Shrimp Aquaculture Development and the Environment: People, Mangroves and Fisheries on the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras
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B. R. Dewalt, P. Vergne, & M. Hardin


Beginning in the early 198Os, the Gulf of Fonseca in southern Honduras experienced a boom in aquaculture and became the second largest producer of farm-raised shrimp in the Western Hemisphere. Aquacultural development, however, has been accompanied by concern about: (a) destruction of mangrove forest, (b) depletion of fishing stocks, (c) disappearance of seasonal lagoons, and (d) deteriorating water quality. We demonstrate that environmental degradation resulted from a multiplicity of causes including aquaculture, increasing numbers of fishermen, harmful agricultural practices, and poor governmental policies and regulation. We recommend immediate steps that should be taken to protect the natural environment and create a sustainable aquaculture.

Main Results and Conclusions:
  • The 1980s marked the beginning of large-scale mangrove habitat degradation in Honduras, especially in the Gulf of Fonseca, when “…resource-poor individuals began to relocate to the sparsely populated coastal region of mangrove, mud flats, estuaries, and seasonal lagoons around the Gulf of Fonseca. Unsuitable for large-scale cultivation of crops, pasture, or most other commercial uses, this area became increasingly populated by migrants from other municipalities in the south” (1196).
  • Capital investors began investing in shrimp export in the mid 1980s. This caused mass conversion of coastal habitat, including mangrove forests, to shrimp farms (~11,500 ha) (1196). Conflict ensued as more and more land was converted: “Bitter conflicts have arisen among individuals and companies who believe they hold overlapping concessions, and with individuals and communities who believe that shrimp farms are illegally expanding into reserve areas or encroaching on community lands” (1197).
  • The main disputes over shrimp farming in the Gulf of Fonseca are as follows:
    • “Shrimp farms illegally deprive fishermen, farmers, and others of access to estuaries, lagoons and other areas to which they have rights.
    • “In the process of construction, shrimp farms cut major quantities of mangrove (deforestation), a vital part of the Gulfs ecosystem.
    • “Shrimp farms have taken over, or through construction of dikes or roads (coastal development) have altered the hydrology of, seasonal lagoons (lagunas del invierno).
    • “Shrimp farms created the decline of the fisheries of the Gulf through their shrimp larva-gathering activities. In gathering shrimp larva, the fry of many fish are also caught and these are discarded on the beach
    • “Ecological problems in the Gulf of Fonseca are due mainly to the severe soil erosion resulting from the unsustainable agriculture in the mountains. The increased siltation is tilling the estuaries, affecting water quality and causing the destruction of mangroves.
    • “Resource-poor people around the Gulf are primarily responsible for the destruction of mangroves because they cut them for fuelwood. (Deforestation).
    • “People in local communities expect the shrimp companies to simply give them resources. Thefts of shrimp from the ponds are common and it is for this reason that the farms have had to erect fences and hire armed guards.
    • “Eco-terrorists (eco-terroristas) are working in the zone; they are agitators who are stirring up sentiment against the companies simply to try to extract economic payoffs for themselves”(1197).
  • Mangrove destruction has been severe:
    • “The total loss of mature, forested mangrove stands is estimated at 6,760 hectares or 22% of the area of dense mangrove (30,697 hectares) in 1973” (1198-1199). (Deforestation).
    • “Of the total of 11,515 hectares now in shrimp farms, approximately 37.4% (4,307 hectares) was developed in areas once covered by mature, stress or dwarf mangroves”(1199).
    • Other factors that have contributed to about two thirds of mangrove habitat loss are “the construction of salt ponds, trees used for firewood and construction materials and gathering of bark from the red mangrove for the tanning industry…”(1199).
    • **When the paper was written, the Honduran government had an additional 20,000 ha of land allotted for shrimp farm concessions. With this, the above mangrove loss may be significantly lower than that of today.
  • Many recommendations are given regarding more environmentally friendly shrimp farming practices. Of these recommendations, the following relates to mangroves:
    • “The loss of mangrove (actual or vegetation cover) needs to be curtailed. Research on and promotion of planting native and/or introduced tree species on woodlots to provide fuel and construction needs may be effective in reducing the pressure on mangroves as well as create income opportunities for resource-poor farmers. Solar evaporation techniques in salt production and use of alternatives to tanbark in the tanning industry have already reduced mangrove consumption”(1204-1205).
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