To Prawn or Not to Prawn?


To prawn or not to prawn, that is the question.

Is it?

Yes, unfortunately it is. Because as Christmas is upon us and we stock up on our Christmas lunch goodies including prawns for the barbie or the cocktail glass, shouldn’t we actually know where our prawns are coming from?


The Australian Prawn Association estimates 50 per cent of prawns eaten in Australia are imported.

Imported from where I hear you ask?

Thailand, China, Bangladesh, Ecuador and Brazil are the largest producers of farmed prawns (known as tiger prawns, vannamei prawns, gambas, and giant shrimp). A total of 75% of the world’s farmed prawns are produced in Asia alone, mainly for export to Europe, Japan, the US, and Australia.

This means that not only are most of our prawns not locally produced, they’re not even nationally produced which means using a whole heap of carbon miles to get the prawns onto our skewers.

But that’s not the biggest problem.

To keep up with demand for the beloved prawn, many Asian countries, Thailand in particular, clear natural mangrove forests to provide breeding grounds for prawn farms. Destroying the natural mangrove forests produces high amounts of carbon and decimates the natural marine life, not to mention the local communities surrounding the mangroves.

On top of all that, the prawn farm industry in a lot of these countries come with poorly policed regulations which invites slave labour and exploitation.

So, not to prawn?

Not quite. But from me it is a definite no to imported prawns.

Australia does have prawn farms as well and while the social implications of them are not on the same scale as imported farmed prawns, the environmental impact is still too high for us to really enjoy a prawn guilt-free yet.

The issues with prawn farming can be extensive but to put it simply, imagine a whole lot of prawns being herded into one spot in the ocean to be fed and bred until they are ready to be caught to go on the barbie. Now imagine how much waste and crap is concentrated in that small section of the ocean below them, creating a haven for disease and unnatural habitats for other creatures.

I know, gross.

The other major problem is that these prawns of course need to be fed, leading to a whole other industry in itself that impacts on the ocean with more sea life having to be caught to keep up with the culinary demands of the prawn.

The other option is wild caught prawns, but this involves prawn trawling, responsible for the highest number of by-catch of all fishing industries.

Oh bloody hell, can I throw a shrimp on the barbie or not?!

Yes, you can.

The tide is definitely turning for our Australian seafood with consumer demand leaning towards ethical and sustainable food choices. The Australian prawn industry is responding to this demand and leading the way in the environmental management of prawn farming.

Therefore…..the best choices for prawn are……drumroll please….

Haul caught School and Bay prawns from NSW which are listed as a better choice by ‘The Australian Marine Conservation Society‘ (AMCS) and Western King Prawns from the Spencer Gulf in SA which have been assessed as sustainable by the Australian Conservation Foundation’s ‘Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program’.

To summarise, like anything, enjoy (good quality) prawns in moderation. This means perhaps passing on the cheap prawn pizza and saving your prawns for the treat they are.

What about you? Have you ever wondered where your tasty prawn came from? Does it bother you?

PS: I’ll note here that in trawling through the highs and lows of the humble prawn, I found there is extensive information of which I have only covered the minimum. If you want to read more about eating prawns sustainably (or not sustainably) a couple of great articles I stumbled across with good news and bad news stories are below.

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