stories of sling-shots and stolen food, increasing deforestation for shrimp farms seems to be impetus for the invasion. Habitat loss is driving the monkeys to become raiders.

I love shrimp, but shrimp is one of the main reasons I go crazy when people tell me they’re vegetarians who eat fish. Especially infuriating is when these “pescatarians” cite issues with factory farming or environmentalism as the reason for their diet choice. Fished shrimp has a huge amount of bycatch. In most cases 85% of sealife caught while trawling for shrimp is discarded.

Shrimp farming could remedy the bycatch issue of wild-caught shrimp, but it also introduces a new set of problems. Pond farms could filter wastewater, but Southeast Asia — the hub of shrimp farming — isn’t so great at treating human sewage. Shrimp farms mostly release chemical and fecal contaminated water straight into the water table.

Shrimp farms also create huge demand for shrimp feed, driving “trash fishing”. Trash fishermen use extremely fine nets that pull up minnows no larger than your pinky finger. Such fishing largely negates the farmed advantage of eliminated shrimp bycatch.

I’m no saint; I still eat shrimp, but I’ve cut down my consumption drastically. Shrimp farms have potential, but in their current state there’s a lot of work left to make them environmentally and ethically acceptable.

1 Comment

  1. Gardner Reynolds
    Oct 5, 2013

    Thank you for sharing Anna. It is very sad about the waste that is associated with the shrimp industry. Even the agricultural industry has so much waste and pollution when crops aren’t grown sustainably.

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