JAMAICA'S fisheries sector is making a substantial financial impact, contributing an average of US$103.8 million annually ($16 billion) to the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). This represents 0.71 per cent of Jamaica's total GDP, according to the Jamaica Fisheries: Quarterly Statistics Report.
The National Fisheries Authority (NFA) reported that between April and June 2023, the fisheries contribution to Jamaica's agriculture sector grew by 16 per cent in 2022 against 2021, recording a 9.64 per cent contribution valued at $17.7 billion. When asked about the driving factor behind this growth, Dr Zahra Oliphant, principal director of the NFA's Fisheries Compliance Licensing and Statistics Division, pointed to the "increase in aquaculture production".
"At the current state, marine capture fish is on a declining trend year on year due to global changes and overfishing. One of the solutions to increasing production would be to turn to aquaculture. If you can't catch it in the wild, you farm it instead," said Dr Oliphant in an interview with the Jamaica Observer. "We saw a remarkable increase of 12.4 per cent in the number of registered fish farmers, with more ponds in production and a 7.7 per cent increase in the active production acres for ponds," Dr Oliphant added.
She revealed that the NFA is focusing on aquaculture by providing training in good agricultural practices (GAP) and farm techniques to optimise returns. A recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) hatchery is under construction, which will significantly reduce water consumption, a critical constraint, and is estimated to be operational by 2024.
"We anticipate that by 2027, we will be producing 3,500 metric tonnes of fish from aquaculture, enough to supply the local market. Once we are confident in our ability to meet local demand, the export market is something we can potentially get back into," Dr Oliphant expressed optimistically.
Though output to the economy was positive, exports for 2022 marked a noticeable decline. Jamaica exported US$13.5 million of fish and fish by-products in 2022, compared to US$18.2 million in 2021, representing a 25 per cent decrease.
"It's difficult to say really what could have contributed to the decline because the thing about it is they can export based on how much they would have been able to fish," Dr Oliphant told the Caribbean Business Report.
To address the challenges faced by traditional capture fisheries, the NFA plans to train fishers in long-line fishing and the use of fish aggregating device (FAD) technology. Dr Oliphant emphasised the importance of responsible FAD use, saying, "The FAD is a device that will attract fish, but it has to be very carefully used and monitored to prevent overfishing and depleting the fish population." She added, "Through training in sustainable fishing practices, we expect to see an increase in fish production in the coming years."
Notably, in the second quarter of 2023, marine finfish production experienced a significant boost, with a 32 per cent increase compared to the previous quarter. This resulted in an approximate value of US$24 million, representing a 44 per cent increase in earnings over the previous quarter.
Furthermore, the report highlighted that artisanal fishing played a vital role, accounting for 92 per cent of Jamaica's total marine production during the first half of 2023. The southern belt particularly excelled, accounting for 69 per cent of Jamaica's total marine fish production. Industrial fishermen, on the other hand, contributed the remaining 8 per cent.