Jamaica failing to grab US millions afloat in cage fishing
Jamaica seems likely to miss out on millions of dollars which could be earned from the increasingly popular cage fishing, which utilises existing bodies of water to raise fishes in a cage or basket that allows the water to pass freely through.
In countries such as India, Uganda and Vietnam, cage fishing has been used successfully for years.
Elsewhere in the region and the world, aquaculture production has continued to show strong growth, increasing at an average annual growth rate of 6.1 per cent from 36.8 million tonnes in 2002 to 66.6 million tonnes in 2012, when the global value of farmed food fish production was estimated at US$137.7 billion.
However, there is no plan in Jamaica to swim in the big bucks flowing from the sub-sector.
"We don't have a programme yet to say this is how we are going to do this thing," AndrÈ Kong, director of the Fisheries Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, recently admitted to The Sunday Gleaner.
This is even though the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, in Jamaica and at least one private sector entity have experimented with this option and most local experts agree that with the right infrastructure
and safeguards in place, cage fishing on a commercial level makes good
With Jamaica's marine resources having been depleted over the years due mainly to overfishing, cage aquaculture is a practical option, according to Kong, but it is not likely to happen any time soon.
"We will look at it again because as part of our development programme going forward, we are looking at diversification and looking at all means whereby we can improve productivity, improve food security and nutritional security, provide employment and earn foreign exchange.
"But we still are a little way from a successful cage fish farming venture. We are still a little bit away from it but it has a lot of potential and we have to go there ... . It is something that I think has potential but we still have some more work to do. We need to go back to the drawing board."
In the meantime, Luther Buchanan state minister for agriculture, disclosed that while cage aquaculture makes sense, the Government is looking to the private sector to lead the investment process.
Buchanan told The Sunday Gleaner: "We are mindful that it is more and more being explored and used in other places and in the 21st Century to feed our people, we have to move with the trends that dictate sustainable food for our people and at the same time we have to be cognisant of the importance of the growth in the sector.
This is another way of fishing that we could be looking at but, by and large, you are mindful that it is private sector driven. I mean Government provides supporting aspects of these projects but, by and large, it would be large fisher folks who say, 'Hey, we are going into exportation of live lobster, we going into this kind of fishing', so it is private sector driven and the technical expertise would be more or less from the ministry," added Buchanan.
One private sector company leading the charge in this direction is B & D Trawling, one of the country's foremost seafood exporters, whose principal Ricky Francis believes Jamaica's investment in cage aquaculture is long overdue.
"We are looking at that as the future of the fishing industry and fishing production here in Jamaica because we import more than US$100 million worth of seafood into this country," Francis told The Sunday Gleaner.
"And if we want to grow Jamaica, if we want to be sustainable, we have to find a way to reduce those imports and supply the market, as well as increase it over that so we can increase exports."
Francis already has a blueprint for a pilot project, involving established fishing communities in St Mary, Portland, Clarendon and Port Royal, which would ease the pressure from the traditional fishing methods and allow for the replenishment of snapper, parrotfish and other fish stocks which are now depleted.
In addition, he envisages that in much the same way that inner-city youth have embraced the rearing of ornamental fish for export, a similar enterprise could be developed to provide fingerlings to provide feed for the cage fish, as well as new stock when the crop is harvested.
To this end, Francis is in dialogue with the Fisheries Division in the agriculture ministry, as well as some non-governmental organisations, to get this project off the ground.
Proper research necessary
Marine ecologist Dr Dayne Buddo supports the concept but argues for the proper research to guide the process.
"I have seen it done in many countries, economically and quite attractive from a business standpoint. From an ecological and biological standpoint yea, it will work, if it makes sense from a business standpoint.
"You get a licence just like you would for any other structure in the water. So it is yours and you can put up any signage in respect of it because it is your property. It is really a question of where you put it. The water is owned by everybody, but the thing that you're putting in is yours and you get special permit to do that from the Government.
"You have to go there and feed them from time to time so you wouldn't want to put it too far out. So, like on the north coast now where you can a reach a hundred feed of water pretty close to land, it would be more suitable to put it there and you can see who is going out there to trouble your things. It can work, but we haven't done the ... economics of it. I think the technology has been in existence for a long time, enough that you can get a balance of everything," argued Buddo.
Meanwhile, Vitus Evans and Noel Thompson, two men with extensive experience in marine industry, also welcomed the advent of cage fishing but expressed concerns about praedial larceny.
"The whole security around it, how you secure it is a big problem," Evans declared.
While Thompson who is now retired from the shrimp industry said: "I think it could work if we can control the larceny situation. It has worked very well elsewhere and the production is much higher than in ponds or in other ways of doing it.
"It has worked very well in Vietnam, in Uganda, all over the place. In the open seas it's going to be difficult because of praedial larceny because even the normal fishermen out there have problems with their pots, and so unless you have a secluded area where you can control. I'm not sure it can work here, but the technology exists and it can be done."