An unrealised potential
...fish farming in T&T
The 2010 Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations report on "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture" indicated that for the year 2008, combined world capture fisheries and aquaculture production amounted to 142 million tonnes, of which 115 million tonnes were utilised for human consumption.
Aquaculture production contributed 46 per cent of total food fish supply with per capita consumption at 17 kg (live weight) and 13.7 kg, excluding data for China. China was the largest fish-producing country accounting for 47.5 million tonnes of which 32.7 million tonnes were derived from aquaculture.
Aquaculture, therefore, continued to be the "fastest-growing animal food-producing sector", per capita supply increasing from 0.7 kg to 7.8 kg from 1970 to 2008 and representing an average annual growth rate of 6.6 per cent. Globally, aquaculture is projected to surpass capture fisheries as the major food fish source.
In Trinidad and Tobago, aquaculture is constrained by a number of factors including inter alia: availability of suitable land and adequate supply of good quality water. Industry growth and development require that culture practices and technologies employed must match our limited physical resources and capitalise on our relatively inexpensive energy sources. The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) continues to play a pivotal role in innovative research geared towards commercialisation of aquaculture.
Traditionally, in Trinidad and Tobago, fish is purchased fresh, from a fish market or itinerant vendor. Today, those in search of fresh fish often reside within easy access of a market or vendor. With the advent of gourmet fish shops and the availability of frozen and chilled fish products in supermarkets, the consumer, including working mother and suburban shopper, now shows a preference for the convenience pre-cleaned, often filleted and packaged fish product.
Since the early 80s, Jamaica has been involved in the cultivation of silver and red hybrid tilapia, utilising the earthen pond system and surface water and trucking its live product to the consumer. The Jamaican Government, in response to the decimation of its reef fisheries, prioritised aquaculture as the solution to the shortfall in domestic fish production from wild sources.
With technical and financial assistance from USAID, a research station was established at Twickenham Park, Spanish Town, aimed at the development of the industry...the rest is history. Tilapia culture has now evolved in Jamaica as the major source of finfish production satisfying both domestic and export demand. Within the Caricom region, Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname and Belize have the physical resources to engage in earthen pond production systems, unlike Trinidad and Tobago.
In the early 1990s, Trinidad and Tobago, in collaboration with the UNDP/FAO, examined the status of its commercially valuable finfish stocks—carite, shark, flying fish, snappers and groupers as well as shrimp resources.
Results of these investigations showed that these species were over-exploited or near to the point of over-exploitation. However, investment in research on alternative supplies to augment wild capture fisheries was not vigorously pursued. Past attempts at tilapia and cascadura culture, using earthen ponds at the small scale and subsistence levels have been fraught with problems.
These include competition with agriculture, industrial and residential needs for land, unavailability of a year round supply of good quality water and the high cost of winning water, coupled with restrictions imposed by relevant authorities. Other challenges include trash fish intrusion into ponds, caiman and bird predation, lack of bio-security and the negative environmental impacts of effluent discharges into our natural water courses as well as problems with praedial larceny.
Aquaculture has intermittently excited the interest of some local conglomerates but its feasibility has not been fully investigated with economic viability and realisation of good profit margins yet to be proven. Today, it is still an unstructured industry, notwithstanding past policy initiatives to advance the developmental process.
The IMA's aquaculture research programme also commenced in the early 80s and, apart from tilapia, research was conducted on cascadura, black conch and marine ornamental fish. Polyculture systems for giant freshwater prawn, tilapia and cascadura were explored and technical handbooks on the culture of various species to guide local fish farmers are available.
More recently, based on the development of innovative aquaculture practices, the IMA has revisited possibilities for sustainable and profitable aquaculture business ventures.
Species like tilapia, to be profitable must yield high volumes to offset capital and operational costs and value added to the final product.
Prospective aquaculturists, therefore, must exercise caution in species selection and culture practices, production and marketing costs. Re-circulating Aquaculture Systems for marine species such as cobia, mahi-mahi, shrimp and ornamentals currently pursued by the IMA and best aquaculture management practices for growth and sustainability of the industry, would be shared with readers in subsequent articles.
• Article by Dr Ann Marie Jobity, principal research officer, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research Programme. The IMA is an agency of the Ministry of Housing and the Environment.