Are prawns a good environmental choice?

Prawn heart

We Brits love our prawns – in fact, we love them so much they make into our top five seafood choices alongside salmon, cod, haddock and tuna. However, we can’t ignore the alarming environmental messages we hear about them.

So should we eat them or not? Short answer: it depends. Here’s our ultimate guide to choosing the most sustainable ones!

SUSTAINABLE CHOICE: small cold water prawns

cold water prawns

Do you love prawn sandwiches and prawn cocktails but wonder whether they’re sustainable? Generally you’ll find the ones being used are the tiny Northern prawns, a species on our Best Choice list – hooray! They are easy to tell apart from the bigger and generally less sustainable warm water species. You can buy them at the supermarket too - if they’re the size of a 20p piece, you’re good!

If you don’t want to be looking at sizes and labels, look for the blue tick logo.

MSC logo

PS. One of the UKs most acclaimed and inspirational chefs, Tom Aikens, shared his Northern prawn recipe to get you started with sustainable cooking.

THINK TWICE: langoustine and scampi

Scampi / Langoustine

We’ll ask you to think about this one. Langoustines are a regular on many a pub menu as they are sold breaded as “scampi”, although also sold whole in restaurants for you to peel.

There are some concerns with langoustines mainly associated with impacts to the seafloor and the unwanted capture of other fish when trawling for them. In some areas, fishing pressure is also too high. Langoustine caught in pots or creels, rather than trawled, represent the best choice.

THINK TWICE: tiger & king, the big prawns in your supermarket

King prawns on a plate

These are the tricky ones - they are both on our Best Choice and the Fish to Avoid list! Commonly sold in supermarkets, tiger and king prawns are farmed in warm waters, imported from countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Madagascar.

The trouble is prawn farming is very diverse, depending on the country. There are several concerns that many of you may have heard about – habitat destruction, human rights abuses, impacts on freshwater supplies and feed sustainability to name a few. So what should you do if you want to buy big prawns with a clear conscience?

The best choice at the moment is to choose organic, but Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certified prawns are an ok choice, so also look out for their eco-label on pack.

ASC logo Soil association logo Naturland logo

Remember to check the Good Fish Guide for the latest advice.

STEER CLEAR: the big prawns in your takeaway
prawns takeaway

In the UK, when you find big prawns in your takeaway meal, what you’re most likely eating are Giant River prawns. These are rated 4 in the Good Fish Guide, and whilst not on the Fish to Avoid list, we do have some concerns about their production. We don’t know enough about what they are fed or how the industry is regulated. So if you must buy these, try and do so less often!

Happy prawn company

There are some good choices for warm water prawns – those farmed in a natural way, that require no feed, chemicals or other inputs. We’re very supportive of the recently launched The Happy Prawn Co., an ethical company that produces 100% natural and traceable black tiger prawns from Indonesia.

They have worked for over 10 years providing sustainable incomes to those involved, helping the environment and local endangered species in the process too.

This video explains their work in more detail: If you find prawns a little confusing after all, check out our list of green rated, best choice sources.