This is the first in a two part series on artisanal fisheries and aquaculture.
Our hard-working small-scale (artisanal) fisherfolk have been the backbone of so many communities across the island, including quite a number in my own St Elizabeth South Western constituency. They have utilised the sector to build homes, communities, and to provide for their families. Unfortunately, with each passing year, the profession has become more difficult, largely due to the ravishes of climate change, bad fishing practices employed through the years, and significant poaching from external sources.
Despite the challenges, however, as a small island state, whose ocean space is 24 times its land mass, we are yet to truly maximise our potential. We also do not have a true appreciation for the blue economy and its potential and have not provided sufficient support for our artisanal fishers to adjust to the new climate realities and embrace new practices.
Thankfully, in recognition of the need to provide focused attention on our artisanal fishers and the aquaculture space, the United Nations has designated 2022 the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture. As we embark on this year, allow me to share some thoughts on the sector and some of the ways forward. One article will never be enough, but hopefully it will urge us all to take another look at our fisheries sector, which I believe should be a firm pillar of our economic recovery.
Aquaculture is the answer
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jamaica has one of the highest levels of fish consumption per capita in the Americas (25.8 kg/year in 2017), with over 79 per cent of our consumption needs filled by importation. This presents a clear opportunity. There are very few items that have seen a local increase in demand during the novel coronavirus pandemic. But one that has seen significant increase, however, is tilapia.
Our tilapia farmers are struggling to meet the local demand, with some having to put in strict purchasing limits in an attempt to widely distribute the limited supply. It is therefore a great time to get involved in fish farming.
Farmers like Donnie Bunting have shown that, with a research-based, business-oriented approach, fish farming can be extremely lucrative. With a global demand of US$7.9 billion in 2020 and an estimated average yearly growth of six per cent, the time is right for a significant expansion of our local outlay of fish farms. There are, however, some issues that both Government and our private sector need to address to ensure that not only will there be growth and profitability, but that our foray will also be sustainable.
The Government has to expand its advanced fry production to support our entrepreneurs who embark on this journey. It is still far too challenging to source start-up material based on the present capacity of our hatchery. Thankfully, through the help of the World Bank, under the Promoting Community-based Climate Resilience in the Fisheries Sector Project, approximately $69 million has been earmarked to construct a modern hatchery. This is slated to expand the production capacity by over 300 per cent. This will go a far way in providing the needed impetus for the sector and steps must be taken to fast-track this project.
Additionally, the private sector must answer the call of providing more cost-effective, fit-for-purpose feed. Feed still remains the major overhead cost for the sector and the advances in food research across various parts of the globe has shown that, with the Tilapia farming is, however, just one aquaculture option, and for me 2022 should be Jamaica's year to significantly move into mariculture.
We are still unable to satisfy our local demand for oysters and despite the market fallout due to the downturn in the tourist sector as a result of the pandemic, the robust rebound of the sector means the return of significant demand for our oysters. Projects in St Thomas and Westmoreland have shown that we have the capacity to organises and execute oyster-growing projects at the community level. There is a need for more community groups, especially in traditional artisanal fishing communities, to venture into these areas.
Jamaica sea moss (most commonly called Irish moss) has also emerged as one of the most sought after superfoods in COVID-19 times. With Jamaican sea moss said to contain 92 of the 102 minerals required by the human body and sea moss being used in a wide variety of products from nutritional supplements to skincare regimes, there has been a significant explosion in international demand. It is estimated that the global seaweed market will reach US$92 billion by 2025 at an average yearly growth rate of seven per cent.
In order for us to take advantage of this opportunity, though, we have to move from wild harvesting to structured cultivation. There are a number of sites on our south and north coast that are conducive for wide-scale growing of sea moss. Again, this could be a major area of diversification for our fishing villages. Additionally, wide-scale sea moss cultivation would have significant positive impact on our ecosystem.
There are other significant options in areas such as shrimp and prawn cultivation, as well as in niche market items like blue crab.
We will, however, never truly maximise our blue economy potential until we start taking better care of our ocean resource and truly engage our artisanal fishers in transformational activities.
In part two we will look at resuscitating our ocean and retooling our artisanal fishers.
Wishing you a peaceful and prosperous 2022.
Floyd Green is Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Western and an attorney-at-law.