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Somewhere between 300 billion and 400 billion shrimps per year [are produced for human consumption], and that’s farmed shrimps alone. That’s equivalent to the number of humans who have ever walked the Earth.

When we look at wild-caught shrimps, the numbers go into the tens of trillions. That and the sentience evidence is what made me and Aaron to just say that we need to do this.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla

In this episode of 80k After Hours, Rob Wiblin interviews Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla about the Shrimp Welfare Project, which he cofounded in 2021. It’s the first project in the world focused on shrimp welfare specifically and now has six full-time staff.

They cover:

  • The evidence for shrimp sentience
  • How farmers and the public feel about shrimp
  • The scale of the problem
  • What shrimp farming looks like
  • The killing process, and other welfare issues
  • Shrimp Welfare Project’s strategy
  • History of shrimp welfare work
  • What it’s like working in India and Vietnam
  • How to help

Who this episode is for:

  • People who care about animal welfare
  • People interested in new and unusual problems
  • People open to shrimp sentience

Who this episode isn’t for:

  • People who think shrimp couldn’t possibly be sentient
  • People who got called ‘shrimp’ a lot in high school and get anxious when they hear the word over and over again

Get this episode by subscribing to our more experimental podcast on the world’s most pressing problems and how to solve them: type ’80k After Hours’ into your podcasting app. Or read the transcript below.

Producer: Keiran Harris
Audio mastering: Ben Cordell and Ryan Kessler
Transcriptions: Katy Moore

Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue, original 1924 version” by Jason Weinberger is licensed under creative commons

Highlights

Shrimp sentience

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: What scientists found out is that, for those species that have been extensively researched, there is very good evidence that they’re sentient. What they say is the evidence in some other species is not as strong, but it’s only because they haven’t been researched for sentience purposes as much as other species — like, for example, crabs and octopuses, as you said.

Rob Wiblin: What sort of criteria are they using? When they study a species to try to figure out whether it’s sentient, what sort of things are they looking at to try to reach an evaluation?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah. That’s a good point, because it’s very difficult to have a smoking gun that tells you that an animal is sentient. So in this specific case, what they did is they looked at eight different indicators of sentience. Those included whether they had nociceptors, so the right body parts to detect noxious stimuli; whether they had protective behaviours, adaptive behaviours, if anaesthesia was applied to certain body parts — whether their reaction changed, which would indicate that it’s not a reflex, things like that. Then they ranked whether the evidence was very high, high, to moderately low, et cetera, for each individual species. Then they came up with an overall assessment that all cephalopods and decapods should be protected by UK animal welfare law and eventually they did. This was a report that was commissioned by the UK government to the London School of Economics. It was very independent research.

Rob Wiblin: OK, so shrimp respond to injuries. They probably learn from negative experiences that they have. Did they respond to anaesthetic? I know that’s one of the tests that people sometimes use.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: There’s a paper that shows the responses that different decapods have to anaesthetics, as you said. With shrimps in particular, what they do is they pinch one of the antennas. They see how they behave: they flick their tails, they jump out of the water, et cetera. And then in the second stage, they apply anaesthetics and repeat the experiment, and the behaviour changes significantly. The time that they rub their little antenna is much, much lower. They probably swim normally, quicker, and things like that.

Rob Wiblin: I see. They are tending to injuries, and they tend to them less when they’re given anaesthetic. As an aside, it’s remarkable to me that anaesthetics that we’ve presumably developed for humans also work on shrimp. They’re so far away in the phylogenetic tree of life, and yet so much of the basic machinery of feeling seems to be similar enough.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s true. One of the arguments that some people made used to be that opioids don’t necessarily work the same in some of the animals. As you’ve said, not necessarily all of the anaesthetics need to work the same. But researchers have found anaesthetics that do apply and do have an effect on animals, and it changes behaviour.

What shrimp farming looks like

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: For a shrimp to get to someone’s plate, it goes through 20 different hands. Let’s imagine it’s a shrimp that was raised in India. Someone in India who works at a hatchery — which is the facility where the babies are hatched — would have had to buy a sexually reproductively mature animal from somewhere in the US. Texas or Hawaii, typically — they’re the dominants in the market. They would have brought the animals to India, put them in maturation tanks, held them for a few months.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Typically, the females would go through this eyestalk ablation practice, which essentially is cutting or slicing or crushing one or two of the eyes to induce egg laying. Then they would lay the eggs. They would spawn, typically, in these plastic-lined small circular tanks. They spend about 30 days there.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: When they’ve become juveniles — which is a stage at which they call postlarvae, at day 30 or 40 — they would scoop them out and either take them to the grow-out ponds, where they spend the rest of their lives. Or — if it’s a system where they’re using nurseries — they might go to a separate intermediate pond, where they grow another month in similar plastic-lined tanks to get them to a later stage in their lives, which makes them more resilient.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Eventually, they all get to these grow-out ponds, which are just large tanks, somewhere close to a coast, most likely in Asia. There, they spend another 50 to 120 days, depending on the size of the prawn that a farmer wants to get to. Then there’s the whole issue of slaughter, processing, selling, et cetera.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: There are several different systems, and the intensity of the production systems vary wildly. In Latin America, for example, they use mostly what they call “extensive” methods. It’s in earthen ponds — very, very large ponds: a couple of hectares, maybe, of water, about one metre and a half in depth. In those systems, there’s maybe five to 10 animals per square metre. They’re typically not fed, and there’s no mechanical aeration. Then you have all the way up to the super-intensive systems, where they’re tiny ponds, maybe just a few metres in diameter, plastic-lined, indoor, highly managed water aeration everywhere, and several hundred animals per cubic metre, as you say.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: The profitability really increases, but the level of investment that’s required to get to those other systems also increases dramatically. One of the things that we work on, which you correctly said, is crowdedness. Depending on the system, there are levels where the water just cannot sustain the biological demand that the animals place on the water, so they become sick.

How do farmers feel about their shrimp?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s something that surprised us. When we did a survey in India, it’s a small sample, but we asked whether they felt that their shrimps could feel pain and stress, and 95% of them said yes. One of them actually had a very endearing answer saying that he spent more time with his animals than he did with his family and that, if his friends suffered, he said, “I also suffer.”

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It’s very interesting. On the other hand, I think it’s unsurprising, because these people spend a significant amount of time seeing the behaviour of the animals. They’re much less skewed than consumers, who never see them alive. I’m almost betting that you or your audience have very rarely ever seen an image of a shrimp that’s alive and swimming. Most of them will have just seen them in cocktails.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: These farmers just see them all the time. They see them when they’re sick. They see them when they’re feeding, when they’re swimming about — so they really care about them.

Rob Wiblin: I see. So they’re exposed and seeing shrimp all the time. It sounds like their behaviour is moderately complicated, that they’re doing interesting things that make them seem smart enough and reactive and responsive enough to circumstances that it’s very natural to feel that they can suffer or experience pleasure the same way that dogs or pigs do.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Exactly. I couldn’t have put it better. It’s very difficult to see them in farms, because the water in which they’re raised typically has high turbidity — it’s very murky. But once you actually see them — sometimes in tanks and in trade conferences and things like that — when they’re fed, they swim, they catch their feed, they take it to a little corner where each of them can eat it in peace. It’s very rare to see them behaving. There’s good research ongoing to understand behavioural issues of shrimps. It’s underway.

How many shrimp are produced for human consumption each year?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s a very good question, and it’s not one that’s easy to answer because, contrary to many terrestrial species, aquatic animals are not counted as individuals. All we get is tonnage produced worldwide, and even there, the tonnage varies widely. There are some countries that the market sort of estimates that their official figures are not super reliable. But in terms of tonnage, it’s somewhere between 4.5 million tonnes to 6 million tonnes worldwide.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: When we translate it into individuals, that is somewhere between 300 billion and 400 billion shrimps per year, and that’s farmed shrimps alone. Just to give your audience a bit of context, that’s equivalent to the number of humans who have ever walked the Earth. The numbers are huge, and that’s just farmed. When we look at wild-caught shrimps — the ones that are caught in the ocean by the large fishing vessels — the numbers go into the tens of trillions. I’ve seen some estimates in the range of 30 trillion animals per year. That and the sentience evidence is what made me and Aaron to just say that we need to do this.

Rob Wiblin: I see. What fraction of all shrimp that are consumed by people are produced using farming, as opposed to being caught wild?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It’s more than half. I don’t have it in the top of my head, but I believe it’s somewhere between 55 to 60%.

Rob Wiblin: OK, so there are 300 or 400 billion shrimp being raised in these farms, roughly, each year. You said there’s like 30 trillion shrimp, of some sort, being caught wild. How do you make that consistent with the idea that farming is probably a majority of all human consumption?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: The difference is that the species that are caught in the ocean are typically much smaller animals, so maybe the weight of your typical farmed prawn would be 10 times higher — or, well, the number that would imply these differences that I mentioned. It’s a difference in species.

Rob Wiblin: I see, so the wild ones are kind of those tiny little shrimp that you might imagine.

Shrimp Welfare Project strategy

Rob Wiblin: So is your current primary strategy to basically collect information that helps to support the case that current stocking densities are too high from the shrimp industry’s own point of view — in terms of maximising its bottom line — and basically persuade them from a primarily economic case that they should reduce stocking densities, because it’s both good for the shrimp and good for them?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yes, I think that’s a fair way to say it. We want to start doing some pilot programmes with farmers in both India and Vietnam to try this out, to help them monitor their water quality more frequently and also to stock at lower densities, and show them that that’s a viable alternative. Those are the two things that we’re focusing on the most. And we’re exploring different pathways — some are through large events, with many, many different farmers, some are partnerships with universities — and we’re seeing which one turns out to be more promising.

Rob Wiblin: What is the Shrimp Welfare Project’s relationship with the shrimp farming industry? How do they feel about you, and how do you present yourself?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: We have decided to position ourselves as collaborative with industry. We definitely considered at the beginning the whole spectrum of being closer to industry or being more antagonistic. We feel that there is space for the whole spectrum, but in order for us to have an impact sooner rather than later — and because there are things that can be done that are not necessarily in huge opposition to industry — we thought that positioning ourselves as working collaboratively would be a safer or a better bet.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Influencing legislation we think can be very impactful, particularly influencing trade legislation in the importing countries. Most of the shrimps are produced in Asia — and as we discussed, a little bit in Latin America — and most of them are then exported to the US, the EU and UK, and Japan. So if these countries or regions were to increase or raise the bar of animal welfare for their imports, then that could be extremely impactful. We felt that we were potentially not the best positioned to do that, and that it might be extremely high leverage, but might take longer — and that someone also needed to help these animals today.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: As we grow our team in the future — as you mentioned, we’re less than one year into existence — we’ll potentially consider whether we expand into other areas. We could have also really focused on just campaigning for more awareness with consumers in Europe, US. We haven’t done that yet. We might in the future. I think with consumers, when we speak about the way that shrimps are produced, everyone essentially says that they would’ve liked to know that. It’s the same with most of the way that our food is produced — be it vegetables, but particularly animal protein and aquaculture — I think most people are really completely in the dark.

Articles, books, and other media discussed in the show

Andrés’ and Shrimp Welfare Project’s work:

Research that informed Shrimp Welfare Project’s approach:

Other organisations working in this space:

Ways to support this (and similar) work:

Transcript

Keiran’s intro [00:00:00]

Keiran Harris: Welcome to 80k After Hours. I’m Keiran Harris — producer of the show, and the reason disco got so popular.

Today’s episode is a great example of what I hoped we’d create for this show.

Here’s how it happened:

  • Rob Wiblin had an interesting conversation at a conference
  • He thought “what if I just kept this going for 80k After Hours?”
  • Today’s guest Andrés was in, so they set a date
  • Rob did very little prep
  • And here we are.

If, like me and Rob, you were sold just hearing the topic of shrimp welfare — I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

They cover:

  • The evidence for shrimp sentience
  • How farmers and the public feel about shrimp
  • The scale of the problem
  • What shrimp farming looks like
  • And much more

Alright, here’s Rob and Andres.

The interview begins [00:00:53]

Rob Wiblin: Today I’m speaking with Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla, CEO and cofounder of the Shrimp Welfare Project, a new organisation that sprung up from the effective altruism community last year, in 2021, through the Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program. Welcome to 80k After Hours, Andrés.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Thank you very much, Rob. Thanks for having me.

Rob Wiblin: I’m really excited to get to chat, because we got to speak very briefly about the Shrimp Welfare Project when you were in town for Effective Altruism Global in London a few months ago, and you really piqued my curiosity — because, naturally, I came into that conversation knowing nothing really about shrimp, let alone shrimp wellbeing. We didn’t get to speak for long, so I was left with a whole lot of followup questions that I wanted to ask.

Andrés’ background [00:01:31]

Rob Wiblin: Before we get to that though, can you maybe kick us off by telling us a thing or two about your personal background?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Sure. And it was my pleasure to catch up when I was in London. My background: I was born and raised in Mexico. I grew up in a small city called San Luis Potosí. I eventually moved to Mexico City to go to uni; I studied economics. Eventually, I went into finance, where I have worked for most of my professional career. I worked in investment banking and private equity for Morgan Stanley for several years in Mexico, in mergers and acquisitions, and eventually also in capital markets. Then I transferred to London, also with Morgan Stanley, where I did private equity real estate. In 2010, I moved to Doha with my wife to work for the Sovereign Wealth Fund of the state of Qatar to do similar work. Eventually, I came back to Europe again to lead the operations in Spain and Portugal for another European real estate private equity fund. Eventually, I left that in 2018, and I started looking at ways to do good in the world. That’s how Shrimp Welfare Project came about.

Rob Wiblin: So you’re doing something off the beaten track now, but you had a pretty normal, prestigious career at Morgan Stanley in asset management, mergers and acquisitions. It doesn’t exactly scream that you’re about to go and start an animal welfare charity, especially one focused on shrimp. How did you first learn about effective altruism?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Through my wife. My wife has always been the force of good in our household. She’s a social worker. She’s always been doing good with her professional time. And when I started seriously considering switching careers completely, she was my sounding board to ask her for things that I could do.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I was always very interested in animal welfare, so at some point between 2018 and when I started Shrimp Welfare Project, I was interested in starting an animal sanctuary. It never really felt completely right, because I had no skills whatsoever in that area. It felt that the actual skills I had picked up in my professional time would be kind of wasted.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Eventually, she emailed me something that she got from a friend, saying, “There’s this thing, effective altruism, it looks to be up your alley. It’s doing good with evidence, numbers, et cetera. I think you’ll like it.” And I just started going down the rabbit hole and really loved it. I started reading a bunch of books about effective altruism and The Precipice, and I reread Animal Liberation, and eventually came across Charity Entrepreneurship — and everything fell into place.

Rob Wiblin: I see. So when did you learn about the Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It might have been late 2019, or early 2020 perhaps. When I applied, I always thought that they were going to figure me out, and say, “This guy, who’s been doing real estate forever, we’re not going to let him into the programme. He knows nothing about charities.”

Rob Wiblin: Yeah.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: But I applied. I went through the application process, and eventually, I got in. I kept thinking that they would figure me out, but then I realised that a lot of people had very diverse backgrounds. Some people had been in altruism and other people had just been in entrepreneurship. Other people just were very smart. Everyone was pretty smart.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. I would think that they’d be super impressed by the kind of professional experience that you have. You could actually bring a whole lot of knowledge that would be unusual among the rest of the cohort and potentially pair up with someone who has perhaps been involved in the charity side of things for a bit longer — which it sounds like maybe something like that has happened.

Rob Wiblin: When you came into the cohort, you didn’t have a particular idea for what organisation you were going to start, right? You were coming in basically to try to both match with a cofounder and match with an idea.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s correct. Some people were very clear on the idea that they wanted to found, and they were very attracted to a very specific thing that they felt very strongly about or were emotionally attached to. I really care about animals, but I care deeply about humans. I care about many things, and it just looked like it was a good opportunity to explore.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: There were many of the ideas that really spoke to me. There was one that was a postpartum family planning intervention in Ghana, which I loved, and I think they’re repeating it this year. There was another one to modernise alcohol taxation policies, which eventually became an organisation, which I really, really liked. They had two animal interventions: one was to improve the feed of egg-laying hens to avoid bone fractures — and that became the Healthier Hens organisation that now exists — and the other one was shrimps.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Frankly, when I read about shrimps, I thought, “This is very idiosyncratic.” I had cared deeply about animals for a very long time, but shrimps had never crossed my mind. But when I read about the numbers, the evidence of sentience, et cetera, et cetera, it was like lifting the veil, and I couldn’t go back. And then my cofounder was really interested in this one, and we really hit it off. So, everything worked out.

Rob Wiblin: OK, so you were somewhat persuaded by learning more about shrimp and learning about the evidence in favour of, and I guess also the evidence against, them being sentient and potentially being able to suffer. I guess there’s also just the sheer numbers of shrimp out there, and the fact that the area seems pretty neglected — there’s not a lot of other groups involved. Were there other motivations for choosing shrimp welfare over the other options?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: There was one additional one, which was my counterfactual impact. It felt that the programme really needed four cofounders, or eventually there were five, who were interested in animal charities. But there was a probability that one of the charities would not be founded, if not all of us who were interested in animals decided to found one. I thought alcohol taxation looked extremely promising, but there were people who were much better placed than me to do that, who knew a tonne. Shrimp doesn’t immediately speak to absolutely everyone, and it did to me.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It felt like there was a chance that it would not be founded if Aaron, my cofounder, and I did not decide to go forward with that. So that was another motivation, in addition to the ones that you mentioned.

History of shrimp welfare work [00:07:59]

Rob Wiblin: Has anyone worked on shrimp welfare before? And before you go on, I should say, in Australia we call shrimp “prawns” — I think, in some countries, they are called prawns, right?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s correct. I think in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, maybe I’m missing a couple, you would call them prawns. In other parts of the world, they call them shrimps. I think king prawns, as well. In order to avoid confusion in industry and academia, we mostly refer to the species that we focus on as vannamei, and we also work with monodon, which are king prawn and tiger prawn. That would be another way to call them.

Rob Wiblin: I see. When you arrived at this topic, what had already been done, or what was being done, if anything?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s a really good question. I think there have been people who’ve done amazing work in the past. To the credit of the effective altruism community, I must say that the topic of invertebrate suffering and invertebrate aquatic suffering is much more prominent in the EA community than it is in the animal movement at large.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: But there had been a few campaigns run by organisations, like campaigns by Animals Australia with eyestalk ablation, which we’ll talk about later. There was an interesting one in Japan called #shrimpmatter. Compassion in World Farming is doing a few things, running pilot programmes, and then there’s Crustacean Compassion, Aquatic Life Institute, and a few other organisations that are focusing in animals that include shrimps. But, as far as I’m aware, the only other organisation that focuses exclusively on shrimps is one small one in the Philippines called Tambuyog Development Center. I think we are the only ones who focus exclusively on this issue.

Rob Wiblin: One of the things you read early on that helped persuade you was an article written by Rethink Priorities, where they were basically just evaluating what we know about this topic, the basic facts. We’ll stick up a link to that article, if it’s online. Is that right?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s correct. All this work Rethink Priorities has done around sentience with many different species was very useful for my cofounder and I to decide whether the evidence pointed towards strong probability that these animals are sentient. Also, Rethink Priorities are some of the people who have done the best estimates of the number of individual animals that are involved in the shrimp business. So their work, in general, was very, very useful. FishEthoBase was also very good. I think some of this work might not be published though.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. OK.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: We’ve been lucky that there’s been a lot of stuff published in the past few months that solidifies our position that shrimps are sentient.

What shrimp farming looks like [00:11:13]

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. Let’s get into the technical stuff. What does shrimp farming look like?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s a very good question. I hope not to go on at too much length, but for a shrimp to get to someone’s plate, it goes through 20 different hands. Let’s imagine it’s a shrimp that was raised in India. Someone in India who works at a hatchery — which is the facility where the babies are hatched — would have had to buy a sexually reproductively mature animal from somewhere in the US. Texas or Hawaii, typically — they’re the dominants in the market. They would have brought the animals to India, put them in maturation tanks, held them for a few months.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Typically, the females would go through this eyestalk ablation practice, which essentially is cutting or slicing or crushing one or two of the eyes to induce egg laying. Then they would lay the eggs. They would spawn, typically, in these plastic-lined small circular tanks. They spend about 30 days there.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: When they’ve become juveniles — which is a stage at which they call postlarvae, at day 30 or 40 — they would scoop them out and either take them to the grow-out ponds, where they spend the rest of their lives. Or — if it’s a system where they’re using nurseries — they might go to a separate intermediate pond, where they grow another month in similar plastic-lined tanks to get them to a later stage in their lives, which makes them more resilient.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Eventually, they all get to these grow-out ponds, which are just large tanks, somewhere close to a coast, most likely in Asia. There, they spend another 50 to 120 days, depending on the size of the prawn that a farmer wants to get to. Then there’s the whole issue of slaughter, processing, selling, et cetera.

Rob Wiblin: OK, so there’s this hatching process, and then basically they spend most of their life — which I guess is three to six months — in these fairly large pools. These are mostly artificial pools in the intensive ones — which make up most of the industry — where I guess they’re just constantly fed, and they scuttle around in these big plastic tanks. The crowdedness varies, but obviously they’re packed in pretty closely because that is the thing that, at least plausibly, is the most productive from the farm’s point of view. They’ve only got so much land and so many tanks, and they want to make as much prawn as possible.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s correct. There are several different systems, and the intensity of the production systems vary wildly. In Latin America, for example, they use mostly what they call “extensive” methods. It’s in earthen ponds — very, very large ponds: a couple of hectares, maybe, of water, about one metre and a half in depth. In those systems, there’s maybe five to 10 animals per square metre. They’re typically not fed, and there’s no mechanical aeration. Then you have all the way up to the super-intensive systems, where they’re tiny ponds, maybe just a few metres in diameter, plastic-lined, indoor, highly managed water aeration everywhere, and several hundred animals per cubic metre, as you say.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: The profitability really increases, but the level of investment that’s required to get to those other systems also increases dramatically. One of the things that we work on, which you correctly said, is crowdedness. Depending on the system, there are levels where the water just cannot sustain the biological demand that the animals place on the water, so they become sick.

Rob Wiblin: I see. OK, we’ll come back to that. Unlike us, they don’t have to drink, but they need oxygen. I suppose when they’re very crowded, then not enough oxygen is getting into the water naturally, so you have to be aerating it, in order to sustain them. Otherwise they’ll start suffocating. Also, they need food. In the more intensive ones, where they’re feeding them, what are they giving them?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: You’re right. They need oxygen, so they’re aerated. Then they need the water to be within certain parameters — the pH and a number of other variables. In terms of the feed, they’re typically fed pellets, which are produced by feed manufacturers and have typically a good percentage of fish oil and fish meal, which is produced from what’s called “trash fish” — which is not a term that I really like. It’s just other fish. That’s why, when people talk about eating fish that are fed other fish, the impact in terms of suffering and the environmental burden that it places on the food production systems worldwide is really intense. Shrimps need to have a certain content of protein that comes typically from fish and oil.

Rob Wiblin: Is that kind of bycatch fish that isn’t sellable to humans because it’s too low quality, or is this so-called trash fish also grown in aquaculture?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: No, it’s typically what you mentioned at the beginning. It’s not always a fish that is not sellable to humans, but most of it is. That is the goal of the feed manufacturers: to use more and more of that type of bycatch to at least somewhat minimise the impact that the fishery industry has.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. You mentioned that in Latin America, they tend to use this extensive farming method, which I guess involves much larger pools. I’m guessing these are like natural lakes or something, rather than in plastic containers, and they’re doing it at a much lower density. Why do they use that approach in Latin America?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I think it has mostly to do with the type of water and type of soil that they have and the climate. In Ecuador — which is the largest producer by far in Latin America — along the Guayas River, there’s a very natural flow of water into the ponds. Whereas in Asia, these ponds need to be filled many times with bore water. It’s easier for them to have that natural oxygenation of the ponds, and the maintenance of the water quality in it naturally.

Rob Wiblin: You said they’re not feeding them, so I guess they’re eating algae, like they would in a natural environment?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Exactly. It’s algae and phytoplankton, and what is called the “primary productivity” of the pond — there’s just nutrients in the water that the shrimps would typically eat. In more intensive systems, the reason why you cannot do that is just because you have way too many animals for that natural feed that’s suspended in the water to feed all of the animals. So that’s why you need these pellets.

Rob Wiblin: How many shrimp are produced for human consumption each year, roughly?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s a very good question, and it’s not one that’s easy to answer because, contrary to many terrestrial species, aquatic animals are not counted as individuals. All we get is tonnage produced worldwide, and even there, the tonnage varies widely. There are some countries that the market sort of estimates that their official figures are not super reliable. But in terms of tonnage, it’s somewhere between 4.5 million tonnes to 6 million tonnes worldwide.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: When we translate it into individuals, that is somewhere between 300 billion and 400 billion shrimps per year, and that’s farmed shrimps alone. Just to give your audience a bit of context, that’s equivalent to the number of humans who have ever walked the Earth. The numbers are huge, and that’s just farmed. When we look at wild-caught shrimps — the ones that are caught in the ocean by the large fishing vessels — the numbers go into the tens of trillions. I’ve seen some estimates in the range of 30 trillion animals per year. That and the sentience evidence is what made me and Aaron to just say that we need to do this.

Rob Wiblin: I see. What fraction of all shrimp that are consumed by people are produced using farming, as opposed to being caught wild?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It’s more than half. I don’t have it in the top of my head, but I believe it’s somewhere between 55 to 60%.

Rob Wiblin: OK, so there are 300 or 400 billion shrimp being raised in these farms, roughly, each year. You said there’s like 30 trillion shrimp, of some sort, being caught wild. How do you make that consistent with the idea that farming is probably a majority of all human consumption?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: The difference is that the species that are caught in the ocean are typically much smaller animals, so maybe the weight of your typical farmed prawn would be 10 times higher — or, well, the number that would imply these differences that I mentioned. It’s a difference in species.

Rob Wiblin: I see, so the wild ones are kind of those tiny little shrimp that you might imagine.

Shrimp sentience [00:20:44]

Rob Wiblin: Pushing on, how do shrimp farmers feel about their shrimp? Do they naturally care about their wellbeing, or see them as moral patients that can suffer?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s something that surprised us. When we did a survey in India, it’s a small sample, but we asked whether they felt that their shrimps could feel pain and stress, and 95% of them said yes. One of them actually had a very endearing answer saying that he spent more time with his animals than he did with his family and that, if his friends suffered, he said, “I also suffer.”

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It’s very interesting. On the other hand, I think it’s unsurprising, because these people spend a significant amount of time seeing the behaviour of the animals. They’re much less skewed than consumers, who never see them alive. I’m almost betting that you or your audience have very rarely ever seen an image of a shrimp that’s alive and swimming. Most of them will have just seen them in cocktails.

Rob Wiblin: Right.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: These farmers just see them all the time. They see them when they’re sick. They see them when they’re feeding, when they’re swimming about — so they really care about them.

Rob Wiblin: I see. So they’re exposed and seeing shrimp all the time. It sounds like their behaviour is moderately complicated, that they’re doing interesting things that make them seem smart enough and reactive and responsive enough to circumstances that it’s very natural to feel that they can suffer or experience pleasure the same way that dogs or pigs do.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Exactly. I couldn’t have put it better. It’s very difficult to see them in farms, because the water in which they’re raised typically has high turbidity — it’s very murky. But once you actually see them — sometimes in tanks and in trade conferences and things like that — when they’re fed, they swim, they catch their feed, they take it to a little corner where each of them can eat it in peace. It’s very rare to see them behaving. There’s good research ongoing to understand behavioural issues of shrimps. It’s underway.

Rob Wiblin: I see. So they’re perhaps more like crabs or lobsters or octopus even than one might imagine, in terms of just how their behaviour looks.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Exactly. That was the argument that the scientists at the London School of Economics made when they wrote this paper for the UK sentience bill recently, in November last year. They did a full review of the evidence of sentience of cephalopod mollusks and decapods, which are exactly the ones that you mentioned. What they found out is that, for those species that have been extensively researched, there is very good evidence that they’re sentient. What they say is the evidence in some other species is not as strong, but it’s only because they haven’t been researched for sentience purposes as much as other species — like, for example, crabs and octopuses, as you said.

Rob Wiblin: What sort of criteria are they using? When they study a species to try to figure out whether it’s sentient, what sort of things are they looking at to try to reach an evaluation?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah. That’s a good point, because it’s very difficult to have a smoking gun that tells you that an animal is sentient. So in this specific case, what they did is they looked at eight different indicators of sentience. Those included whether they had nociceptors, so the right body parts to detect noxious stimuli; whether they had protective behaviours, adaptive behaviours, if anaesthesia was applied to certain body parts — whether their reaction changed, which would indicate that it’s not a reflex, things like that. Then they ranked whether the evidence was very high, high, to moderately low, et cetera, for each individual species. Then they came up with an overall assessment that all cephalopods and decapods should be protected by UK animal welfare law and eventually they did. This was a report that was commissioned by the UK government to the London School of Economics. It was very independent research.

Rob Wiblin: OK, so shrimp respond to injuries. They probably learn from negative experiences that they have. Did they respond to anaesthetic? I know that’s one of the tests that people sometimes use.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: There’s a paper that shows the responses that different decapods have to anaesthetics, as you said. With shrimps in particular, what they do is they pinch one of the antennas. They see how they behave: they flick their tails, they jump out of the water, et cetera. And then in the second stage, they apply anaesthetics and repeat the experiment, and the behaviour changes significantly. The time that they rub their little antenna is much, much lower. They probably swim normally, quicker, and things like that.

Rob Wiblin: I see. They are tending to injuries, and they tend to them less when they’re given anaesthetic. As an aside, it’s remarkable to me that anaesthetics that we’ve presumably developed for humans also work on shrimp. They’re so far away in the phylogenetic tree of life, and yet so much of the basic machinery of feeling seems to be similar enough.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s true. One of the arguments that some people made used to be that opioids don’t necessarily work the same in some of the animals. As you’ve said, not necessarily all of the anaesthetics need to work the same. But researchers have found anaesthetics that do apply and do have an effect on animals, and it changes behaviour.

Rob Wiblin: OK, so we talked about how the farmers feel, and they pretty overwhelmingly think that probably there’s something that it’s like to be a shrimp, or at least that they suffer in some common-sense way. What do you know about the general public? I guess either in Spain or the UK, or the countries where shrimp farming actually occurs?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It has different layers. The first one is when the stakes of the conversation with people are not very high, and it’s just, “Do you think that these types of animals can feel stress and can feel pain?” Typically, there’s not a huge resistance to the idea that they do. When the conversation is about whether that has an ethical repercussion, then the reaction from other people tends to be a bit more protective of diets and things like that.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: And there, I think what we have found in some consumer research that my cofounder ran in Europe was that once people were shown even a very quick infographic of this idea — that decapods have been included in the UK sentience bill, and a couple of other things — the opinion of the people that we interviewed really changed dramatically to saying, “Oh, OK, that makes a big difference.” If it comes from independent research and has recently been reflected in UK law, then they grant credence to the fact that they are sentient. And we’ve even seen that, at least in this survey, they would be willing to pay a premium for higher-welfare shrimps — which we would have to see whether that really translates into an actual purchase change.

Rob Wiblin: But at least in principle, maybe.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah, exactly.

Rob Wiblin: An audience member was curious to know: do you feel viscerally motivated by the prospect of shrimp suffering, or is your interest and motivation somewhat more on the intellectual side?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: So until very recently, my response would’ve been completely on the intellectual side. It was not until I visited farms. I think most of us during our lifetimes will never visit a shrimp farm, or most people in the world will not visit a shrimp farm or see a shrimp being taken out of the water. But when my cofounder, our program director in India, and myself went to see what is called “harvesting” — which is the moment in which the animals are scooped out of the water and eventually put in crates and things like that — that process made me also viscerally care about this issue. But it definitely came through the more intellectual part.

The killing process [00:29:05]

Rob Wiblin: Right. Yeah, we haven’t talked about the slaughtering process, the killing process. I suppose people who don’t want to listen to this might want to skip forward a minute or two. But do you want to give us a brief summary of what that looks like?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah. So that’s one of the four areas that we focus on at Shrimp Welfare Project to improve the welfare or reduce the suffering of the animals. So slaughter, basically what happens is that when the farmers want to “harvest,” they call a team of people who basically have a net. They come and they drag a net from one side of the pond to the other, basically cornering the animals. They scoop them out with nets. Then they put them in crates where they’re drained of water so that they can weigh them without the water changing the weight that they’re actually selling to the next person. During this time they spend several minutes out of the water, without water, all on top of each other. So theoretically you could think that they’re crushing one another.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Eventually they’re weighed, and then they’re put in a separate crate where at least the best practices in the industry would dictate that they’re put in ice water slurry, where they will slowly become anaesthetised and die. What we have seen on several occasions is that actually, once they’re weighed and put in ice water slurry, they’re actually just put in another crate, where they put a little bit of ice on top of each layer of animals — which to me would look more to be just protecting the freshness of the product for human consumption, rather than really protective of the welfare of the animal.

Rob Wiblin: I see. Do shrimp suffocate when they’re out of water or is it just very uncomfortable for them?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: They do asphyxiate.

Rob Wiblin: So the suggested industry practice is to put them in a combination of water and ice that is sufficiently cold that they gradually lose consciousness. But in practice they’re putting the bare minimum ice on them, I suppose because that’s easier and saves costs and they’re kind of just doing the bare minimum that’s necessary to avoid them going bad basically, and not able to be sold for a good price.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah. That’s what I presume is the reason. I mean, there’s that, and there’s the fragmented chain of custody of shrimps — and I think of seafood in general. The processor who is buying it really cares potentially about the freshness, because stress in a moment of slaughter has been proven to deteriorate the quality of the tissue of the animals. So at least arguably, the processors would be interested in making sure that the animals suffer the least possible amount. But there’s at least one middleman between the farmer and the processing plant, and all he cares about is getting the shrimps from point A to point B and putting the most shrimps that they can in their trucks without the shrimps going bad. So yeah, I think it’s a bit of both.

Rob Wiblin: So I guess some of the shrimp that are not near ice would basically die of asphyxiation, and other ones might die of crushing, and others that are closer to the ice might die of freezing basically. So it’s various different ways that they actually cease to be conscious.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Correct. And when we first looked at this idea of putting the animals in ice water slurry, we thought that was, from some papers that we had read, at least a good attempt to try to protect their welfare or reduce their suffering. But at least in conversations with people who are now looking at this issue much more closely, some of them have expressed doubts to us, whether all ice actually does is that it slows bodily functions of the animals — and might even make them take longer to die, so potentially even just extending the suffering. I haven’t seen any academic paper published about this, but I’ve heard this from more than one academic.

Rob Wiblin: I see. So what in your mind then would be a less cruel way of slaughtering shrimp on a large scale?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It seems that electrical stunning might be a promising thing to do. That is what Compassion in World Farming is exploring with Tesco and some of their suppliers. I think there’s a very good chance that that is at least better than what happens today. We are aware of at least a couple of academics doing robust research on whether this actually is rendering the animals unconscious or rather just almost burning them alive. I think there’s a very good chance that this is a better alternative, and once the research comes out, we’d be interested in seeing how that technology is deployed further.

Rob Wiblin: Would this be while they’re in their original pools, you would run a massive electric current through the pool, such that they would all basically immediately be stunned or killed, and then you could scoop them out and weigh them and things like that? But hopefully they’d be unconscious from that point on?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: So that would be the ideal, absolutely, because that prevents the suffering between scooping them out of the water and the moment that they’re stunned. At the moment, the technology requires the animals to come out of the water, then they’re put on a conveyor belt of sorts, and then there are a couple of electrodes that touch the animals as they go through — electrocutes them, and renders them unconscious. That still has that part of scooping them out of the water while conscious.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Ideally, you would like to do what you just mentioned. Then there’s the tricky thing about safety of just putting electricity through such a massive body of water with people around and humidity, et cetera. Then the final thing, there’s a technicality that highly saline water is highly conductive: the water with the salinity levels that are favoured by these animals is highly, highly conductive. So potentially — this is what I’ve heard from some academics — the current might just go around the animal because the water is more conductive than the tissue of the animal itself. So it seems like it could be tricky to electrocute them in the water unless you decrease the salinity of the ponds that they’re in, which would require a lot of water and it would be a difficult process also.

Rob Wiblin: I see, so there’s some technical complications there, and I suppose not that many people working on the issue either.

Other welfare issues [00:35:38]

Rob Wiblin: OK, we’ve talked about some of the welfare issues there with slaughter. What are welfare issues earlier in the process, when they’re in the growing phase?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah. Those are maybe the ones that we focus on the most. As we talked about earlier, the grow-out ponds is a stage in which these animals spend most of their lives. And there, we identify two areas of potential welfare improvements. The first one is water quality being at the level that these animals require, so dissolved oxygen being in the right ranges, pH being in the right ranges, making sure that there are no contaminants, and things like that. So that’s one area of improvement.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: The second one is stocking densities, which, as you said at the beginning, the natural instinct to maximise profitability would be to push the stocking densities to the maximum. That is in theory what you would expect. But in the reality, what we’ve seen is that pushing stocking densities too high beyond what is called the “carrying capacity” of the pond compromises the immune systems of the animals, because they’re typically stressed, and eventually they are more susceptible to disease and they grow slower and a greater percentage of them die.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: So what we’re trying to do is convince farmers that it’s in their best interest to adjust the stocking densities to what their water can really sustain. And we have found that this message has been very well received by some very, very prominent producers, at least in India. And we’re very happy about that, because they’ve realised that really high stocking density just puts the whole system at risk, because disease spreads like wildfire. So the more that every farmer does more prudent farming practices, the more they protect one another.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: And finally: eyestalk ablation, this practice that I was mentioning earlier. It’s been proven that eyestalk ablation actually is not necessary if the brood stock are really taken care of. There’s really important research that was published a couple of years ago where Simão Zacarias and some of his colleagues proved that non-ablated brood stock can be just as productive in terms of number of eggs laid, but more importantly, their offspring can be more resilient to stressors and certain diseases. So to the credit of the industry, the industry itself is moving in the direction of phasing this out. We’d love to see that happen quicker, but they’re going there.

Rob Wiblin: So this eyestalk ablation — I kind of wish I could go back to a time when I’d never heard of eyestalk ablation — but this is when they crush the eye of the female shrimp in order to induce them to lay eggs sooner and in larger numbers. I mean, it sounds awful. And it also sounds very strange that crushing the eye has that effect. Is there any way of explaining why that would be?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yes. So that was figured out by the people who were trying to raise shrimps back in the ’70s or ’80s. Basically it’s because crustaceans, and specifically prawns, have a gland behind their eyes that secretes a hormone that regulates the amount of eggs that a female would lay. So essentially what happens is that when a female in these tanks is stressed — as they typically would be in a tank that is not exactly where they would want to reproduce — they realised that this gland secretes this hormone and they basically do not lay eggs.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: So by removing the eyes, it just goes into overdrive, and it starts laying eggs at a much higher rate than they normally would. That eventually also means that they’re subjected to a lot of stress and they become depleted much quicker. So brood stock subjected to this practice either die from the practice or they die sooner because it just puts a lot of strain on their physiology.

Rob Wiblin: I see. OK, so that sounds pretty horrible, but it sounds like you’re optimistic that eyestalk ablation will probably be phased out. Because it turns out that the downsides of it is sufficient — in terms of the health or the longevity of the brooding shrimp and the healthiness of their offspring — that it’s actually not clear that it even improves the bottom line to engage in eyestalk ablations. It sounds horrible, and it’s maybe not even making them any money, so they might cut it out.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Exactly. And I would say it’s the one thing about shrimp welfare that everyone can viscerally connect to, right? It’s much more difficult to explain to someone that the pH of the water might be out of balance, and that that’s causing harm to the animals. But when people see — there’s videos, training videos from industry themselves, where they show the practice — I think that’s something that really touches most people.

Rob Wiblin: I see. How do they feel about it? Do they feel uncomfortable describing or justifying or engaging in eyestalk ablation?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I would say the corporates that I’ve spoken to who do not do it feel very proud that they don’t.

Rob Wiblin: I see. I suppose the people who actually have to do it, maybe they find a way to convince themselves that it’s OK, but everyone else, as soon as you move away from them, then people feel a great deal of discomfort with this whole idea.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah.

Rob Wiblin: Let’s push back to the crowding issue, which is pretty central — probably the main thing that you’re working on. I guess, ideally, we want to make massive improvements, but on the current margin — in terms of making incremental improvements from where we are now — it sounds like you might have a relatively easy opportunity in that some farms might be crowding the shrimp to such a degree that they suffer from stress and they don’t grow as well, and they die more often. And then you might have these pandemics of diseases that run through these super overcrowded pools. They’re doing that to such a degree that maybe it’s not even making them any more money and they would be just as profitable or more profitable if they backed off somewhat on the stocking density. Is that about right?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s exactly the way we think about it, yes. And there’s a final sort of cherry on top that you would expect that if farmers stock their pools at lower stocking densities, then that means that they can grow their animals at larger sizes, which sell at higher prices per kilo. So the profit that they theoretically could be sacrificing by stocking at lower stocking densities might be somewhat compensated for by the lower probability of disease, as you said — and even lower than that, it might be compensated for by the price premium per kilo that they might be able to get in the market for their shrimps. Which is great because farmers might earn the same amount of money. They might be producing the same amount of biomass, but with less number of animals — which would translate into less suffering.

Rob Wiblin: What sorts of diseases do shrimp get when they’re packed together really tightly?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: They’re very specific to shrimps. The most common ones would be white spot syndrome, white gut syndrome, and white faeces syndrome. They basically all relate to either the shrimps die in a short period of time, or they start growing very, very slowly. That’s a really big thing for farmers, because it costs them the same to feed an animal that’s not growing as quickly as the one that does.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. Are these viruses or bacteria or something else?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: They’re both.

Rob Wiblin: OK. These are symptoms, but there’s a whole lot of different underlying infections that could drive this. And I guess they just spread through an entire tank incredibly quickly?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s correct. And because the tanks are so close to one another — and most times they discharge water into the same canals and things like that — they also spread from tank to tank very, very easily. And there are practices like the nets being used in the same ponds: they normally disinfect them, but they’re so tight. And then there’s things that are difficult to just control. Like there’s a bird that comes and catches a shrimp in one pond that has disease and just drops it in the neighbour’s pond.

Rob Wiblin: It’s like controlling COVID. It’s not practical.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Exactly.

Rob Wiblin: It sounded like not only does it spread within various different tanks within the same intensive farm, but that farmers get pissed off when other farmers are engaging in practices that foster these diseases, because it spreads between farms as well. And so it can potentially threaten the entire industry in a whole region.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Absolutely. And I think that’s the argument to be made for lower stocking densities to be imposed, not only as each farmer to individually decide on them, but as regulation. Because you have the problem of coordination, right, and free riders. If every single farmer just starts stocking at very low stocking densities, then that provides a sort of herd immunity to the one farmer who might want to do it at much higher density. So you have a coordination issue there. So there needs to be put in some regulation that then needs to be respected by everyone.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. I guess this is a very hard question to answer, but what is the quality of life of a shrimp in one of these reasonably intensively farmed areas? I imagine I spend most of my time maybe resting and some feeding, and then other parts just swimming around, avoiding being too close to other shrimp. Is this an unpleasant existence as far as you can tell? Or is it a kind of neutral or bad one?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I don’t know. The real honest answer is we don’t know. We really want researchers to do more work on shrimp behaviour to really understand preferences of shrimps. Right now we have to base a lot of our decisions with what we would call “good bets” of not causing harm — so things that we know definitely decrease mortality and decrease disease and things like that. But in terms of whether a life is net positive or net negative — and how positive or negative they are — I would be very uncertain. Charity Entrepreneurship did an estimate sometime back when they were thinking about the intervention of shrimps, and they deemed that it’s quite a negative experience.

Rob Wiblin: Is that mostly because they’re packed so closely together that I imagine they’re just under quite serious levels of stress, basically at all times? It’s a very unnatural circumstance, I would imagine, for shrimp. I don’t think they move in dense schools or anything like that in the wild, do they?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: In the wild they would spawn in one area, in an estuary, and then they would go out to the open water. They would spend some time there. Eventually they come back to the estuary. So they really change environments. Whereas farmed shrimps go from a plastic tank to another plastic tank, to perhaps another plastic tank — but maybe not, maybe to an earthen pond. We’re not sure. I mean, it feels that from a human preference or a veil of ignorance, you would presume that it’s not a net-positive life, but we want more research to understand that.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah, so it’s an extremely tedious and monotonous environment that you’re in. This is exactly the same thing constantly for your entire life, which is probably quite unnatural. Are shrimp solitary animals naturally? Do they tend to just hang out by themselves when possible?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: It depends on the species. There are about 2,000 species of shrimps. The ones that are farmed the most are vannamei and monodon — 80% of the total volume in the world are these two species. Monodon are much more solitary and aggressive than vannamei. And I think that’s why vannamei has been favoured over monodon: because it can be raised at higher stocking densities. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they enjoy it — and that’s one thing that we would want to understand — but they definitely can withstand higher densities.

Shrimp Welfare Project strategy [00:48:07]

Rob Wiblin: So is your current primary strategy to basically collect information that helps to support the case that current stocking densities are too high from the shrimp industry’s own point of view — in terms of maximising its bottom line — and basically persuade them from a primarily economic case that they should reduce stocking densities, because it’s both good for the shrimp and good for them?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yes, I think that’s a fair way to say it. We want to start doing some pilot programmes with farmers in both India and Vietnam to try this out, to help them monitor their water quality more frequently and also to stock at lower densities, and show them that that’s a viable alternative. Those are the two things that we’re focusing on the most. And we’re exploring different pathways — some are through large events, with many, many different farmers, some are partnerships with universities — and we’re seeing which one turns out to be more promising.

Rob Wiblin: What is the Shrimp Welfare Project’s relationship with the shrimp farming industry? How do they feel about you, and how do you present yourself?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: We have decided to position ourselves as collaborative with industry. We definitely considered at the beginning the whole spectrum of being closer to industry or being more antagonistic. We feel that there is space for the whole spectrum, but in order for us to have an impact sooner rather than later — and because there are things that can be done that are not necessarily in huge opposition to industry — we thought that positioning ourselves as working collaboratively would be a safer or a better bet.

Rob Wiblin: Do you go to shrimp conferences and meet with people who are involved in the industry who are making decisions about how to set up their farms?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: All the time. In India we met with maybe 50 different people in the supply chain — from farmers, to processors, to exporters, to owners of hatcheries. And we attend aquaculture conferences frequently.

Rob Wiblin: Are they suspicious of you because they think that your motivation at the end of the day is not to maximise shrimp industry profits, but to help shrimp?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: No. At least our experiences to date. I think they appreciate that the system has been pushed to a limit that has wreaked havoc to the welfare of the animals, to the welfare of the farmers, and to potentially even the profit-and-loss accounts of the corporates themselves. And some of them — the ones that see us more favourably — I would say see us as a vehicle for us to train farmers on how to do things better and perhaps give them a more reliable source of shrimps. Which, as an animal organisation, sometimes can feel very uneasy.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: But in a theoretical exercise, if the world definitely needed a certain amount of biomass of shrimps, because about 40% of animals reach from hatchery to harvest, if mortality can be decreased, if disease can be decreased, then the number of animals that would fulfil that same demand would be a fraction. To the extent that stocking density is squarely within what we want to focus on, then we think there’s a good chance of reducing suffering without being too antagonistic to industry.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. Is there a possible downside? Where if you help the industry be more rational about the stocking density — such that they don’t have so many diseases and the shrimp grow larger — that, in effect, would make the farms more productive, and would then lower the price and cause people to consume more shrimp? And that could totally or partially offset the good that you’re doing?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I think there is an argument to be made that there is a risk. So, for example, with water quality: if a pond just has much better water, it could withstand more animals, right? And a farmer could grow more animals, all things held equal. I think that’s why our work needs to be a proof of concept that higher-welfare shrimps can be produced, and down the line, in the short term, there needs to be work also with consumer awareness and legislation and other things. And we can be just a proof of concept that these higher-welfare shrimps can be produced. But if it were just Shrimp Welfare Project for the foreseeable future, and we were the only intervention, then yes, I think there’s a credible risk. Especially with technology that is allowing for greater and greater intensification, I think that would be a huge concern.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. I might have to think about this a bit more, but it feels surprising to me if the expansion of the industry that you were driving was sufficient to offset the welfare gain. But I don’t know, that’s just an intuition that I have. I might have to think that through more in order to figure out where that’s coming from.

Rob Wiblin: So on the current margin, there’s a for-profit case to reduce the stocking density. At some point, were you succeeding in persuading more of the industry to do that, what might be the next frontier in terms of improving wellbeing, and how might you persuade people to take it up?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I would think humane slaughter would be something very promising, once the jury is out regarding exactly what are the best practices for electrical stunning, for example. That could be very promising for shrimp farming, but also when we were talking about wild-caught shrimps at the beginning — those trillions of animals in fishing vessels — the technology can be installed in fishing vessels. And if those trillions of animals can be put through those systems where they are stunned as soon as they’re pulled out of the water, I think that could also be extremely promising.

Rob Wiblin: You were talking about trying to maybe create some sort of certification for higher-welfare shrimp, which is a thing that exists for pigs and cows and some other animals currently, at least in some countries, but doesn’t exist for shrimp. Can you talk more about the customer- or demand-facing side of this whole enterprise?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah, absolutely. More than us doing the certification, I think that we would try to push for certifiers to incorporate higher-welfare components — or “modules” is what they call it — in their certification schemes. And here we defer a lot to the Aquatic Life Institute. Their theory of change is really to work with certifiers, and I think they do a really good job. The best thing we can do there, I think, is to try and make our knowledge available — to ALI, to the certifiers, and to eventually also retailers — that higher-welfare shrimp can be produced. Eventually, we hope to know more than your average organisation about what a high-welfare life for a shrimp looks like, what a netpositive life looks like for a shrimp, and try to use that to inform other relevant actors.

Rob Wiblin: Could you potentially start your own shrimp farm in order to do research on humane raising methods, and then also figure out what effects different welfare-improving methods might have on yields?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yes, we considered this, and there’s ways in which we could do a proxy of that as well: we could just guarantee a farmer to buy what they call a “full harvest” of animals. We have found that it looks like it may be unnecessary as of today to do that. We are in discussions with universities in India who are very influential in teaching farmers how to do things. Farmers really seem to follow their advice. And it seems that we might be able to do a lot of those experiments without us necessarily being involved directly in the production of the shrimps.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: And we want to make sure as well that whatever we do is really replicable at a commercial scale, because many times what happens is that when you try and move something from the lab to a pond — an earthen pond somewhere in the middle of Andhra Pradesh — it might not necessarily translate as easily. So I think we’re first going to try out these partnerships before we explore those others, but there’s certainly a possibility.

Rob Wiblin: Would you feel personally uncomfortable being so directly involved in farming shrimp, given that you now actually have quite a high level of intuitive compassion for shrimp?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yes, definitely. There are theoretical ways we have considered becoming part of the shrimp supply chain. So, for example, one additional idea could be that someone establishes a brand that only sells super-high-welfare shrimp, and try and transition demand to those shrimps — really make that the selling point to consumers, and try and pull consumers towards just having more awareness in a way that is financially self-sustainable. Those types of things have crossed our minds. We’re still nowhere near there at SWP because precisely the risk of causing harm.

Rob Wiblin: Totally. So you mentioned that early on when you were starting the organisation, which I guess was only a year or so ago, you considered the full spectrum of different possible ways that you could try to help shrimp. What are some of the strategies that you seriously considered but decided not to pursue?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Influencing legislation we think can be very impactful, particularly influencing trade legislation in the importing countries. Most of the shrimps are produced in Asia — and as we discussed, a little bit in Latin America — and most of them are then exported to the US, the EU and UK, and Japan. So if these countries or regions were to increase or raise the bar of animal welfare for their imports, then that could be extremely impactful. We felt that we were potentially not the best positioned to do that, and that it might be extremely high leverage, but might take longer — and that someone also needed to help these animals today.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: As we grow our team in the future — as you mentioned, we’re less than one year into existence — we’ll potentially consider whether we expand into other areas. We could have also really focused on just campaigning for more awareness with consumers in Europe, US. We haven’t done that yet. We might in the future. I think with consumers, when we speak about the way that shrimps are produced, everyone essentially says that they would’ve liked to know that. It’s the same with most of the way that our food is produced — be it vegetables, but particularly animal protein and aquaculture — I think most people are really completely in the dark.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. So you were considering trying to work on the consumer side, informing people about the conditions so that they might either stop eating shrimp or demand higher wellbeing. It seems like we’ve been working on that for so many decades, trying to persuade people to become vegetarian or demand better living conditions for animals. And at least in the US, it seems like the progress on that front has not been huge.

Rob Wiblin: There’s definitely a much bigger subculture now of people who are very seriously concerned about animal wellbeing. It feels like the animal movement is a lot bigger than it was 50 years ago, 40 years ago. But we haven’t really seen a massive sea change in consumer behaviour on a wide scale. Is that one thing that maybe deterred you from taking the consumer-first approach?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yes. That combined with the fact that shrimps,in the spectrum of likeable creatures, are probably not in the top of almost anyone’s list.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. If you can’t persuade people to stop torturing pigs, how are you going to persuade them to stop being cruel to shrimp?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Exactly. Exactly. I think it’s still promising to see that, for example, people pay the premium that they do for cage-free eggs. If anything like that were to translate into shrimp, that could be a sea of change to the welfare of these animals. In theory, our surveys say that people would be willing to pay that. In practice, I think there’s very little evidence that consumers are willing to pay that yet for fishes, and now I would say for shrimp. There’s a tiny organic market that does command a huge premium, but it’s a drop in the ocean.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. Do you agree with my moderately pessimistic take on the impact that animal welfare advocacy has had on consumer behaviour?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yes. I think it’s still needed. Because of this suffering that we inflict as human beings, it needs to be attacked on all fronts. But I do agree that there hasn’t been the change in consumer preferences that one would hope.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. I guess it has been kicking goals on the egg-laying hens’ side recently. And one thing it has done, I think, is create a much larger audience of people who are in principle receptive to taking a risk on trying new meat alternatives if they’re available. I think it’s going to definitely smooth the path to market for meat alternatives, as they begin to approach meat in terms of taste and cost. And I was thinking of the US as a place where certainly the legislative change things have had very limited success. But in other countries — like the UK, and I think Switzerland, and a handful of others — it feels like the animal movement has had more big wins in terms of affecting behaviour on a society-wide scale.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I agree. And now that you mention alternative proteins, we are very hopeful about the fact that — this was brought to my attention by my cofounder, who was really excited when we realised this — the tissue of shrimps is much more uniform than it is for other animals. So it’s much easier to replicate in a lab, to do cell-based shrimp tissue or to replicate it with plant protein.

Rob Wiblin: I see. So that’s a potentially promising approach to really make a radical shift. I’ve had vegan shrimp before, and I recall being stunned by how similar it tasted to shrimp — at least as far as I could recall how it tasted when I was younger. Is plant-based shrimp alternatives a viable approach?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I would hope so. I had vegan shrimp when I was at EAG in London, when we met at one of the events, and I thought it was fantastic. The big caveat is that I probably haven’t had the real thing in a couple of decades, so I wouldn’t know. But I think it’s promising and there are a couple of companies, at least, based out of Singapore, who I’ve heard people rave about. But I haven’t tried them. I’m really looking forward to that.

Working in India and Vietnam [01:04:03]

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. Pushing on, it sounds like most of the stuff you’re doing kind of on the ground is in India and Vietnam — I guess because those are places where a very large number of shrimp are farmed, and maybe also because they’re the places where the packing density tends to be particularly high. What are some of the complications of operating in countries that are quite culturally different, and maybe just logistically challenging to operate in, as someone from Mexico who’s living in Spain?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah. Good point. I would say the main thing is there’s the obvious ones, like language — especially in Vietnam. I have found that in India, a lot more people speak English and we can communicate more easily. In Vietnam, it’s been harder. Then there’s issues around the infrastructure of the country, so it’s difficult to try to implement big technological improvements in some of the areas where the shrimps are produced.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: There’s another point that the typical farmer in these countries is a very small holding farmer, who probably has less than half a hectare. There again, it’s difficult to ask them to make big changes if it’s not something that will not hurt their profitability, or if there’s not some angle of self-interest. It’s very difficult to try and make changes that require big investments or sacrifice of profitability and things like that. Those would be the biggest challenges, I would say. And then COVID: getting to Southeast Asia during COVID restrictions has been also a fun thing to deal with.

Rob Wiblin: Right. In Vietnam, do you take around a translator? Or I guess you’ve hired some Vietnamese folks who perhaps are doing the translating for you?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah. So we’re at a much earlier stage than we are in India, just because India was launched earlier. And what we’ve done is we’ve hired a programme coordinator. She is Vietnamese. She grew up there; she is fantastic. And she is going to be heading our teams in Vietnam, so it’s really her team that will do all this work.

Rob Wiblin: Was it hard to find a local Vietnamese person who was impassioned to work on shrimp welfare? Actually, more broadly, I’m kind of curious about — maybe you don’t know about this because you’re at an early stage in Vietnam — but as I understand it, Vietnam is now not a very religious country, but in terms of religious influence, Buddhism is one of the larger cultural influences in Vietnam still today. I wonder whether you ever noticed that people are perhaps more open to the idea of shrimp sentience, or closed to it, because of background cultural reasons?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: We are part of a coalition of animal organisations, and they’re doing great work. And when we talk kind of behind closed doors, some of the folks that work in these organisations haven’t even told other people very openly that they work with animal welfare issues, because it just seems like it’s not perceived as a very prestigious job. So it doesn’t seem that the Buddhism angle has permeated a lot, at least as it relates to shrimps.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. So what motivated your lady in Vietnam to take the job?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I think she’s a naturally curious person who took the time to read our job description more thoroughly, and she’s very analytical and rational and was really compelled about the case. It was a very simple job description, that had your typical effective altruism framework of importance, neglectedness, and tractability. And it just clicked for her, it seems.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. We’ve got to get them out to EA Global sometime. I’m fascinated to meet this person. What sorts of other people have you had to hire onto your team?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: We currently have programme coordinators for both India and Vietnam. We have a couple of researchers, one doing more secondary research around welfare and things like that. He studied economics, and he’s Australian. And then we have another person who’s helping us with mostly consumer research and behaviour, and she’s based out of the US. They’re all animal people, and most of them are very involved with the effective altruism community.

Rob Wiblin: Yeah. Sounds like you’re basically a fully remote team, which I guess makes sense given that the whole operation has come together still during COVID times.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: We are. We plan to be less so because the idea is that I will also move very shortly to Vietnam, but I have been saying that for a few months now. So hopefully, that will take place very shortly.

Rob Wiblin: You know, I just thought of another issue with Vietnam — and I guess, to a lesser extent, India. Vietnam is still on paper, a communist, or at least a socialist, country — and I think they’re not super receptive to having do-gooders come in from Western countries and tell them what to think, and how to live, and influencing their politics and so on. How did you get past any kind of restrictions on foreign advocacy in Vietnam, and in India, if that’s an issue as well?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That’s a very good question. It took a very long time to figure it out, but one of the benefits of us having this industry-collaborative approach is that in these countries we operate as basically a consultancy company that comes and helps farmers incorporate best welfare-focused practices. So we’re not officially a charity, and we don’t act as such in these countries. We’re a consultant.

Rob Wiblin: I see. So you are a for-profit consultancy working on, from their point of view, agricultural productivity. Which, interestingly, given the story you were saying earlier, isn’t actually that far from the truth, at least on the current margin.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: That is correct. Yeah.

Rob Wiblin: Who funds you?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: We got our initial seed grant from Charity Entrepreneurship, from the Incubation Program, which we were really thankful for because that allowed us to get the project off the ground. Since then, we have also received support from the EA Animal Welfare Fund. We’ve received non-negligible donations from individuals, which they can do through our webpage. And we are currently at the due diligence phase of an Animal Charity Evaluators’ Movement Grant. So hopefully those are the recognisable names of people supporting us. We’re basically an EA-originated organisation from an EA-originated idea, and we’re basically being funded by EA.

Rob Wiblin: Who was willing to take the first risk of giving you the first bit of money to get this off the ground floor?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: This was Charity Entrepreneurship. I believe they channelled funds from other large EA foundations, but it officially came through Charity Entrepreneurship to us.

How to help [01:11:00]

Rob Wiblin: How can people in the audience potentially help? I suppose, obviously, they can go to your website and learn more, and potentially just donate personally. Are there other ways that people could contribute?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for asking that. So we are currently looking for an aquaculture specialist who will have experience in shrimp farming. It’s not an easy profile to find, and if anyone knows anyone like this, please put them in touch with us. Also, we intend to start looking for someone who will help us with operations, given that we have a UK entity which will become a UK registered charity, an entity in Vietnam, et cetera. We have a lot of work for an operations person.

Rob Wiblin: Totally.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Yeah, the donations. And then just spreading the word that shrimps are morally relevant beings, and direct people to our website to become more informed. And ultimately, if they want to reach out to me, it’s not very hard to find. I think my email is on our website. And if not, I’m typically also on LinkedIn relatively frequently.

Rob Wiblin: Is it possible for you to maybe become a for-profit at some point? Because you are engaging in consultancy that to some extent both helps with welfare and potentially also helps the farms operate better. Is it possible to move from a nonprofit to a for-profit venture, at least for some part of your revenue?

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: I think so. That’s one thing that my cofounder, Aaron, has thought about more than me. I think it’s within the realm of possibility. So far, we haven’t tried to make the move yet, but I think if we are right and our interventions really improve the health of the animals and the wellbeing without necessarily sacrificing too much profit for industry, there should be an interest from people to hire us to help them do things better.

Rob Wiblin: Well, this has been super fascinating. I really appreciate that there’s people in my social network doing stuff that’s as outlandish and fascinating and (hopefully) as successful as the Shrimp Welfare Project. Thanks for being willing to take a bet on something that other people thus far had not been willing to.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Rob, thanks a lot for having me. It was really a lot of fun to talk to you, as much as it was in London when we met.

Rob Wiblin: My guest today has been Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla. Thanks so much for coming on 80k After Hours, Andrés.

Andrés Jiménez Zorrilla: Thank you very much for having me, Rob. And thanks to your audience.

Keiran’s outro [01:13:36]

Keiran Harris: If you did want to help Andres and his team, their website is shrimpwelfareproject.org/

Just a bit of housekeeping: in the outro for the last episode, I said that we were about to ramp up our After Hours content — and then months passed without any releases.

But I have a very good excuse: you see I was lying — just for kicks.

But I’m over that now, and can promise that we really will have more interviews coming out over the next couple of months. Rob has already recorded 2 of them!

Alright, audio mastering and technical editing for this episode by Ben Cordell and Ryan Kessler.

Full transcripts and an extensive collection of links to learn more are available on our site and put together by Katy Moore.

And I produce the show.

Thanks for listening.

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