REPORT #384 September 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust


It's either win-win or die!

By: Thorn Grimshaw

Wha a ruckus! I read all that stuff in the papers the last couple of weeks about development and the environment by he folks who were doing all the talking, and you know what I think? I think that if you locked them all in one room and called it a country, their gross national product would be misinformation. Imean really, everyone kept changing the subject and no one had the facts. How can we ever get ahead with that kind of pretzel logic, particularly as it concerns shrimp farming?

Now if you want the truth about shrimp farming, read on. There are presently eleven operating shrimp farms in Belize, which are spread out between Ladyville and Monkey River. It is unlikely that these farms can be practically developed into much more than 15,000 acres of shrimp production because land features like creeks and wetlands are not used for pond construction in Belize. Less than half of these 15,000 acres or about 5,200 acres have been developed to date. Last year was a good year for the industry. After more than 15 years of struggling to function properly and return a profit, the industry earned Bz $50 million.

It takes about 60,000 acres of citrus or about 30,000 acres of sugar cane to earn that kind of money. But Belize's shrimp industry did it in less than 20 percent of the land resources. The banana industry earned about the same amount of money from about the same amount of land, but guess what! Shrimp farmers don't use any pesticides like the other three industries, so shrimp farming is not only land-efficient; it doesn't put any complex, toxic chemicals into the environment either.

But there's more to this story. The Belize shrimp industry is not developing in a vacuum. Nor is it completely ignorant of its potential impact on the environment.

Mostly this impact, if it ever happens, will be from re-leasing nutrient rich waste-water into the environment. But right now, shrimp farms are responsible for less than 15 percent of all the nitrogen released into the Belize environment if you include sew-erage, agricultural fertilizers and rainfall.

Belize shrimp farmers have been quick to learn from the mistakes of others, and have changed the way their farms are built and op-erated so they can reduce their potential to impact the environment. Probably the most important of these practices has been the use of specially designed treatment ponds to keep waste-water from spilling directly into the environment. These ponds work like home septic tanks by holding back waste-water solids and keeping them from entering coastal waters, where they can cause problems.

Other practices include the proper use of wetlands to absorb dilute waste-water effluent (at. the suggestion of environmental biologists) and the use of aeration and feed-trays to reduce feed waste. All new shrimp farms in Belize have oneor more of these facilities designed into their master plan. Four of the five shrimp farms located on the Placencia Lagoon have already built and are presently using specially designed ponds to trap and treat waste water. The fifth farm is not operational, but will have such ponds when it goes back into operation.

Perhaps more importantly however is that all the new farms are implementing these design concessions because they are good for business. Why? Because keeping the coastal waters clean means healthier shrimp crops and high product quality. Reducing waste-water also means better food conversion, lower operating costs and more profit. Think about it! If Belize's shrimp farmers spoil the coastal water, they will lose money and go out of business. That is definitely not the plan. I have been around the industry a bit as some readers will know, and I can tell you that as far as shrimp farming is concerned, Belize's industry probably has the highest environmental integrity of any shrimp faming country in the world - bar none.

But that does not mean the work is finished, or that we can forget about it. Quite to the contrary, there will always be work to do. Right now for example, some studies are needed to find out how much waste-water an acre of wet land needs to thrive on. That's right. I said to thrive, because wet-lands can use shrimp farm waste-water as food; they can help reduce its impact on the environ-ment. Go look at the farms and you will see for yourself. Belize's shrimp farmers are so into this idea that some of them are actually planting mangroves along their waste-water canals. Can you believe that? How many mangroves has anyone else planted lately! But the question remains as to how much is the right amount, and after that question gets answered, there will be many more, and so it goes.

One thing is for sure though. We will never A have a perfect world on earth if environmental and development advocates turn a deaf ear to each other in the belief that only one of them is right!

Hear what I say, because in the absence of responsible environmental planning, development will destroy the environment. And in the absence of development, poverty will do the same. So in the final analysis, they ei-ther start listening to each other and working together, or we lose it all! Because it's win-win or die!


This message sent to the Bz-Culture Mailing List from "Mary V. Toy"

Peter- it's Tom (not Thorn) Grimshaw, and he's an American. I've been told (don't know for a fact, but the source seems to be reliable) that he is angling for a consulting contract with the Department of the Environment and is also doing some consulting work for at least one of the proposed new or expansion shrimp farms. I believe Mr. Grimshaw also operated a shrimp farm (that failed) and a freshwater fish farm (that also failed).

By the way, what's he's saying is true - and no one argues that responsible shrimp farming has a possibility to be good for a country. However, you simply can't allow 15,000 acres of shrimp farms without knowing the carrying capacity of the water that will be receiving the effluent from the farms.

The Placencia Lagoon is VERY slow moving with a VERY low flush rate, meaning it has a high pollution susceptibility. Yet, Mr. Grimshaw has stated that it can absorb 3 times the number of shrimp farms now in the pipeline for the Lagoon. What he's saying is directly contradictory to the UNDP report prepared for the Belize government in 1997.

As I've said over and over again, it's not just the shrimp farms, but the combination of ALL of the potential pollutants in the Placencia Lagoon that is going to kill our fish (and a lot of people in Seine Bight still rely on the Lagoon for food - NOT tourism). Not just the shrimp farms, but also the residential and commercial developments, illegal cutting of mangrove, sanitary wastes, etc.

That's why we need to know something about the Placencia Lagoon environment - which we don't. Seems to me that if the shrimp farm industry is so responsible, they'd all ante up the money necessary to do the required studies - by completely independent and qualified people - and then follow the recommendations. The Belize Department of the Environment estimates that a full baseline study will cost around $300,000 USD. 7 shrimp farms = $42,857.14 per farm - not a lot of money with the profits that can be made quickly by these operations.

Oh, and about the mangroves. Nitrogen-rich effluent from shrimp farms CAN benefit mangroves, but that doesn't mean it will do the fish and other marine life in the receiving waters any good. Peter, I'm sure you know that the Lagoon and sea water is ogliotrophic, that is, nutrient poor and oxygen rich. The fish and other marine life that thrive in that kind of environment will die if the water becomes nutrient rich and oxygen poor, that is, eutrophic. And that doesn't even take into account phosphorus, nitrates, ammonia and other substances in shrimp farm effluent - or changes in salinity in the receiving waters.

(By the way, the Belize Department of the Environment estimates that by the year 2010, more than 250 metric tons of elemental nitrogen will be released into the Placencia Lagoon each year!)

And then there's the issue of how exactly the shrimp farms will benefit Belize. With a couple of exceptions, they're all owned primarily by foreigners. In the case of Bluewater Aquaculture, which owns Laguna Madre, Laguna Toldeo and the shrimp farm and hatchery in Ladyville and Ambergris Caye, majority ownership is in a family partnership of Milton V. Petersen, a real estate developer from Washington D.C. Other owners are the Invus Group, an investment group out of New York, the Starich Group, a large, multinational aquaculture corporation and the CDC (Commonwealth Development Corporation), a quasi-governmental agency of the British government.

Tex-Mar, Royal Crustacean, Royal Maya and Paradise Shrimp Farms down here are also almost entirely foreign owned. So, the money doesn't stay here in Belize. And then there are the tax concessions - up to 10 years on some taxes, perpetual tax abatement on other taxes if the farm gets EPZ status (which Laguna Madre has). Oh yeah, and then there's the duty exemptions. As you know, the shrimp doesn't even stay here to feed Belizeans - it goes to the U.S., Canada and Western Europe. (Red Lobster, owned by Darden Restaurants, a Florida corporation, will purchase most of Belize's shrimp production, just as it does with our lobster.)

So how, exactly, does Belize benefit when the farms pay little or no taxes, get land dirt cheap from the government, and the owners are mostly foreigners? Plus, if they do pollute the environment and cause fish kills, who pays to clean it up? Not them - - little old you and me, that's who.

Laguna Madre and Laguna Toledo have said in their environmental information (it's there in black and white) that they do plan to use cypermethrin on their dry ponds to control pests - fatal to lobster and other marine life. Mr. Grimshaw also didn't mention the antibiotics that get released into the water - - and shrimp farms use a lot of antibiotics. Doctors fear that eating shrimp and drinking water with all those antibiotics in it can cause us humans to develop immunity to the good effects of the antibiotics when we need them.

Also, I'd like somebody to answer the question of how many people will be employed by a farm, and what the wages are. Harvesting and packing are temporary, seasonal and low-paying jobs. The technical jobs are currently held by non-Belizeans -- primarily Hondurans and Guatemalans. The UNDP report prepared for CZMA specifically recommends a program to put ownership of ponds into the hands of ordinary Belizeans, and that technical programs be developed to train Belizeans for the decent-paying positions now held by foreigners. Do you think this will be done?

Then there's the sludge from the bottom of ponds - lots and lots of it, especially from intensive and super-intensive operations. What happens to that?

Come on - if we're going to invest in shrimp farming as a country, why can't it be done right? What's so wrong with wanting to do things properly? Why does this have to be a hurry up and get going thing, when nothing else seems to be? Anybody want to take a wild guess?

Couple of questions come to mind, when reading these opposing views! How much is the government tax bite on the shrimp farm industry? What is shrimp farming worth in taxes to pay for bureaucrats and politicians? Since local employment is neglible and the shrimp are exported and the history of shrimp farming everywhere else in the world has collapsed with disastrous consequences to the local environmental habitat, what exactly are we as a country getting out of this in dollars?

Then, there is the question of these waste water nutrient rich ponds that are supposed to be the latest technological answer to pollution problems and loss of terrain for future farming operations. I understand they are planting mangroves. That has to be a good thing. Wonder how much mangrove you need to do the conversion job? Are the shrimp farmers doing that? Who is inspecting these shrimp farms? Do the shrimp farming operations pay a special tax, for oversight by government inspectors? The baseline study of Placentia Lagoon is important! As Mary Toy pointed out, the balance is critical for the shrimp, fishing and lobster industry of the coral reefs and inner sea, as this is their nursery, which in equivalent terms would be the hatchery for a shrimp farm. Should shrimp farms pay $5000 a year toward a fund to pay for baseline studies and ongoing Placentia Lagoon studies, to see that the lagoon nursery is not imbalanced?

If the mangroves do not convert the waste water completely naturally, what happens to this pollution in the ponds? Where does it go? How is it dealt with? Is there some kind of law, or contractual agreement that 50% of the profits earned for foreign exchange, be spent within the country of Belize for new investments? Or is 100% of the foreign exchange in profits exported without use to Belize? Can 50% of the profits be used to establish a Software Company Industry in Belize? Or perhaps, a light manufacturing industry to make brass musical instruments, or something similar?

The debate is interesting and we should congratulate the contributors on well thought out viewpoints.

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