Did You Know?
The consumption of prawns worldwide is astonishing, especially in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia.
In NamNam Singapore, we serve Jumbo Tiger Prawns in our Ocean-Caught Jumbo Prawn Mekong Noodle Soup. The size of each prawn is around 23 cm long and costs at approximately $8, with about 4-6 pieces per kilo.
Starting with the impressive Ocean-Caught Jumbo Tiger Prawn, these renowned prawns were the cause of the Newton Circus food centre infamous limelight when 8 of them were sold to a few unsuspecting American tourists for a whopping $239!
So, what are these prawns and how much do they really cost?
The Jumbo Tiger Prawn is found in local waters and is the largest prawn in the world. It can grow up to 33cm and can be easily distinguished by the light and dark stripes on its tail. The Teochews nicknamed them as Gao Chap Hei, which is a reference to their distinctive stripes.
Wild caught Jumbo Tiger Prawns are prized by connoisseurs while the farmed ones are generally shunned. At the wet markets in Singapore, you can spot the wild variety easily as they are usually very large and they come in a variety of colours that can range from greenish-black to rusty brown. The farmed ones are usually uniform in size and bluish-grey in colour.
The Jumbo Tiger Prawn is very meaty and flavourful. The meat of the large ones can be tough if not handled properly. They are excellent for deep-frying, BBQ or even for impressing your guests! It costs around $38 to $45/kg which makes it one of the most expensive prawns in the market. Even so, you will definitely get a better yield (more meat than shell) with the Jumbo Tiger Prawn than from lobsters and still retaining the wow factor as a crowd pleaser.
The farmed Tiger prawns are considerably cheaper. The smaller ones cost around $23/kg and they are commonly found at the supermarkets. Most of the fishmongers who pride themselves in selling quality seafood will not sell them.
However, because they are farmed prawns, you can see them being sold live at seafood restaurants. They may smell off if they are not fresh and are usually avoided by the serious foodies. When cooked live, the meat is sweet but it lacks of in-depth flavour and it turns an appealing bright orange and marked with white strips. The colour of the farmed Tiger Prawns are usually more intense than those caught in the wild as some farmers added Astaxanthin, a compound found naturally in crustaceans which causes the enticing bright orangey-colour into the feed.
Green Tigers should be available at most wet markets. Local Jumbo Tigers can be found at Lorong Ah Soo market at times or Tiong Bahru market. It have also been spotted at Chinatown market where one particular stall imports them from Papua New Guinea. Another possible location where Local Jumbo Tigers can be found is Tekka market. If you are adventurous enough to travel to Jurong Fishery Port at around 1am – 2am, you can also buy them in small quantities of 1 – 2 kg as they usually do not come in large quantities.
Prawn farming has been practiced for more than a century for food and is the livelihood of coastal people in some Asian countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
From 1970-1975, research on breeding was conducted in small ponds and gradually developed at the Tungkang Marine Laboratory in Taiwan. In Tahiti, in the South Pacific and in Thailand, extensive and semi-intensive farms were commercially established in 1972.
Between 1980 and 1987 there was a boom of small-scale intensive farms in Taiwan, mainly in the production of prawns for export to Japan. However, it is believed that a viral disease outbreak caused the collapse of the industry in Taiwan in 1987-1988. This led to Thailand, encouraged by extremely high prices in the Japanese market due to supply shortages to replace Taiwan as the world’s leading producer of farmed prawns in 1988. Later, the culture of farmed prawns spread throughout Southeast and South Asia.
In recent years, the development of prawn farming has generated many public debates over environmental and social impact, such as the following:
- Use of mangrove ecosystems for pond construction
- Saltwater from the ponds eventually seep into groundwater and affects supplies of freshwater to humans and wildlife in surrounding areas
- Biodiversity issues arising from collection of wild seed and brood- stock
- Social conflicts with other users of resources
- Farm discharges, causing self-pollution in prawn growing areas as well as viral disease outbreaks
- Introducing non-native prawns, which requires foreign exchange
- Imbalance of nature affecting the natural food chain, if they were to escape into the wild
- Prawn farms are usually treated with antibiotics, pesticides and water additives to prevent diseases or boost growth but may be harmful to our health
- Slavery has been known to be tied to shrimp farming
What About Prawns Caught by Trawling?
Dragging large heavy nets repeatedly over shallow areas. This method damages everything on the sea bottom and has been equated to strip mining the reefs and shores. Recovery of the habitat can take 1-20 years.
An enormous waste: commercially valuable prawns often make up only 10% of what is caught and the rest is thrown back into the sea, often already dead. Some estimates, for every 1kg of prawns caught, 9-12kg of ‘by-catch’ are thrown away, amounting to 55,000 tonnes of discards every year. The ‘by-catch’ includes juvenile fishes and sea turtles.
Trawling is seen by some to be a key cause of the decline of certain sea turtle species.
Develop Sustainable Eating Practices
- Find out where your prawns originate from
- Read food labels
- Feedback to your suppliers and supermarkets on your preference for prawns from sustainable sources
- Consume less prawns
- Take only what you can eat. Don’t throw prawns away (or any food for that matter)! Marine animals have perished and people have suffered to put that prawn on your plate!
- In the Muisne area of Ecuador, up to 80% of the population has lost their main source of food because of the destruction of the mangroves for prawns. In Chokoria, Bangladesh, fishermen reported an 80% decline in catches since the creation of dykes for prawn farming.
- In Vietnam, more than 80% of original mangrove cover has been deforested in the last 50 years. Although the Americans scorched the earth with their use of agent orange in Viet Cong areas during the Vietnam war, the main cause of destruction since 1975 has been prawn farming.
- But the environmental damage goes far wider than that. Prawns are carnivorous, and farming them intensively requires protein feeds of more than double the weight of the prawn produced. Inevitably, the fishmeal and fish oil required to raise the prawns further deplete wild stocks of fish.
- Salination and chemical pollution of drinking water and agricultural land are also the results from prawn farming. The farms pump out their waste water into the canals, rivers and nearby seawaters, contaminating them with pesticides, antibiotics and disinfectants. In Sri Lanka, 74% of fishermen in shrimp farming areas no longer have ready access to drinking water.
- Evidence from several countries suggest that prawn farming is unsustainable not just in the long term but even after a few years. Disease quickly sets in and productivity declines rapidly.
How many prawns are there in a Kilo?
- 2/4 = 2-4 per kilo (Enormous sized. Also known as Leader Prawns)
- 4/6 = 4-6 per kilo (Giant/Jumbo)
- 6/8 = 6-8 per kilo (Giant/Jumbo)
- 8/10 = 8-10 per kilo (Giant/Jumbo)
- 10/12 = 10-12 per kilo (Large)
- 13/15 = 13-15 per kilo (Medium-Large)
- 16/20 = 16-20 per kilo (Medium-Large)
- 21/25 = 21-25 per kilo (Medium)
- 26/30 = 26-30 per kilo (Medium)
- 31/40 = 31-40 per kilo (Small)
Not all farmed-raised prawns are bad, and not all wild-caught prawns are good, but which is which?
Fortunately, there are other ways to ensure the prawns that you bring home is the best choice you can make in terms of human rights and environmental impact.
A good place to start is to search the package for certification labels. Look for the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo on wild caught prawns, ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) or GAA (Global Aquaculture Alliance) Best Aquaculture Practices certification on packages. These organisations have established standards on how prawns are caught or farmed. Fishermen and prawn farmers must meet the tough rules and regulations that ranges from by-catch and fishing gear used when harvesting to antibiotic use, habitat destruction and environmental impacts.